Satire is a genre of its own, but it’s a bit confusing because the genre breaks down into numerous sub-genres. As a writer, identifying the type of satire will help the reader better understand the context of the writing. However, identifying satire and knowing the elements of satire is the first step.
In this article, we outline the definition of satire, the types of satire, and several of its elements. Satire in literature is very effective at engaging an audience and can both entertain and shock a reader when used by a novelist correctly.
What is Satire?
Satire uses several tactics such as humor, exaggeration, sarcasm, irony, and ridicule to point out the absurdity or injustice of an issue. Often used in reference to politics and other human issues in society, the writer often pokes fun, exaggerates, or bullies in a witty and sometimes uncomfortable manner to make the reader aware of the issues the writer is focusing on. The point of satire is to provoke the reader to think by shocking them with the writing style.
Types of Satire
There are three main types of satire in literature. Satirists may switch types from book to book depending upon the issue they are referring to. Satire is often used in tales of fiction that are based on genuine issues. Novelists rely on parody and metaphor to tell a fictional story with very real elements of what the author sees as issues.
Juvenalian satire often uses dystopian societies as the premise of the story. The satire employed in this type of fiction is often more dark than amusing and can make a reader uncomfortable. This tactic is employed to make a reader think about the issue at the center of the story and remember the story after reading. It is meant to stay with you after you’ve put down the book, and the writer accomplishes this by taking the audience to a brash, ugly, often violent world.
In JG Ballard’s “High Rise,” the setting is exactly that: a high-rise apartment building. It is designed so that the less wealthy are on, the lower floors, the middle class in the middle, and the wealthy are in the upper portion, with the architect residing in the penthouse.
The characters in Ballard’s novel descend into a depraved, violent state in which there is essentially class warfare within the building that is kept private. No one calls the authorities, even after people are murdered. The poor attempt to make it to the upper floors of the high rise, while the wealthy attempt to beat them back down where they “belong.”
Ballard uses dialogue, descriptions of depravity and violence, and crude language to express his anger about a societal issue: wealth class and societal division. Absurd and truly awful things happen that are such wild exaggerations of how most human beings behave, even when angry, that the audience has no choice but to be uncomfortable.
Other examples of this type of satire are “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury and “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess. The first is about a dystopian futuristic nation that outlaws books and reading. Fire departments exist to burn books, viewed as contraband. People rely heavily on technology and government leadership to dictate every part of their lives.
In “A Clockwork Orange,” Burgess describes a group of young adults who are incredibly violent and seem to have no respect or regard for human life. He invents an entire slang language to get the audience to work to decipher the meaning of the dialogue, and therefore draw them in more.
The book is also set in a dystopian and futuristic world. Burgess has it written to take a jab at the lack of morality in the world as well as the ineffective ways in which the government and penal system attempt to rehabilitate those who are violent and unlawful.
An interesting point to note is that all three of these examples have been made into films. This sort of satire makes for suspenseful movies, and these films and stories often become what are known as “cult classics.”
This sort of satire is not usually humorous. It’s dark and depressing, and it takes an issue, blows it way out of proportion, and then creates a storyline in which people are forced to survive in a society full of absurdities.
Horatian satire uses parody and humor as satirical techniques to urge the audience to see an issue. It uses the joke to poke fun at a problem to nudge the audience into wanting to be a part of the solution.
These types of satires are the most common in literature, film, and television. The author makes you laugh with a joke seeded into a serious topic. In Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s “Cat’s Cradle,” the apocalypse occurs, and the characters in the novel, all of whom are are incredibly exaggerated, practice a made-up, nonsense religion called “Bokononism,” a playoff of its creator’s last name, Bokonon.
This religion parodies most known religions by combining them and making fun of them. The book relies on comedy to keep the audience interested in the bizarre story. It highlights the flaws in the way humans act towards one another and the aspects of belief in terms of faith, especially in desperate times.
You find yourself entertained when reading this book, but you also see the discussion Vonnegut is having underneath the funny and comic quips he provides. You will likely finish the book with a smile on your face, but for most, it’s a wry smile.
Another example of this type of satire is “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” which comes across as a lighthearted story about a child having adventures but is more of a comic jab at how we treat people of low socioeconomic status.
Menippean satire uses parody and sarcasm to create a funny but shocking look into the pervasiveness of attitudes and mentalities rather than groups or specific people.
Most people have seen Saturday Night Live, which is perhaps the most well-known and longest-running satirical television comedy. The viewer not only finds the humor in the satire, but they also see the irony in the humor of the exaggerated attitudes or behaviors of familiar situations and characters.
SNL and other shows and novels regularly ridicule a character in the media or history by cracking a joke at their expense or performing a satiric sketch or skit. The intent is never to glorify the person. On the contrary, it’s usually written to focus on some absurdity about the person or situation the writer feels passionate about.
Elements of Satire and Satirical Techniques
Many techniques are used in satire to entertain the audience while highlighting the seriousness or absurdity of an issue. When an author sits down to write satire, they must carefully choose the words they use to get the idea they are trying to express underneath and within the story across to their audience. The following are some of the elements of satire.
No one wants to read non-stop tragedy. Comedy is usually used to create a buffer or a cushion from the blow from the underlying focal point of the book. Lacing a serious message inside of something funny or witty is one technique used to write successful satire.
Blowing an issue out of proportion or making a person larger than life and overdoing their mannerisms, speech, and actions creates a rendition of the person we can laugh at rather than immediately be disgusted by. It relies on sarcasm and wit to create a sort of outlandish caricature of the issue.
Sarcasm and witticism are major techniques used in satire. Examples of this are in all three sub-genres of satire. Both verbal sarcasm displayed through dialogue in words said and pointed sarcasm through deliberate actions heavily rely upon. These techniques have to be present for a story to qualify as satire. Sarcasm is part of the definition of the style of satire itself. You can’t have one without the other.
Ironic situations, ironic speech, ironic casts, and other obvious ironies are among the many techniques used in this writing and performance style. Verbal irony and ironic behavior to get the point across give us insight into the exact definition of the pointed issue the creator is addressing.
Ridicule occurs in the more dark comedic satiric content. When an author uses ridicule or a commentator ridicules someone, it is done with malicious intent to draw attention to what the creator sees as absurdity, hate, or injustice harbored by a person, group, attitude, or situation.
Parodies, like those sometimes featured on Saturday Night Live and other sketch comedy shows, draw parallels to an issue they are attempting to make a point about. A parody needs to be obvious enough that the viewer sees the issue and not just the sketch at face value.
“Black Jeopardy” is a skit that has been done numerous times on SNL, and it is to showcase the ignorance that many people have about Black culture and the assumptions that many people make.
Satire is a genre that is quite diverse, and most people probably have a book or film that they enjoy, which they may not even know is satire. It’s also one of the most effective ways as a writer to draw attention to a social matter or particular widespread belief or issue that you feel passionate about. If you’re looking for a new project, consider writing a satire.