“Courting A Monk” by Katherine Min is somewhat of a coming of age story, only it is not the typical story of this genre. It takes place as the young woman is entering young adulthood. The story revolves around the efforts of the main character to discover her identity as a person. The author uses irony three different types of irony to explore the conflict within the main character and the other characters in the story. This essay will explore examples of the three types of irony in the story.
The three types of irony are verbal, situational, and dramatic. Verbal irony is the use of words to mean something different from what the actual words spoken would mean literally (Watt, 2013). Verbal irony can be in form of overstatement or understatement, but it is not harmful, as with sarcasm (Watt, 2013). The best example of verbal irony in the story is the title itself. The idea of courting a monk is ironic because the reader is aware that a monk typically takes a vow of celibacy. The monk lives a life of solitude without the normal partner relationships of the rest of the world. Therefore, to “court” a monk is ironic because it represents a futile effort on the part of the pursuant.
The second type of irony is situational. This type of irony is created by the difference between what was expected to happen and what actually happens (Watt, 2013). An example of this in the story is the attitude of the father in the story. His strict attitudes towards Kim were designed to keep her from leading the radical life that she did. Kim’s father imposed strict rules on her, even in his emotional absence, that were supposed to have an effect on Kim throughout her college life. The irony is that the rules were meant to control Kim and assure that she followed a good path in college led to her rebellion.
The third type of irony is dramatic irony. This is when the reader is more aware of what is happening than the characters (Watt, 2013). One type of dramatic irony is tragic irony where the character takes certain actions and the audience can see the outcome, but the character cannot. One example of this is the entire overall plot of the story. The reader knows from the beginning that the two lovers are destined for struggle and hardship in their relationship. The first clue that this is a doomed relationship comes in the line that describes their first meeting. She was passing through the vegetarian dining hall with a plate of veal cordon bleu (Min, 1995). This represents two different ethical standards that are reflected in the foods that they consume. Veal is grown in such a way that it is repulsive to many vegetarians, who are against the practices that are used to produce the dish. This statement sets up the conflict and the philosophical differences of the story. The entire plot of the story is based on dramatic irony.
One of the best examples of cultural irony in the story occurs when the father becomes angry at Micah for the knowledge that he does not have about Buddhism. This anger directed at another for where they are in their knowledge base goes against Buddhist practices. The father is demonstrating in this scene that he is not a true follower of the tradition, which is against anger and hostility. This results in a double irony where the author becomes angry at herself for bringing the two together.
Another example of irony is when the father refuses to attend the wedding out of racial prejudices. This type of prejudice goes against his strict Buddhist teachings. Throughout the story the father professes his devout Buddhism, yet acts in a way that goes against the principles that are taught by Buddhism, one of which is to show compassion and nonjudgementalism towards others for the choices that they make. The father continually creates cultural irony throughout the story.
The theme of anger and rebellion throughout the story, set against a backdrop of strict Buddhist practice represent an irony that the characters themselves are not aware of. The daughter’s rebellion and free spiritedness is closer to living the Buddhist lifestyle than the strict one that her father practices. The father is the apparent “expert” on Buddhism, yet he seems farther from grasping the principles than the daughter.
The daughter’s nonjudgemental attitude towards someone who apparently comes from a different ethical standpoint than herself. She is willing to bend her outlook and behavior to try to see the world through someone else’s eyes. This is something that her father is unable to do, but something that would be more in line with the Buddhist philosophy that he teaches. This is the main dramatic irony in the story.
Another irony of the story is the situation created by an American converting to Buddhism and taking on the serious study that is typically only reserved for the devout in their native population. The irony is two Buddhists getting in a contest to determine who is the most “Buddhist” of the two. Noncompetition in Buddhist principle that the characters in the story continually break.
The author of story uses the internal and external conflict that result from a religious practice that promotes peace and harmony. The anger and competition among all of the characters is the central conflict. The daughter is at a time in her life where she is attempting to define herself. This is a time in her life for trying on new things and trying on new personae to see which one fits. The author uses irony to create the plot of the story, rather than as an embellishment. This is an unusual use of irony as a storytelling device.
The use of irony in the story effectively sets of the characters for both internal and external conflict. As the daughter rebels against her father, she undergoes an internal transformation that will lead her to finding her personal philosophy and establishing her outlook on life. Both Micah and Kim were seekers of their inner worth and wellbeing.