What constitutes a Satire?

Satire in literature is a form of writing that provides a critique of the existing conditions in society, people, economy, governance etc. It highlights the flaws, hypocrisy, corruption, immorality, vices etc to help provide a passage for the betterment of society.

It uses humour, scathing assessments, analogy, irony etc to produce a powerful text to grab the attention of the viewer.

Purpose of Satire in Literature

Thinkers and writers have been using the form of Satire to expose the prevalent evils in their times and society. Be it Pharoah’s Egypt, Plato’s Greece or even Medieval Arabs, it has been wielded as a useful instrument to bring about a transformation in the mental and social makeup of human beings.

It has led to leaders changing their policies on peace and war to spreading propaganda in favour of mass cultures like Islamophobia, radical feminism or anti-communism.

Satires provide an insightful look into the accepted and congregated understanding of a culture or a collected group of people and help dissect their habits, behaviour and proclivities.

Works like Animal Farm by George Orwell, Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain etc are some entertaining but enlightening examples of easy to understand but profound satires.

 3 Types of Satire

  •  Horatian Satire

Named after Roman satirist Horace (circa 1st century BC). This form of satire is playful and clever. There is an incorporation of entertainment to make it more digestible universally with lighter tones of mockery and wry humour.

It comments on human nature and its follies. There is a conscious effort to avoid overt negativity and this makes it the softest and most tolerant form of satire. Example: Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Matthew Groening’s The Simpsons etc.

  •  Juvenalian Satire

Named after Roman satirist Juvenal (circa 1st century AD). This form is more aggressive and vitriolic. It was primarily used to accost religion, politicians, public figures etc. There is a profuse use of sarcasm and the language is harsh and brazen.

It is provocative but less humorous and entertaining. It carries a more brooding and gruesome tone. Example: Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, Lord Byron’s Don Juan, George Orwell’s Animal Farm etc.

  • Menippean Satire

Named after Greek satirist Menippus (circa 3rd century BC). This is the oldest form of satire made famous by eponymous Greek cynic.

Even though it is rarer than the other two it offers a complete departure from the social criticism used in them. It explores the psychology and mental sphere of human understanding and dominant views of the age.

However, there is a certain similarity with the Horatian style in terms of targeting human vices and ideas like bigotry, gluttony etc over particular individuals.

On the flipside, Menippean satire uses a more attacking and stinging tone, similar to the Juvenalian style. Example: Robert Southey’s The Doctor, William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell etc. 

3 New Forms of Satire

Due to the evolution of literature in a very open and unrestrained climate, we have seen newer forms of satire emerge and newer fora like The Onion, Ig Noble awards, Saturday Night Live etc gain popularity and exposure.

The three broad forms Horatian, Juvenalian and Menippean have been hybridized to create new-fangled modern outlooks on the satirical format itself. It can be explicit and direct or implicit and indirect. Other forms of satire have also developed with the most common being. Following are the modern examples of satire.

  •  Parody

Spoof or parody makes fun of a popular person or event and satirically amuses the spectators. It creates an absurd imposture the original piece of work etc.

  •  Irony

It works by connoting an opposite meaning to the natural and conventional meaning of the text or conveying dissonance between speech and action.

It can be Socratic (pretension of ignorance to gain added benefit), dramatic (added information about characters), verbal (opposite words to the intended meaning) and situational (the difference between the expected outcome and actual outcome).

  •  Sarcasm

Sarcasm is an acute criticism or stinging commentary on something in a funny or even harsh way. There are some other styles that are sometimes used as satires like a meme, burlesque, double entendres,  overstatement or Embellishment, understatement or Euphemism, Malapropism (an intentional mispronunciation of terms or names), wordplay, false praise, diminution, etc

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