Satire is a genre of literature and the performing arts as well as a literary device. When writers use satire they analyze human behaviors and human nature in order to make fun of, criticize, or chastise them. This is done in a humorous and sometimes dark way.

Satire is not one thing. A writer creates successful satire by using a combination of other literary devices. These include irony, hyperbole, repetition, and even types of figurative language like metaphor and simile.


History of Satire

Satire is one of the oldest forms of writing. It is used to confront problems in society that are too complex, overwhelming, or sensitive to address head-on. There are examples reaching all the way back to the Classical period. It is often difficult for writers, or anyone for that matter, to directly stand up against the actions of a larger group. This could be a governmental organization, a socially popular segment of the population, or even a single leader within a community. Their choices, foolish behaviors, quirks, and character traits have all historically been used to create successful satire.


Types of Satire

There are generally considered to be three different types of satire. They are:

  • Juvenalian. This is the harshest form of the three. It is concentrated on a single target, whether that be a person or a small group of people. Most political satire is Juvenalian.
  • Menippean. Menippean satire is less direct and more widespread than Juvenalian. It is directed at a larger segment of the population of a broader set of beliefs or choices. For example, an entire political party rather than a specific politician.
  • Horatian. This type of satire is the softest and easiest to deal with if you are on the receiving end. Horatian satire comes closer to parody than it does to the harsh roasting of Juvenalian satire.


Examples of Satire

Example #1 Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

This is one of the most popular examples of satire. It is considered to be one of the most successful in the English language as well. Within the book, Swift speaks on the political parties in England criticizing their values, religion, and politics. More complexly, the story also satirizing the subgenre of literature that it is mimicking, tales of travelers.

It was published in 1726 and was immediately a raging success. The book was written, Swift stated, to “vex” the world.  It is an adventure story that tells the tale of Lemuel Gulliver who goes through a series of misadventures as he ends up on unknown islands where everyone and everything is unusually sized.


Example #2 Animal Farm by George Orwell

Another very famous example of satire is Animal Farm by George Orwell. This well-loved short novel satirizes communism, especially that in the Soviet Union and the fall out of the Russian Revolution. The plot is dark, disturbing, and quite complex as anthropomorphized pigs take over a farm. It raises questions of control, power, and the treatment of others. They stage a revolution, throwing off their human masters but the pigs end up being just as cruel as their masters were. One of the most famous lines is “All animals are equal […] but some… are more equal than others”.


Example #3 The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope

In ‘The Rape of the Lock,’ Alexander Pope satirizes the upper classes in 18th century England. He speaks on the purposelessness of their lives, their fascination with societal customs, clothes, and rituals. The most trivial things are elevated, through exaggeration and hyperbole, to the highest level. Pope takes what he saw in the real world and enhances it in order to create an impactful message. The book asks the reader to reconsider what they believe to be important in their own lives while also decreases in the public’s eye the prestige of the upper classes. The moral flaws are made quite clear for all to see.


Example #4 Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

In his best-known work Catch-22, Heller satirizes the US military. He creates characters and storylines that reveal the failings of the military establishment and the true absurdity of war. Rather than paint the soliders, the battles, and the victories or defeats as brave or glorious, he exposes them for what they are. The suffering the men go through is at the forefront, mixed in with humorous details that lay bear war’s consequences. The book is considered to be Heller’s personal reaction to the Second World Warr

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