The Water Dancer

The Water Dancer Irony

Hiram can’t remember his mother (Situational irony)

Hiram is gifted, especially when it comes to his exceptional memory. Ironically, while he is able to memorize long and intricate series of details and stories, Hiram cannot clearly remember his mother, nor the day they were separated: he has “pushed my memory of her into the ‘down there’ of my mind.” Only fog and smoke are left where Hiram’s mother once was, metaphors that Coates uses to emphasize his ironic inability to remember.

All of the masters are useless and weak (Situational Irony)

The plantation rulers and slave-owners are the most powerful people in the Virginia society where Hiram grows up. Yet ironically, they are in another sense the weakest, since their whole society depends on the labor of enslaved people. They go to great lengths to hide this fact so as to hide that they are useless and weak.

The hounds capture Hiram in Philadelphia (Situational Irony)

As he continues to struggle with Conduction, Hiram’s sense of agony and loss grows. He decides to run away from Philadelphia and the Underground and begins to walk away from the city. In an example of situational irony, just when Hiram realizes that he can’t escape the Underground and plans to return home, the hounds of the North capture him and nearly return him to slavery.

Hiram ends up managing Lockless (Situational Irony)

When he was a child, Hiram longed to rule Lockless. He believed that because his father was the white master, he could prove his worth and gain access to the privileged world of the Quality. Yet as he matures, he realizes that despite his talents, this will never be possible. At the end of the novel, when Howell Walker dies and the Virginia Underground establishes a station at Lockless, Hiram ends up managing the estate. This is an example of situational irony, since Hiram ends up doing what he had thought he never could—but in a totally unexpected way.