Satire

Meaning of Satire & Examples in Literary Works

Satire is broadly defined as a literary genre that uses ridicule, ironyOpens in new window, witOpens in new window, sarcasmOpens in new window, etc. to expose folly or vice or to lampoonOpens in new window an individual or group of individuals. Thus a work of satire is crafted to mock and blame culprits with the primary goal of imparting positive change in them.

This rhetorical device has its functionality focused on Epideictic RhetoricOpens in new window where it attacks certain carnibre of individuals, groups, events, etc. It takes place in the present tense and its practical aspect is best understood in connection to a particular example in order to establish proper context. In this vein, Ronald Placone and Michael Tumolo develop a definition of the Satire upon the premise of Colbert’s 2010 performance in the public sphere when he appeared in character with Jon Stewart at the public event “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or FearOpens in new window.” The definition follows:

  • Satire is that device which directs the attention simultaneously in two competing directions. First, it invites its audience to reflect on the absurdity of the status quo. By doing so, satire allows the audience to see how norms of appropriate thought or behavior operate culturally, not naturally. Second, by inviting audiences to see how particular norms are produced, it creates the possibility of establishing a new understanding of normative thought and behavior (38).
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A satire lampooning a constitution amendment

It is important to note that the Satire is most often applied on two specific roles concurrently:

  1. it brings about the picturesque scene of a ridiculous world created by the satirist meant to excites laugher or merriment; and
  2. is the introduction of the real world meant to invite reflection on how society might correct ridiculous habits or people simultaneously.

Scholars Observations

In the quest to examining the potentially persuasive aspect of satire, Edward and Lillian Bloom in their vital argument, state that satire’s main role is to unite readers in so manner as to actively address the object of mockery embedded within a particular satirical piece. In some scenarios the satirist is at first required to play the role of a teacher, in order to educate an audience especially in the aspect of events concerning civic importance.

According to Dustin Griffin’s observation, Satire is “a highly rhetorical and moral art. A work of satire is designed to attack vice or folly. To this end it uses wit or ridicule. Like polemical rhetoricOpens in new window, it seeks to persuade an audience that something or someone is reprehensible or ridiculous; unlike pure rhetoric, it engages in exaggeration and some sort of fiction. But satire does not forsake the real world entirely. Its victims come from that world, and it is this fact (together with a darker or sharper tone) that separates satire from pure comedy” (34).

Features of Satire
  • Satire is witty, ironic, and often exaggerated. It uses extremes to bring its audience to a renewed awareness of its ethical and spiritual danger.
  • Satire strives to bring ethical reform. It attacks social vices, individuals, and institutions deem culpable of vicious acts.
  • Satire is constructive art that aims not to destroy but to correct social ills.
  • It seeks to reinstate social standards.
  • Satire in generally attacks all categories of culpable people rather than individually.
  • Satire uses humorous approach to make vices laughable while it still conveys its purpose
  • Satire is constructive art that aims not to destroy but to correct social ills.
  • In most cases satirist uses innuendo, understatement and ambiguity where it become necessary to mask or protect the interest and/or identity against danger.

Classification of Satire

Satires generally attack and ridicule foibles and vices but are typically categorized into three as outlined below:

1.   Juvenalian Satire

Juvenalian satire uses irony in a somewhat harsh and abrasive tone to ridicule societal structures, power, civilization, public figures, institutions, and other topical vices. The (It’s) name Juvenalian was named after the Roman Satirist ‘JuvenalOpens in new window’ for his writings directed at attacking public officials and governmental institutions for their shortcoming which regarded as evil. Juvenalian satire addresses perceived social vices through severe bitter outrage, characterized by the use of irony, sarcasm, moral indignation often with little emphasis on humor.

2.   Horatian Satire

Horatian named after the Roman satirist HoraceOpens in new window, is one that uses mild humor in a playful manner to denounce social vices, and individual foibles. Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus) wrote Satires to gently ridicule the dominant opinions and philosophical beliefs of ancient Rome and Greece. Horatian satire uses wit, exaggeration, and humor to express folly, its goal is to heal the situation with gentle smiles as possible, rather than engaging in personal attacks.

3.   Menippean

This is a form of satire characterized by criticism of mental attitudes rather than societal norms or specific individuals. Menippean satire typically attacks mental attitudes of such categories of people like “pedants,” “bigots,” “cranks,” “parvenus,” “virtuosi,” “enthusiasts,” “rapacious” and incompetent professional men of all kinds, which are treated as diseases of the intellect.

Examples of Literary Works that depicts Satire

  1. The Adventures of HuckleberryOpens in new window by Mark TwainMark TwainOpens in new window uses satire to ridicule slavery act, he actually condemns the manner people treated slaves. Miss WatsonOpens in new window whose character depicted her as a good ‘Christian Woman’ has valuable values but ironically she too keeps slaves. In the story, Jim is a slave owned by Miss Watson. Mark Twain uses satire to convey how hypocritical a ‘good Christian woman’ can be by partaking in a immorality of owning slaves as property.
  2. Animal FarmOpens in new window by George OrwellOpens in new window — As the plot in Animal Farm entails, George Orwell’s satire is directed at outcomes of the Russian RevolutionOpens in new window. The Animals represents the Russian people, with the leading figures of communism represented by pigs. According to his beliefs based on experiences garnered from outcome of the Russian Revolution as well as the Spanish RevolutionOpens in new window, he believes a classless society could only be achieved through rebellious revolution. This was portrayed in Animal Farm as the animals rebelled against Mr. Jones and took over the farm which they renamed Animal Farm and established themselves as the sole administrators of the farm.
  3. A Voyage to Maryland by Ebenezer CookeOpens in new window — A satire, that describes the laws, government, courts, and constitutions of the country, and also the buildings, feasts, frolics, entertainments, and drunken humors of the inhabitants in that part of America.
Important Hint! 

Satire is a unique style of writing; it uses humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to criticize and expose people for their incompetence and or stupidity particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues in a society. This genre of literature is used to shame people, businesses, government, and society as a whole into doing something they should do or put an end to indecent and vicious acts contrary to humanity.

Further Readings:
Elizabeth Benacka, Rhetoric, Humor, and the Public Sphere: From Socrates to Stephen Colbert | Irony, Parody, & Satire.Opens in new window
Wikipedia | SatireOpens in new window