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Ironic Echo: Literature

  • A Christmas Carol. Early on, Scrooge, when asked to make a charitable donation, snarls back, "Are there no prisons? No workhouses?" Meaning that he feels he already makes a big enough contribution to the poor through his taxes. Later on, when Scrooge starts to have a change of heart he expresses concern over the condition of "Ignorance" and "Want", two skinny, poorly-clad allegorical children who hang around the Ghost of Christmas Present. Upon hearing this, the Ghost of Christmas Present cynically echoes Scrooge's earlier line, "Are there no prisons? No workhouses?"
    • Also, the men asking for donations say that many poor would rather die than go to prison or the poorhouses. Scrooge replies, "If they'd rather die then they'd better do it, and decrease the surplus population!" When the Ghost of Christmas Present tells Scrooge that Tiny Tim could die, he echoes Scrooge's line with, "But if he's going to die, then he'd better do it and decrease the surplus population!" Ouch.
    • During the added Ironic Hell scene in the 1970 musical film, Marley mocks Scrooge with "Bah, humbug" as he is chained to a post in an icy office.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • In A Game of Thrones Cersei's "I shall wear [the bruise] like a badge of honor" after Robert hits her, echoed to her later by Ned, when she slaps him.
    • In A Storm of Swords Arya Stark manages to sneak up on the Tickler, a familiar torturer, and maniacally spouts of his modus operandi interrogation speech while furiously stabbing him; "Is there gold hidden in the village? Is there silver? Gems? Is there food? Where is lord Beric?..."
    • Theon spends most of A Dance with Dragons in a state of Stockholm Syndrome denying his identity due to the horrific abuse he suffered at the hands of his captor, Ramsay Bolton; in his internal monologue he frequently repeats the line "You have to know your name" in order to remind himself that he's supposed to be "Reek", not Theon. At the end of his last chapter in the book he repeats the line to emphasize that he once again recognises himself as Theon.
  • Harry Potter examples:
    • In Philosopher's Stone, there's Ron's "Are you a witch or not?!" to Hermione; wayyy later, in Deathly Hallows, she says the exact same thing to him.
    • 'Weasley Is Our King'. The Slytherins were just asking for the Insult Backfire on that one.
    • In Order of the Phoenix, more than once Hermione discourages Ron from doing things she considers unbecoming of an authority figure by reminding him that he's a prefect. Cue Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, in which Harry makes fun of her for secretly interfering with Cormac's Quidditch performance when Ron's trying out for the same position as Cormac by reminding her of her prefect position. Not surprisingly, she's not amused.
  • In Discworld, Death has a catchphrase "There is no justice, there's just me," which he originally means in a very cynical sense. At some point though, as he gains more humanity, he delivers the same line when punishing an evildoer.
    • Later uses are reference to and/or subversion of its use in Mort. "There is no justice, just us!" is used as an excuse for letting "good" people live and "bad" people die. It's later echoed as "There is no justice, just me," reasoning for why the world isn't fair, when what seemed like a good idea turns out to have horrible consequences.
    • And the ultimate Crowning Moment of Heartwarming version from Reaper Man.
    Death: Lord, we know there is no good order except that which we create... There is no hope but us. There is no mercy but us. There is no justice.
    There is just us.
    All things that are, are ours. But we must care. For if we do not care, we do not exist. If we do not exist, then there is nothing but blind oblivion.
    And even oblivion must end one day. Lord, will you grant me just a little time? For the proper balance of things. To return what was given.
    For the sake of prisoners and the flight of birds.
    Lord, what can the harvest hope for, if not the care of the Reaper Man?
    • In Feet of Clay, the Dragon King Of Arms tells Vimes why his ancestor killing a tyrannical king means his family can't get a coat of arms: "Whatever else he was, he was the king. The crown isn't like a watchman's helmet. Even when you take it off, you're still wearing it." At the end of the book, when the Dragon King questions how "a man married to the richest woman in the city" can see himself as the champion of the common people, Vimes retorts "A watchman's helmet isn't like a crown. Even when you take it off, you're still wearing it."
