What is Satire? Definition, Examples of Literary Satire

Satire definition: Satire is a literary term and form of rhetoric that uses various devices to expose flaws, critique society, and ridicule politics. Such devices include humor, irony, and exaggeration.

What is Satire?

What does satire mean? Satire is a style of writing that intends to ridicule and point out society’s flaws. This ridicule is often masked in humor.

When using satire, the writer’s intention is to expose what he thinks is a “problem” in society. This “problem” could be popular or political.

The point of satire is not only to expose but also to initiate change. The writer sees a problem and wants it corrected.

meaning of satirical definitionHumor is an effective way to expose flaws because it is generally received better than direct comments. A common example of using satire and humor to initiate change is political cartoons.

Political cartoons provide a writer an avenue to critique society. The cartoonist does this through humor. The cartoon is received well because the audience, whether in support of the cartoonist’s view or not, can laugh at the subject matter. However, the writer intends to point out a particular flaw that he thinks needs to be corrected.

Satire vs. Irony

satire literary definitionSatire itself is a genre of writing. Irony is a tool that satirists use to communicate their position.

Irony is a contrast between what is expected and what actually occurs. For example, one does not expect a firehouse to burn down. This incident would be ironic.

Irony is often used in satire to expose flaws. Jonathan Swift’s satirical essay “A Modest Proposal” effectively uses irony to communicate his point. (See below for a more detailed explanation of this text.)

It is ironic that the Irish government could not solve poverty and famine, yet Swift is able to compose a completely viable solution. Swift’s solution itself is also ironic—one would not expect his proposal to include breeding children. In fact, the audience would likely expect anything but that.

Satirists often employ irony to emphasize their point and to show just how egregious the flaws in society can be.

Modern Examples of Satire

Modern satire examples: The Daily Show is a modern example of satire. The concept of the television show is to ridicule current events through humor.

The show is organized to parody nightly news broadcasts. However, the purpose is to deliver news coupled with a particular perspective that exposes society’s flaws. The audience is left laughing at critical issues that, according to the show’s position, should be remedied.

What is the Purpose of Satire?

what is a satire meaningPurpose of satire: Satire as a style of writing runs throughout history. The Greeks wrote satirical plays. The Romans wrote satirical poems. The word “satire” itself is derived from the Greek word “Satyrs,” a type of Greek comedy.

Humor is a method that allows a writer to speak with impunity. Without humor, a writer would open himself to critique. However, it is through satire and its humor that a writer is able to ridicule without repercussion.

Ultimately, the satirist’s goal is to expose society’s flaws and to inspire change.

How Satire is Used in Literature

define sattire and satirical and satiresSatire examples in literature: Jonathan Swift was (and still is) a popular Irish satirist. Author of Gulliver’s Travels, Swift often wrote about society’s flaws using satire and irony.

Swift’s satiric essay, “A Modest Proposal” ironically evaluates solutions to Ireland’s famine. In this essay, Swift exposes the Irish government’s inability to aid its people. As a consequence, Swift suggests a form of human breeding that will allow for economic recovery.

If taken at surface level, Swift’s essay seems inhumane and revolting. However, that is precisely his point. He is ironically suggesting an absurd solution to mock the government’s failures.

Summary: What is a Satire?

Define satire: The definition of satire is,

  • a style of writing that intends to ridicule and point out society’s flaws
  • humorous or ironic in nature
  • intended to inspire and initiate change