Lodge defines irony as “inviting an interpretation different from the surface meaning of your words” and unlike other figures of speech, “irony is not distinguished from literal statement by any peculiarity of verbal form.” There are three main types of irony including verbal irony which is saying the opposite of what you mean and can include sarcasm as seen in satirical works. Word choice can also be ironic and can be considered as verbal irony. Dramatic irony is when the reader is privileged with knowledge denied to the characters and is often found in works of literature. There is also situational irony and that is a discrepancy between what is expected to happen and what actually happens, usually found in plays.
Elements of irony are present in the novel “Paradise of the Blind” and serve to add to the meaning of the work as a whole. The novel begins with Hang receiving a telegram from her uncle in Moscow that read “Very ill. Come immediately” on page 11. Hang decides that she should go but is surprised to learn that he is actually not sick but used that as a way to trick her into coming to Moscow. It is ironic that Uncle Chinh ends up chronically ill towards the end of the novel when he once lied about being sick.
Another element of irony is in the pride and love Hang’s mother has for her family, especially for her brother Chinh. On page 192 Hang is “recounting my mother’s pride at being able to introduce her family to the little people of the neighborhood.” Hang then says “these people, of whom she was so proud, had torn my family apart.” Vietnamese culture is very family oriented and it is expected of a person to always protect and honor their family. Hang begins to feel as if her mother is sacrificing her happiness to please her family, which was very much true. She gave all her money to her brother when he was ill and left herself and her daughter to basically starve for his sake. This also contradicts the patriarchal aspect of Vietnamese culture and is ironic because the mother is now taking care of the last male in her family, her brother. Hang couldn’t understand why Uncle Chinh held such a big place in her mother’s heart when he continuously made their lives harder. Even with these feelings, Hang was just like her mother in the way that she always prioritized her family. She traveled all the way to Moscow when she heard her uncle was sick, even though she had some doubts in the beginning. She always strived to make her aunt proud and always cared about her family’s opinion of her. This was the major role her culture played in understanding the reasons behind her actions and what she believes is the right thing to do. Towards the end of the novel, though, Hang’s mother comes to the realization that centering her life around her family is hopeless and she recognizes the necessity to take care of herself as well. Hang similarly moves on from a family oriented life when she sells her aunt’s gold and house and leaves her hometown.
The idea of communism is extremely ironic in the way it is carried out. The theory behind it is to ensure equality for all but in reality it creates a major issue economically and takes away from the people’s humane rights. We see in “Paradise of the Blind” the rectification of errors, which was meant to rid Vietnamese society of any practices that went against communist beliefs, actually destroyed the country and left its people divided. The dramatic irony here stands out as the readers who are aware of the history, know that communism was never a practice that brought peace and prosperity for all. In the beginning of the novel, Aunt Tam has her land taken away but that doesn’t limit her from still becoming the richest character in the end of the novel. Hang’s mother told her brother that “it took the government less than two years to ‘reform the ‘petty bourgeoisie.’ As for the rest of us, aren’t we all still slaving away?” on page 51. The people of Vietnam did not benefit from a communist society and many realized this fact. This is a prime example of the situational irony associated with communism and the kind of society it is expected to create in comparison with the corrupt society it creates in reality.
The use of irony in Paradise of the blind presents the reader with insight into Vietnamese life and the good and the bad of their society. Their culture is shown and provides an understanding of certain things that happen and why they happened. In all, irony is a figure of speech that helps the readers realize the moral or lesson behind every story, and in “Paradise of the Blind,” it highlights the communist society in Vietnam and the negative effects it had on the people by focusing on the story of one girl and the struggles her and her family endured.