    • In Night Watch, Vimes is chasing down Ax-Crazy serial murderer Carcer Dun on the roofs of the Unseen University. When he finally gets Carcer in his grip, the man complains, "You're hurting!" Vimes says no, he's not hurting, he's protecting Carcer, wouldn't want him to fall off. At the end, after Carcer has spent the entire book harrying Vimes and wearing that insipid "what-have-I-done?" grin all over the place, Vimes finally gets him again, and again comes, "You're hurting!" This time, Vimes acknowledges that yes, he is hurting, and he's still doing it by the book; what's more, he's going to make sure everything is done by the book so that Carcer gets a fair trial if it means he has to do every last step of it himself, because a fair trial means a quick execution, and tomorrow's sunrise will shine down all the brighter on Vimes' little son Sam if it's not being shared with Carcer.
    • A variant occurs in Thud!, when the Obstructive Bureaucrat who's come to inspect the watch asks Vimes Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? or "Who watches the watchmen?", to which Vimes replies 'Me.', and when asked who watches him, his answer 'I do that too. All the time. Believe me.' A boast merely meant to say he doesn't want a paperpusher looking over his shoulder? The Summoning Dark that tried to make Vimes kill several dwarfs finds out the hard way it's not, when it runs into the Guarding Dark, a watchman inside Vimes' mind, who echoes the lines before kicking the Summoning Dark out.
    • Witches Abroad gets its own variant — the echo comes in quick succession and it illustrates a difference in philosophy rather than any malice one way or the other. Lily and Esme Weatherwax both get dragged into a mirror, and each is told that they're not quite dead-they'll be freed from the mirror when they can identify the real "them" out of a legion of mirror images. Lily, who has used paired mirrors to amplify her magic almost all her life, rushes off to find it. Esme, who believes in headology and always being certain of who you are and where you stand, asks if it's a trick question, then gestures to herself and says, "This one."
    • In Carpe Jugulum, the phrase "Everywhere I look, I see something holy" takes on two very different meanings: an Oh Crap moment by a vampire whose desensitization training is backfiring horribly, and a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming coming from a nerdy, ineffective Good Shepherd on his way to Badass Preacher-hood.
    • Death again, in Hogfather. Throughout the book, he has been filling in for a missing Captain Ersatz of Santa, but can't get the 'ho ho ho' to sound jolly rather than ominous. At the end, he confronts the Auditors of Reality, who had tried to kill said Santa-figure, and gives a very ominous Ho. Ho. HO. before obliterating them.
    • Unseen Academicals has "It's all Shove!" being used in two different contexts by two different characters to describe life among the Ankh-Morpork working class; first it's used in a fatalistic scene by Andy Shank, then it's used by Trev Likely when he resolves to "get out of the Shove" and make something of himself.
  • In the book and movie Holes, the Warden says "Excuse Me?" in every scene she's in, mostly to say something like "shut up, I have all the power." However, when Stanley finds the treasure she's after, she asks to see what's in the box, and gets an "Excuse Me?" in response.
  • In Brave New World, the line, "Oh brave new world, that has such people in it," is said more than once, and at first is positive but then becomes more and more ironic.
  • In The King of Attolia, there's a scene where Eugenides goes to see Relius and says, "Are you ready to discuss the resources of your queen?" It's quickly revealed this was an echo of the previous book.
    • Later on, "You forgot it's only a wooden sword."
  • In The Aeneid: Aeneas is frequently referred to as "pius Aeneas" (roughly, "righteous"). He ironically echoes this in his remorse after killing young Lausus: "What will righteous Aeneas give to you?"
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms: Guan Yu says to Cao Cao "I trust you have been well since we last parted?" Later Cao Cao says the same thing to Guan Yu's severed head.
  • Rewind opens with Aaron Lee Fairfax, one of the seventeen 'Rewound Children', reciting his personal information to disbelieving interrogators. It becomes a sort of mantra for him, and is repeated several times throughout the novel, updated to reflect recent events. In another very Squicky instance, during the interrogation, he is stripped naked for photos, and weakly jokes around by asking if he's posing for pornography. Later, upon seeing the photos published in a trashy tabloid, he repeats this, now 'knowing' the answer.
  • This occurs repeatedly, and often somewhat wittily, in Full Tilt by Neal Shusterman. For instance, the main character tells a traitorous friend that "I wouldn't climb over the backs of my friends to save myself." — and in flashback, as a school bus teetered on the edge of a cliff, he literally climbed over their backs to reach the door.
