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What Is Satire?

Satire is both a genre and a literary device that holds human nature up to criticism and scorn. It is often political in focus but does not have to be. In literature, writers use irony, humor, and exaggeration to create successful satire.

What Are the Origins of Satire?

The word satire traces back to the Latin word "satur," meaning "well-fed," and was used in the phrase "lanx satura," meaning "a dish full of many kinds of fruit." Though these words seem far removed from the definition of satire, they were used by ancient Roman critics and writers to refer to what we know as satire today, including what is commonly considered the literary origin of satire: Aristophanes's Old Comedy. The word "satire" made its way into the English language in the sixteenth century.

In 411 BC, the ancient Greek poet Aristophanes wrote Lysistrata. In this satirical comedy, the protagonist Lysistrata convinces women to withhold sex from men in an effort to convince them to end the Peloponnesian War. In writing this wildly popular comedy, which is still read and studied in schools, Aristophanes was satirizing the Peloponnesian War and also poking fun at the differences between men and women. The story of Lysistrata has been retold and reinterpreted countless times over the years, recently in the 2015 Spike Lee movie Chi-Raq, set in contemporary Chicago.

What Is Satire in Literature?

Satire in literature is a type of social commentary. Writers use exaggeration, irony, and other devices to poke fun of a particular leader, a social custom or tradition, or any other prevalent social figure or practice that they want to comment on and call into question. Find satire essay topics and choose more correct.

Contemporary writers have used satire to comment on everything from capitalism (like Brett Easton Ellis's American Psycho, which uses extreme exaggerations of consumption, concern with social status, and masculine anger and violence to skewer American capitalism) to race (Paul Beatty's The Sellout, for example, features a young black male protagonist in Southern California who ends up before the Supreme Court for trying to reinstate slavery).

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