Satire definition

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  • Definition: the literary art of diminishing or derogating a subject by making it ridiculous and evoking toward it attitudes of amusement, contempt, scorn, or indignation.

  • An important distinction: Satire differs from the comic in that comedy evokes laughter mainly as an end in itself, while satire derides; i. e., it uses laughter as a weapon, and against a butt - an object - that exists outside the work itself.

  • Objects: The butt, or object, of satire may be an individual (in "personal satire"), or a type of person, a class, an institution, a nation, or even the entire human race.

  • Purpose: Satire has usually been justified by those who practice it as a corrective of human vice and folly. According to these same practitioners, the aim of satire is to ridicule the fault or failing of the individual - rather than the individual person - and to target only those faults that are correctable, not those for which the individual is not responsible.

  • The typical satirist is a blend of idealist and realist. He is an idealist in that he wants to improve the world and is keenly aware of the great discrepancy between what the world could be and what it is. He is a realist in that he recognizes that he must go beyond the customary avenues of appeal in order to influence.

  • Satires vs. works containing satire: Satire occurs as an incidental, or side, element (i. e., not a main element) within many works whose overall mode is not satiric - in a certain character or situation, or in an interpolated passage or an ironic commentary on some aspect of the human condition or of contemporary society. For example, Jane Austen's novels Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice contain satire but are not considered to be satire since satire is not the main focus of either novel.

However, literary writings, whether poetry or prose, in which ridicule is the primary organizing principle constitute a distinct literary genre termed "satire." Outstanding examples of this genre include Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels..

  • Persona (mask): Satirists often make use of a special kind of narrator, called a mask or persona, which normally confused with the author’s own voice. (Example: Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in which Twain is NOT personally advocating the naïve and innocent but nonetheless racist mindset of the work’s persona, Huck Finn.)

  • Types of Satire: Satire is divided into two types based on the tone of the writing:

  1. Horatian satire: tends to be lighter, gentler, less serious in tone. The speaker manifests the character of an urbane, witty, and tolerant man of the world, who is moved more often to wry amusement than indignation at the spectacle of human folly, pretentiousness, or hypocrisy.

  1. Juvenalian satire: tends to be more serious, even harsh and bitter, in tone. The character of the speaker is that of a serious moralist who uses a dignified and public style of utterance to decry kinds of vice and error that, while ridiculous, are usually more serious or dangerous. Instead of amusement, In this type of satire the speaker attempts to evoke from readers contempt, moral indignation, or unillusioned sadness at the aberrations of humanity.


(bitter, angry) (humorous, lighthearted)


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