Well, what the heck, the only good nodeshell's a dead nodeshell right?

Satire is a special kind of humour (or humor), which involves not just providing the reader/audience/target with something different from what they expect, but actually modifying something created by someone else into something different.

Without going into the defintions of satire too much, here are some tips I have found useful when satirizing. Whether what I end up with is decent or tripe is up to the reader to decide.

General tips:

  • Be subtle. Make small changes, not large ones. Ideally, it should be on one level obvious that it is satire, and on another level the reader should be left wondering if you were serious
  • Keep as much of the original as possible; however, do not let your point get watered down. Trim out parts that have little or no relevance, but keep as much as you can afford to.
  • Have a point. This is important. Don't satirize to satirize because you will likely meander offtopic and your meaning will be lost (unless you're good, in which case why are you reading this?), which defeats the whole purpose.
  • Try to appeal to all audiences. Target your writing for all types of people, in order to get the broadest readership range possible. Include in your satire references that only certain types of people will get. This helps the target audience connect with your satire. Be careful not to make anything rely on them. The piece should make sense to anyone who does not understand the reference, and more sense to someone who does.
  • Don't try to appeal to all audiences. Figure out who your target is; what kind of person are you writing to? Who cares what you have to say? Who should care? Target the people who are most likely to read and be affected by your writing.

To clarify the above, an example. If you're satirizing right-wing conservatives ('Republicans' in the US), don't target to the conservatives, because they will throw your argument away. Don't target liberals ('Democrats'), because while preaching to the choir is a morale boost, it does nothing else. You should target fence-sitters - people in the middle, and people who lean only slightly in either direction.

However, you should not target any one kind of fence-sitter. You should try to make your writing as appealing to a journalist as to a mechanic, as valid to a janitor as to a wall-street executive. Try and appeal to as many people as possible. Don't force it, but at the same time, don't toss them aside. The more people read your work, and the more of them understand and can connect, the more of a following you and/or your cause will get.

Maybe I'll add to this node later, but that's all I have for now.

Satire is not so much a literary form, as it is a writing technique. It is not the common criticism that makes a story satire; nor is it an attempt to preach morals, or a subtle humour. It is the manner of writing through which the author attempts these goals, which renders a piece of work truly satirical in nature. It is the method of satire which gives it a unique status; a subtle, or sometimes glaring, modification from the norm, a change that forces us to rearrange our own expectations. This change can happen anywhere in a story; in the character, in the plot, in the setting. An expectation of the story, usually generated by association with another, more famous & established story, is utterly crucial to the effectiveness of the alteration. It becomes central, and the purposefulness the change wields grabs our attention and forces an analysis of intent. Satire is not defined by what it does, but how it does it.

In the history of English literature, the technique of satire, of the purposeful alteration, has been used primarily to critique or preach morals in a public forum, in a less offensive way. An early and notable form of satire, The Rape of the Lock, is an excellent example of our definition of satire. The story presents itself as an epic, and we expect it to unfold so. If one had not read an epic before, such as Paradise Lost, the story would be ineffective as a form of satire as one would have no expectation to operate on, and then fail to recognize the satirical changes in the work. Hopefully one has read one, and is shocked to find that although the story is in epic form, it is about nothing worth detailing in the least: a tea-time get-together of nobility which ends up in a squabble. It is in the purpose of this alteration we recognize the purpose of the author: a painstaking exposé of the triviality of these people's conflicts, made all the more apparent by our expectation of something important.

The trend of satire continues to develop through English history, although it is less strong today(as of 2002). If one wanted, it could be traced back as far as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, though in a watered-down form. Strong classical examples include many of Jonathan Swift's works, notably Gulliver's Travels. In said story, many critiques of politics are made by Swift setting up alternate civilizations where things operate on bizarrely unexpectable systems, and where citizens hold opinions very contrary to our(the English's) own. Once again, upon analysis, these systems become meaningful in the rift between what they are and what one would expect - but the ridiculousness of their government workings suddenly shed light on the ridiculousness of our government's workings, revealed when our expectation was shattered. Interestingly, In Hard Times, Charles Dickens uses satire not as a central form of writing, but as a sideplot for amusement and subtle enlightenment. In the second chapter, the account of a classroom is made, where one begins to expect that children are being educated, enlightened, and inspired. When we slowly discover that the teacher is crushing the children's fancies because he believes them to be obscuring the glory of fact, our expectations are alarmed, and we begin to wonder where else in the world such mistakes are made.

