Satire is a literary term used to make fun of human vice or weakness. Although it always tends to be funny, its purpose is not to amuse but to correct the subject it aims at. Someone who uses satire is a satirist. Satire can be found in literature, plays, commentary, and media. A typical feature of satire is its strong irony or sarcasm, however, parody, burlesque, exaggeration, juxtaposition, comparison, analogy, and double entendre are also often used in writing.


Features of Satire
1. Irony
Irony refers to the use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning; an expression or utterance marked by a deliberate contrast between apparent and intended meaning; and a literary device employing such contrasts for humorous or rhetorical effect. Altogether, there are three kinds of irony: verbal irony, situational irony and dramatic irony.

1.1 Verbal irony is a situation where what you really mean to say is different from the words you use.
Example: “The Chinese should thank Acheson also because he has fabricated wild tales about modern Chinese history”. (Mao Tse-Tung)
Analysis: Firstly, we should know who Acheson is. Dean Gooderham Acheson was an American statesman and lawyer. From 1949 to 1953, he was the United States Secretary of State and played a central role in defining American foreign policy during the Cold War. He was the spokesman of American capitalists. Secondly, we should notice that this sentence was said by Mao Tse-Tung, chairman of China. He was the representative of proletariat. Now we should pay our attention to the word “thank”. Obviously, this very word doesn’t mean what it literally does. Since China and the United State represent different interest and are in a strained relation, the word “thank” here acidly disclosed the lie of Acheson whose real intension was to invade China. The word “thank” here is used as a verbal irony.

1.2 Situational irony is a description of discrepancy between the expected result and actual result.
Example 1: Slowly the old lady stooped to pick it (the check) up. Her present, her lovely present. With trembling fingers she tore it into little bits. (The Present)
Analysis 1: This is a sentence from the text The Present. It was the old lady’s 80th birthday and she was sure that her daughter would come back home. But it turned out that what came finally was only a check, not her daughter, which was contrary to what she expected. We can call this a situational irony.
Besides, here the writer uses “lovely present” to refer to the cold, emotionless check, which is a verbal irony.
Example 2: (1) She whispers, “Free, free, free!”
(2) At the bottom of the stairs, Mr. Richards stands waiting while someone is opening the front door. It is Brently Mallard.
Analysis 2: This novel is set in a single hour in an American home. Mrs. Mallard complained her life and when she learned that her husband, Brently Mallard died in a train accident according to a report, she felt free, as is described in the first sentence. However, when she went downstairs, her husband opened the front door and appeared in front of her, as is said in the second sentence. At first, Mrs. Mallard thought her husband died, while the truth was that he did not. This is a situational irony.

1.3 Dramatic irony is a method of giving readers some information that at least one of the characters is unaware of.
Example: When the doctors came they said she had died of heart disease--of the joy that kills. (The Story of an Hour)
Analysis: The doctors thought that Mrs. Mallard died from joy, and her sister, Richards, even her husband might all believe she died from extremely excitement. But the readers know it is not the joy but the sudden shock that caused Mrs. Mallard’s death. Here is a dramatic irony.

Besides the three types of irony explained above, there is a special category of irony, the irony of fate. A distinguished example of this kind of irony in literature comes from the The Gift of the Magiby O. Henry. The story tells a couple who are much in love and very poor want to give a Christmas gift to one another. The man is very proud of his pocket watch while the woman is equally proud of her long, beautiful and attractive hair. The irony happens when the woman cuts her hair and sells it to buy the man a watch chain, while the man sells his watch to buy the woman a hair comb. It seems that their fates are amusing themselves by toying with the minds of mortal with deliberate ironic intent.

2. Parody
Parody is an imitation or a spoof and is used to mock somebody or something by imitating it in a funny way. It is found in literature, music, movies and so on. Here I´d like to focus on parody in literature.
Parody in literature is “a form of satirical criticism or comic mockery that imitates the style and manner of a particular writer or school of writers so as to emphasize the weakness of the writer or the overused conventions of the school” (Encyclopedia Britannica).
Here is an example of parody in poem. The two poems are written by Robert Southey and Lewis Carroll respectively.
The Old Man’s Comforts and How He Gained Them
By Robert Southey
You are old, Father William, the young man cried,
The few locks which are left you are grey;
You are hale, Father William, a hearty old man,
Now tell me the reason I pray.

In the days of my youth, Father William replied,
I remember'd that youth would fly fast,
And abused not my health and my vigour at first
That I never might need them at last.
You Are Old Father William
By Lewis Carroll
"You are old, Father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head---
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

"In my youth," Father William replied to his son,
"I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again."

Analysis: It is obviously that Lewis Carroll’s “You Are Old Father William” parodies Robert Southey’s “The Old Man’s Comforts and How He Gained Them”. In this way Carroll is rebelling against the stifling attitude that Victorians had towards children, and supplying them instead with fun and laughter.

Functions of Satire
The application of satire can make an essay attractive and impressive by its distinct way of description. While the most prominent role of satire is to ridicule, to be ironically, it can also express humor, wiittness or intimate relations among people.
1. To Be Ironically
To be ironically is to speak or comment with rather harsh and acid words in order to empahsize something.
Example: “Could you wait a few days for the money? I haven’t any small change about me.”
“Oh, you haven’t? Well, of course I know that gentlemen like you carry only large notes.”
(Mark Twain: One Million Pound Bank-Note)
Analysis: Here the literal meaning of last sentence is that gentlemen only carry large notes so they have no small change at all. But according to the novel, we know that actually the man is not a gentleman with lots of money but a poor wretch. Therefore, here Mark Twain uses “gentlemen” and “large notes” as a satire, or to be exact, a verbal irony, to emphasize the man’s poverty and the speaker’s acridity.
2. To be humorous
Sometimes, people use satire to divert a situation from depressing to optimistic to show their wit and humor.
Example: “Generally speaking,” said Miss Murdstone, “I don’t like boys. How d’ye do, boy?”
Under these encouraging circumstances, I replied that I was very well, and that I hoped she was the same, with such indifferent grace that Miss Murdstone disposed of me in two words,---“Wants manner!”
(C.Dickens: David Copperfield)
Analysis: Although it is a depressing occasion that a boy would encounter such a woman who did not like boys, the boy replied with “encouraging circumstances”. Of course, that reply is a satire, but here it is not used to ridicule but to show the boy’s humor.
3. To Show Intimacy
Example: The women, a bit sad as well as a bit disappointed, cursed in the mind their own merciless thief.
(Sun Li, Lotus Creek)
Note: The original text is Chinese, as the following: “几个女人有点失望,也有点伤心,个人在心里骂自己的狠心贼。”,from 孙犁,《荷花淀》.
Analysis: Here the “merciless thief” is, in fact, their husbands whom those women miss and worry about.

Reference
1. Muecke, D.C. Irony and the Ironic New York: Mukethum & Co. and Muthuen, Inc., 1982
2.李树德,英语修辞简明教程【M】,复旦大学出版社,2003.
3.范家材,英语修辞赏析【M】,上海交通大学出版社,1996.
4. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/satire

Other Links
1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satire

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