The Overstory

The Overstory Irony

Situational Irony: Douglas's Planting

In an effort to contribute to re-forestation, Douglas becomes a member of a group who plants seedlings across the state, but he learns that this is actually sponsored by logging and construction companies who use it as a contingency that enables them to cut down more trees. Douglas realizes that rather than contributing to re-forestation he is actually party to a system that enables companies to engage in deforestation.

Situational Irony: Douglas's Journal

Douglas journals his feelings and experiences initially to help himself get over what has happened and also to chronicle this important part of his life; he is careful and he uses the tree names the protesters have given themselves rather than their own names, believing this to be safe, but the tree names are already familiar to authorities because they have been used during encounters with the police at protest sites; thus, in an attempt to shield everyone from trouble, he has actually revealed their identities to the authorities.

Dramatic Irony: The Chestnut Blight

Powers writes of the chestnut blight and the response to it: "Loggers race through a dozen states to cut down whatever the fungus hasn't reached. The nascent Forest Service encourages them. Use the wood, at least, before it's ruined. And in that salvage mission, men kill any tree that might contain the secret of resistance" (14). This is tragically ironic, for the narrator knows that the Forest Service's advice to "use the wood" is actually destroying much more than the trees above the soil, and is precluding any resistance from developing.

Dramatic Irony: The Scroll

In an amusing example of dramatic irony, Winston takes the scroll through customs, choosing not to hide it. The official is more concerned with the smelly food than the priceless object in front of her, and the scroll slips through as a "souvenir."

Verbal Irony: Taking Care of the Forests

Patricia bonds with a researcher in the forest (this turns out to be Henry Fallows) over the bad advice their former instructors gave them about maintaining forest health. Powers writes that their thoughts are: "Improve forest health. As if forests were waiting all these four hundred million years for us newcomers to come cure them" (138). In this ironic tone the scientists express the ludicrousness of humans thinking they are the ones that can maintain the health of these creatures that predate them by millions of years. Human folly is thus wildly extravagant as well as potentially—and usually—dangerous.

Dramatic/Verbal Irony: Mother N

When Watchman and Maidenhair hear of Mother N and Moses's deaths, which they supposedly caused themselves since they were "terrorists" who accidentally blew themselves up, Watchman scoffs, "Mother N, a terrorist! She wouldn't even let me spike a tree. She told me, 'It might hurt the guy with the saw'" (323). This bitterly ironic comment confirms what the reader already knows—that Mother N was a firm advocate of nonviolence and that she would not commit suicide—and the uncomprehending sadness that this event brings to the members of the LDF.