  • In Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files novel Death Masks, Ortega explains he drinks beer, though he doesn't need to, because life is more than survival. Then he offers to call off the duel if Harry becomes a vampire. Harry fishes, establishing that he preys on children, and refuses; he explains that life is more than survival.
    • As another example, in the later novel Dead Beat, Harry's grave marker has written on it "he died doing the right thing". At the beginning of the novel, Harry treats this with a maudlin attitude, before later realizing that he'd prefer to die doing the right thing than any of the alternatives
      • It's also done when he's given the tombstone, by an enemy who plans to kill an innocent girl right in front of him. Said enemy is protected by the Unseelie Accords, meaning he could either let her be killed and walk away free, or try to save her and incite the entire gathering of vampires to attack him while proclaiming self-defense. Upon realizing this, Harry remarks to his companions, "Sorry guys. I guess I'm going to do the right thing."
      • Later still, Harry is forced to visit the grave marker, and finds he has company, and a conversation ensues. With greater irony: "And did you die doing the right thing?" "No."
  • In Tad Williams' Otherland, Ax-Crazy Serial Killer Dread, who is The Dragon for the Big Bad, has a mantra that serves as his Catch Phrase: "Confident, cocky, lazy, dead." Needless to say, this comes back full circle, when after taking over Otherland and going on an apocalyptic orgy of destruction, he has the Other at his mercy. Breaking through its final defenses, he prepares for his ultimate triumph, only to have it calmly recite his mantra back to him as it shows him the impending destruction of the system, with him inside. Oh Crap.
  • Kate Chopin's "Story of an Hour" involves the protagonist learning of her husband's death. At first, heartbroken, she ponders the prospect of living lonely, empty years without him, and fears "that life might be long." Later, she realizes that without him she's free to live her life out from under his thumb, and now hopefully prays "that life might be long." It's doubly ironic because she dies just a few minutes later.
  • Coin of the Realm is filled with these. For just two examples out of the lot: Princess Rosalind is being forced to marry by her father, who says "Daughters are like coin to be traded". Her husband-to-be, upon meeting her, said simply "Looks like you'll have to do." Later, Adalia repeats this before murdering Lief and claiming her right to become her father's new head assassin and right hand; when he starts protesting with "Daughter..." she interrupts with "Daughters are coin and you gave me away," asserting that this means she can now do as she pleases with her life.
  • Combined with a Right Behind Me moment in R.A. Salvatore's The Two Swords;
    Kaer'lic: Too much have I seen of these wretched and foul-smelling orcs. Too many tendays have we spent in their filthy company, listening to their foolish gibbering, and pretending that anything they might have to say would be of the least bit of interest to us. Gruumsh take Obould, and Lady Lolth take Drizzt, and may they both be tortured until eternity's end!
    *Obould comes from behind her and takes her by the hair*
    Obould: Do you recognize the foul smell? Does my gibbering offend you now?
  • In Tolkien's Farmer Giles of Ham, when Giles first bumps into the dragon Chrysophylax and pretends not to have been seeking him out, the dragon says "Excuse me, were you looking for me?". Chrysophylax is at that moment in control of the situation. When he meets Giles for the second time, Giles utters the phrase while holding him at sword point, mirroring the exact reversal of the situations.
  • In Watership Down, Hazel taunts a farmyard cat, saying "Can you run? I think not." Many chapters later, the cat has Hazel pinned to the ground and hisses "Can you run? I think not.".
  • Used a couple of times in the early Myth Adventures books, minus the time-delay: Gleep does something clumsy and Skeeve scolds him for it, only to turn around and do the same clumsy thing himself and get scolded (with exactly the same words) by Aahz.
  • The last line of the Star Trek novel A Stitch in Time: "You're always welcome..." Addressed to Bashir by Garak, this is the same line given earlier to Garak by Astraea, the leader of the Oralian faith. On one hand, its use at the end signifies the genuine spiritual confidence behind Garak's invite, and suggests he has truly found a sense of peace within himself, at least on some level. He is "opening up" to Bashir, implicitly with genuine eagerness to make a connection. This represents considerable Character Development. It's ironic, though, in that Garak, a "night person" is now echoing Astraea, vessel of the light.
