Definition of Satire

Satire is a of literature that uses wit for the purpose of social criticism. Satire ridicules problems in society, government, businesses, and individuals in order to bring attention to certain follies, vices, and abuses, as well as to lead to improvements. and are often an important aspect of satire. Satirists also often use , , , and to highlight their points.

Different Classifications of Satire

Within the general definition of satire, there are three main classifications of different types of satire. The first two of these are named after ancient Roman satirists—Horace (first century BCE) and Juvenal (late first century BCE to early second century AD)—while the third is named after the ancient Greek parodist Menippus (third century BCE).

Common Examples of Satire

There are many different ways that people satirize popular culture. Here are some non-literary examples of satire:

Significance of Satire in Literature

Satire has been used as social criticism for a very long time, and has been discovered in many different ancient cultures, from Ancient Egypt to Ancient Greece to the Medieval Islamic world. As now, satire was used to ridicule government officials and reigning popular opinions. Satire has a unique ability to confront public and ridicule leaders into changing their policies. Some consider satire to be the best way to understand a culture, as it provides insights into the collective psyche of a people and show who had power.

Examples of Satire in Literature

Example #1

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift, one of the leading satirists of his day, wrote Gulliver’s Travels as a satire of human nature and especially an anti-Whig satire. Lemuel Gulliver travels to several different lands, including the famous encounter with the Lilliputians, a society of people only a few inches tall. One example of satire in the book is that some Lilliputian men wear high heels and others wear low heels. The men who wear low heels are in power and will only appoint other men to government who wear low heels. Clearly, government appointments have nothing to do with ability—this is a direct attack on the separation of Whigs and Tories in English culture.

Example #2

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

As is often the case, the satire in Huckleberry Finn is often misunderstood and misconstrued as Mark Twain’s actual opinions. Twain hated slavery and used Huckleberry Finn to point out the inhumane way that slave-owners treated slaves. While some contend that the book is racist, Twain was strongly against racism. He used the characters of Jim and Miss Watson, Jim’s owner, to highlight the hypocrisy of slavery. Miss Watson is called a “good Christian woman” so that readers may realize that what she purports to stand for is in direct opposition to her actions.

Example #3

Animal Farm by George Orwell

George Orwell’s satire Animal Farm directly echoes the events of the Russian Revolution. He replaces the Russian people with animals on a farm, with the leading figures of communism represented by pigs. At first these pigs are supportive of equal rights for all animals, but gradually they give themselves all the benefits and exclude the other animals from the rewards of the farm. The men who were expelled at the beginning of the story represent the Tsars; by the end of the story, however, men are back on the farm and the animals outside cannot tell the difference between the pigs and the men. Orwell used this satire example to show that the men who came to power after the Russian Revolution were no more “equal” to the common people than the Tsars before them.

Example #4

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Joseph Heller’s World War II novel Catch-22 is a great example of satire. Joseph Heller had flown bomber missions in WWII, just like his main character Captain John Yossarian, and was tortured by the experience. He found the wartime bureaucracy and logic to be incredibly hypocritical. The most famous example of satire in the book comes from the title, the concept of the Catch 22. This is one of those bureaucratic nightmares in which something can only be done when the thing that precludes it from happening happens. Yossarian eventually discovers that the catch doesn’t even exist, but because everything thinks it does it still has the same effect. And, unfortunately, because it doesn’t exist it can’t be repealed. This is a good for the entire lack of logic in bureaucracy.