Satire is moral; it points to something that is foolish, wrong, or evil in the world (often a
social, political, religious, or artistic problem, in the estimation of the satirist). Unlike
other literary, non-fiction, visual, artistic, or audio texts, it is essential that the reader
get, and get right, the point the creator had in mind rather than the meaning the
reader makes in cooperation with the creator.
If the reader doesn't get the creator’s point, or doesn’t get it right, chaos ensues and
the creator’s meaning and purpose goes right over the reader’s head. To get the
meaning the satirist intended and get it right, the reader needs to know the different
types of satire, what methods a satirist can use, the techniques available to the satirist
and the devices s/he has to choose from.
Then, after knowing that, the reader can analyze a piece of satire from the bottom of
that outline up to the top and arrive at exactly what the creator of the satire meant;
that is, what foolishness, wrong, or evil the satirist saw at work in the world.
Satire has the same purpose as a sermon; that is, to make the world better. It just
works in a different way from preaching.
Named for the Roman satirist, Horace, this playfully criticizes some social vice through gentle,
mild, and light-hearted humor. It directs wit, exaggeration, and self-deprecating humor toward
what it identifies as folly, rather than evil. Horatian satire's sympathetic tone is common in
modern society. Examples of Horatian satire: Jonathan Swift's Gulliver’s Travels, Daniel Defoe's
The True-Born Englishman, Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock, C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape
Letters, The Onion, Matt Groening's The Simpsons.
Named after the Roman satirist Juvenal, this type of satire is more contemptuous and abrasive
than the Horatian. Juvenalian satire addresses social evil through scorn, outrage, and savage
ridicule. This form is often pessimistic, characterized by irony, sarcasm, moral indignation and
personal invective, with less emphasis on humor. Examples of Juvenalian satire: Jonathan Swift's
A Modest Proposal, Samuel Johnson's London, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and
Animal Farm, Bret Easton Ellis's American Psycho, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, William
Golding's Lord of the Flies, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork
Orange, Joseph Heller's Catch 22, William Burroughs' Naked Lunch, Stephen Colbert's
performance at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner, and the cartoon South Park.
Methods: Written (fiction and non-fiction), visual (ads, comics, editorial cartoons),
audio (radio, TV, Film), multi-media, artistic, musical, performing arts (theatre, music,
opera, dance, circus)
Techniques: Humor, wit, parody, burlesque, double entendre, ridicule, outrage, scorn,
body or facial movement (slapstick), tone and volume of voice, mocking, caricature,
fake news, intentionally including logical fallacies
Devices: Overstatement (hyperbole), understatement, sarcasm, irony, exaggeration,
humor, wit, parody, farce
Consider the following texts for the Harkness Circle discussion:
A Modest Proposal, Jonathan Swift (Written Essay)
Old Spice (TV Commercials)
Satire Poster (Visual Images)
The Onion, “Obama Releases 500,000 Bachelors into America” (Fake News Video and
Editorial Cartoons (Mixed Media)
The Daily Show (Comedy Central Fake News Show)
ASSIGNMENT: Write at least six (6) discussion questions about satire, or the
texts noted above, for the Harkness Circle Tuesday October 26, 2010. Bring
this to class.