  • There was a short story called In 50 Years Who Will Know or some such, where a girl is constantly told this by her mother whenever something goes wrong, trying to teach the girl not to take misfortune so seriously. Eventually, the girl starts telling herself this (and hating herself for it, as she finds no comfort in it at all). When the mother tries to bleach her hair and ends up dying it "maybe even glow-in-the-dark green", the girl uses this line on her mother. Her mother finds it no more comforting than her daughter did.
  • In Warrior Cats, there are a couple:
    • When Sandpaw and Dustpaw get to go the Gathering (a special event that happens once every month) but Graypaw doesn't, Sandpaw tells him to have a "nice quiet evening". Later, when Graypaw gets to go but Sandpaw doesn't, he mentions that he told her to have a "nice quiet evening".
    • When Sol was a kit, his mother, after being left by her mate, cries, "Why do these things always happen to me?". Sol himself later says this when he has joined SkyClan and is told at the Gathering that he cannot become a warrior (yet, although he doesn't see it that way).
  • In The Outsiders, after coming home very late, Ponyboy's oldest brother angrily yells at him for always using the excuse "I didn't mean to." Later, on the exact page, after he hits Ponyboy, he is stunned and says "I didn't mean to", even as Ponyboy ran out of the house.
  • In Carnifex, High Admiral Robinson's message recommending that Captain Wallenstein not be elevated to Class One, which she read when he went to sleep without having closed down his computer, described her as being "adequate, but no more than that" as an officer. Later, after Robinson has been captured by Carerra, Carerra allows the High Admiral to talk to Captain Wallenstein on their comm link. Robinson begs her to do anything to get him free, she shuts him down, asking why she would do that for "an adequate officer, but no more than that".
  • In Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native There are two back to back gambling scenes. In the first Damon Wildeve wins gambles all the money off of Christian Cantle—much of it borrowed; in the next, unbeknownst to Christian, Diggory Venn who was been listening in on the gambling, wins back all the money from Wildeve, intending to give it back to its true owner (though he doesn't actually know who owns all the money). During the first gambling scene, Wildeve taunts Christian to wage more by telling the story of an American who, having lost his money and most of his clothes, kept wagering until he "Won back his coat, won back his hat, won back his umbrella, his watch, his money, and went out of the door a rich man." Venn throws this story back at Wildeve, line by line, as he is winning back the money.
  • In the Temps story "The Oedipus Effect", DPR scientist Dr Sweetland is being sued by a Smug Snake lawyer after a kid who was found to not be a precog warned his father he was in danger, and the father ignored the warning and was killed. When Sweetland protests that he can't prove the DPR was at fault, the lawyer replies "I don't have to prove anything. I just have to sow the seeds of doubt." Later, Sweetland combines a few things he's learnt about the lawyer with his own theory that precognition is actually subconcious telekinesis, and suggests the lawyer might be telekinetically responsible for the man's death, with the kid picking it up telepathically (they never tested him for that). When the lawyer gets outraged by this, Sweetland retorts "But I don't have to prove anything, do I? I only have to sow the seeds of doubt."
  • Winnie the Pooh: "Oh, Tigger, I am glad to see you," cried Rabbit.
  • An almost instantaneous example: in 1633, the sequel to 1632, after Joachim von Thierbach has gone halfway around the room pointing out all the people whose lives have been ruined by mercenary soldiers, he begins to wrap up his remarks:
    Joachim: Such is the piety of aristocracy, King and Chancellor. Such is what — nothing more — all of your fine distinctions between Lutheran and Calvinist and Catholic come to in the end. Which nobleman gets to plunder and abuse which commoner at his convenience.
    Oxenstierna: Enough!
    Joachim: Yes, indeed, Chancellor. Precisely my point. Enough.
  • In Ruth Frances Long's The Treachery of Beautiful Things, Jenny, after seeing her brother swallowed by The Lost Wood, has almost persuaded herself that she had hallucinated it. She tells herself as she approaches the woods where he vanished that it's only trees. Later — after getting into herself and finding it the Land of Faerie, she tries to talk to a tree spirit that she knows is fairly harmless and tells herself that it's only a tree, and notices the echo herself.

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