On Basis Of Our Reading, What Would Your Definition Of Satire Be? Explain In Detail Why. Essay, Research Paper
“An exaggerated, often witty or ironic, indirect approach to express one´s opinions or disgust with the aim to ridicule a desired victim.” This is my definition of satire and hopefully satisfies the areas of satire that need to be explained.
The satirical text written by Jonathon Swift in 1729 fit the above description perfectly. The piece I refer to is ‘A Modest Proposal´. He wrote about cannibalism but more precisely the consumption of young babies. He stated that many children belonging to poor families were a burden and that by selling or eating them could make them beneficial to the Irish public. This is an outrageous statement and highly unlikely that Swift actually believed that this method would really help the public at this difficult time. So this fits the criteria in the first part of my definition. A Modest Proposal was exaggerated and ironic.
This then leads me onto ‘indirect approach´. At the time that Swift writes, he lived in Ireland. The fact that he could read and write alone was a rarity and showed his stature and importance well. The English had taken control of Ireland and the potato famine had now struck the nation.
The piece was published in English newspapers and some took its literal meaning: that Irish were turning in to cannibals. Others saw the use of satire. This makes it an indirect approach to ridicule the English, the desired victim in this case.
I kept my definition brief because to describe the uses and methods would take a far more educated than myself. Upon reading further definitions a phrase caught my eye, which also defines satire well but briefly:
“…An artfully developed assault on a topic or idea”
This is good definition but only scrapes the surface of what satire really is.
Although the dates of these quotes are not known (so a comparison concerning the date cannot be made) a general pattern is followed: “(Leonard Feinberg) Satire is a playfully critical distortion of the familiar.”
“(Molly Irvins) Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful.”
Both these quotes describe A Modest Proposal well. Irvins is right in that Swift was a powerless civilian trying to ridicule the English government. Feinberg also showed accuracy as Swift did actually distort the familiar occurrences in Ireland. Molly Irvins´ quote is backed by several other similar quotes.
“(W.H Auden) I have no gun but I can spit” is a good example. This basically means that despite not having a weapon (power) I can still make a difference. This demonstrates that the most common satirists are powerless people.
A dictionary definition is shown below and should hypothetically be the most accurate of all definitions given:
Satire: Poem, prose or composition, in which prevailing vices or follies are held up to ridicule.
Charles Dickens was probably the most admired, inspirational and successful author in the Victorian era. I believe that he used this fame to attack the education policies in England. Hard Times was a satirical novel and did just that. I believe that through the character of Gradgrind he aimed to ridicule the education policies.
Gradgrind beliefs are that education should be about facts and nothing else. His understanding is that without statistics and calculations education will deteriorate.
“NOW, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts. Facts alone are wanted in life…”
The importance of the facts is indicated by a capital letter. This hypothesis of education leaves students with no practice in using creativity or imagination, which is what I believe that Dickens disagrees with, especially being an author.
Siegfried Sassoon also wrote a famous satirical composition but this was after 1900 and was called “The General”. The poem doesn´t try to put it´s meaning across indirectly but is a demonstration of satire none the less. The poem begins describing the cheerful moods that the soldiers and the Generals possessed at the start of the war. The later part of the poem is discriminating the General´s judgement, attitude, lack of care and general incompetence:
“(Cheerful moods:) “Good morning, good morning” the General said.” The changeover in the mood of the poem is evident in these two lines.
“…Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of them dead. And we´re cursing his staff for incompetent swine…” This changeover in moods is an indication to the public of how quickly the war was over for some people and that the war was not as great as people made it out to be. This, although, not indirect is witty and has a clear objective which is to ridicule the English government and the people in charge at the time of World War 2. There is however another adjective that was in my original definition that isn´t used in Sassoon´s composition. This is ‘exaggerated´. It is unfair and immoral to say that Sassoon´s poem was exaggerated as some terrible and shocking happenings occurred in the Second World War. Therefore to judge what is exaggerated or not may cause offence to the soldier´s who fought.
There are many other examples of satire, thousands in fact across the world today. Television programmes such as ‘Have I Got News For You´, ‘Goodness Gracious Me´ and ‘Harry Enfield And Chums´ all use satire in vast amounts to attract viewers. Have I Got News For You for example exaggerates the current headlines and twists the headlines into something humorous. This particular programme exaggerates the truth, is immensely witty and aims to ridicule several desired victims.
The texts written before 1900 tend to try to attack the Government. I think this is because of the class divisions at the times. Jonathon Swift, for example, lived in an era where there was a huge class difference, as did Charles Dickens. After the social reform in England, which occurred after the Boer War, things started to change and the class divisions although still existent were far less noticeable. When Sassoon wrote, at the outbreak of the war, the gap slightly increased between working and upper classes. This was because the Government was needed to defend the country and organise the war tactics and therefore the public was hugely dependent on it´s government. I believe that as times have progressed satire is used mainly as a source of humour. The Adbusters (adbuster.org) site was a site hosting ‘spoof adverts´. Adverts were made to ridicule large firms such as McDonalds and Calvin Klein. The designers of the advertisements believed that firms such as these were giving an unbalanced diet and forcing youths to spend money on their appearances and that their looks was the only important factor in life. Through these images they aimed to ridicule the companies. They did this however in a humorous way, which would attract people to look at the images.
Generally I have found that uses of satire before 1900 are very serious and are more often than not, trying to attack the government at the time. After 1900 hundred, except in a few cases, the main uses of satire is to produce humour.