Upon examination, satire is a purposeful and ironic technique, usually put to work as a form of critique, humor, and/or moral-preaching. However, it has also been used as a sideplot for comic relief in serious stories, by such examples as Dickens and Shakespeare. In that medium, satire is refreshing and can often shed a different sort of light on the themes of the work that surrounds it. Upon further examination, we see satire has strong ties to irony; that the reader's expectation is the key which unlocks it, perhaps rendering satire a more active form of irony itself. Satire's uses, historically, are very well-defined; and this limits our ideas of what it can and cannot do. Limits them to the extent that one usually believes that the doings of a work define satire, and not the structure of the work itself! Still, satire is a powerful method of removing wool from the eyes of others: and forcing learning upon those who do not truly intend to learn. No wonder it found the niche it tries hard not to retire from. Regardless, satire is merely a technique, and can be used in a variety of mediums, to further a variety of causes.

As long as there is thought, there will always be thought against something. And as long as thought has been chronicled in writing, there has been satire. Satire is a form of criticism that deviates from the norm in its execution; rather than outlining and proving points in something like an essay form, satire seeks to persuade through sheer wit. It’s mockery must generally be subtle to succeed, and of course if a criticism is to be subtle then it must be disguised beneath something; hence most satire is concealed within some sort of a narrative. To assure the reader grasps such an immense investment of cleverness, there are certain parameters that must be met for successful satire. These can be generally summed up in that satire sets up an expectation in the reader’s mind, and then somehow under or over fulfils it.

The earliest significant use of satire is Chaucer’s classic frame tale, “Canterbury Tales.” His target there was many-pronged, but consisted essentially of large groups of people. To mock them, he simply recorded their true nature right beside the ideal they should have, or pretended to, uphold. This marked the most basic trademark of satire; to contrast reality with the illusion you intend to critique. Chaucer, however, was light-hearted and forgiving in his criticism, and as such his piece cannot be considered true satire, but mere literature with a satirical bend.

However, he laid down a groundwork for satirical writing that would later come to fruit far more outrageously, in the 18th century. There can be no mistaking the intentions of Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock”; it exists only to reveal the opulence and excess of the upper class. It’s aims are made so very clear in the manner in which it is set up. The poem is written in epic form, and it’s subjects are treated with a grand and elevated tone. The reader is primed for matters of an epic proportion; what they receive is more than a little underwhelming: coffee and card games, which degenerate into a petty squabble. The gap between what was expected and what was delivered points the reader to the true nature of the poem, and when this knowledge is combined with the myriad hints and veiled comments throughout it, a new kind of criticism is forged. True satire, powerful and sharp.

Only a few years later, a similar feat was accomplished by Jonathan Swift, in his story “Gulliver’s Travels.” Rather than ridicule a group of people, Swift aims his darts at British society in general. Like Pope before him, the key to Swift’s satire lies in comparison; however, his approach is more in line with that of Chaucer. He sets up alternate societies with bizarre and seemingly irreconcilable differences. Yet when these differences are examined closely, the brilliance of Swift’s satire is revealed. All that the reader would consider abnormal in those other societies is in fact, metaphorically, something their own society has come to accept from itself! For example, the politicians in Lilliputia have to put on an elaborate show to stay in power. Most outlandish, until one realizes the parallels between their circus act and what was and is required to survive in British politics. In this way, Swift succeeds in manipulating the reader into convincing himself of Swift’s own points.

Using satire to criticize is risky business; the author risks having all their work go right over the audience’s head. However, when executed as cleverly as has been seen in the works of Chaucer, Pope, and Swift, the rewards more than outweigh the risk involved. Satire is a powerful tool, and with a target as flawed and full of potential as the human spirit, it will surely be used for a long time to come.

In the spirit of node your homework. According to Dr. Leslie Palmer of The University of North Texas, there are three kinds of satire: Menippean, Horatian, and Juvenalian. Menippus was an ancient slave who wrote satires of ideas and philosophies. Horace was a Roman who wrote gentle satire of stereotypes- lazy schoolboys and idle milkmaids. And Juvenal, my personal favorite, wrote bitter, viciously personal attacks, such as, "SO, Catallus, I hear you broke down and got engaged! Does Rome not have enough bridges for you to leap from one?"

Satire, keenness and severity of remark; sarcasm; trenchant wit; biting ridicule; incisive humor; pungent irony; denunciation and exposure to derision or reprobation. In literature, the representation of follies or vices in a ridiculous form, either in discourse or dramatic action. Though the name satire is usually confined to poetical compositions, prose works of a satirical character are frequently included under the same head. Modern nations have not generally furnished many distinguished satirists. Among the French are Rabelais, Montaigne, and Voltaire; master of satiric English include Pope, Swift, Fielding, Byron, Gifford, Thackeray, and Lowell.

Entry from Everybody's Cyclopedia, 1912.

Sat"ire , and cf. Saturate.]


A composition, generally poetical, holding up vice or folly to reprobation; a keen or severe exposure of what in public or private morals deserves rebuke; an invective poem; as, the Satires of Juvenal.


Keeness and severity of remark; caustic exposure to reprobation; trenchant wit; sarcasm.

Syn. -- Lampoon; sarcasm; irony; ridicule; pasquinade; burlesque; wit; humor.


© Webster 1913.

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