What Kind of Irony Is in 'Ballad of Birmingham'?

"The Ballad of Birmingham" by Dudley Randall is a poem about the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. Four girls were killed and many others injured when a bomb exploded at the church that day. The poem uses situational irony to illustrate how, during the Civil Rights Movement, even places that were normally safe could quickly became dangerous.

Situational Irony

In literature, situational irony is the difference between what is expected to happen and what actually occurs. In the poem, a young girl wants to attend a freedom march, a type of political rally, in downtown Birmingham. Her mother fears the march isn’t a safe place for her daughter, so she sends her to church instead. The situational irony is that the mother expects that the church will provide a safe place for her daughter while the march would not. What occurs, however, is the opposite. The child is killed in a bombing at the church and would have actually been safer at the freedom march. It is ironic that a political rally was a much safer place than a church that day.

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