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Satire and Humor. JUST ANOTHER ASPECT OF TONE…BUT EVENMORE FUN!. Active/Initial reading. When reading something challenging and potentially satirical, practice some active reading skills…have a conversation with the text during your initial reading

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satire and humor

Satire and Humor


active initial reading
Active/Initial reading

When reading something challenging and potentially satirical, practice some active reading skills…have a conversation with the text during your initial reading

Talk back to the text, ask questions of the speaker

  • These are likely to be places where you want to say: REALLY, do you honestly think this is a good idea? Do you really think this way? Are you stupid?
  • Pay attention to the speaker and note places where he/she seems just a little “off,” or places where his/her logic seems fuzzy.

This should lead you to incongruent thinking:

  • This will lead you to places where what is being described doesn’t fit with the speaker’s attitude toward it, which leads you to the devices of satire.

Definition: the ridicule of any subject in order to lower it in the reader’s esteem. The goal is always to reform.

some common satirical techniques
Some common satirical techniques:
  • Exaggeration: To enlarge, increase or represent something beyond normal bounds so that it becomes ridiculous and its faults can be seen.
  • Caricature:
  • Burlesque: example: a character who is portrayed as uneducated and foolish, all of a sudden starts using very sophisticated diction
  • Hyperbole: “to wait an eternity”; “I’ll love you until the seas go dry.”
  • Litotes: “not bad” = good
a few more satirical techniques
A few more Satirical techniques
  • Incongruity: To present things that are out of place or are absurd in relation to its surroundings.
  • Oxymoron: jumbo shrimp, cruel kindness
  • Metaphor: “Success is a bastard as it has many fathers, and failure is an orphan, with no takers.” 
  • Irony:Used to create humor through an expression of the opposite of what is meant, intended or expected.
  • Sarcasm: From the Greek meaning “to tear flesh,”

and yet some more
And yet, some more…
  • Parody: To imitate the techniques or style of some person, place or thing in order to ridicule the original. For parody to be successful, the reader must know the original text!
  • Reversal: To present the opposite of the normal order. Reversal can focus on the order of events (serving dessert first) or can focus on hierarchical order (a child making all the decisions in a family)
  • Wit: Intellectually amusing language that surprises and makes a pointed statement
  • Juxtaposition: placing dissimilar items, ideas, descriptions together or side by side for comparison and contrast
  • Allusion: Satirists often rely on our knowledge of historical and political allusions.
and finally the persona
And finally, the persona
  • The concept of a “persona” is often essential to our understanding of satire.
  • Persona: The term derives from Greek and means mask.
  • When a satirist creates a persona, he/she is often naïve and rarely expresses the beliefs of the writer.
  • It is this discrepancy between writer and speaker, between logical and illogical thought, that creates the incongruent thinking typical of satire.
true satire is always about more than laughs
True Satire is always about more than laughs
  • Satire is at its heart concerned with ethical reform. It attacks those institutions or individuals the satirist deems corrupt.
  • It seeks a shoring up of the audiences standards.
  • In general, it attacks types—the fool, the boor, the adulterer, the proud, rather than specific people.
two kinds of satire
Two Kinds of Satire



A more harsh, bitter form of satire.

The subject is subjected to contempt.

Sees the vices of the world as intolerable.

Uses large doses of sarcasm and irony.

Audience is asked to respond with indignation.

  • A gentle, sympathetic form of satire
  • Aims to correct with sympathetic laughter
  • Tends to ask the audience to laugh at themselves as much as at the characters
  • It “holds up a mirror” so readers see themselves and their world honestly.
expressions in which an attitude is conveyed by its opposite are considered ironic
Expressions in which an attitude is conveyed by its opposite are considered ironic.

Verbal Irony: “A great day for a walk.”

Situational Irony:

close reading reminders
Close reading reminders
  • Annotate those things that strike you as surprising, significant, or that raise questions as you read.
  • Be on the look out for incongruity—details, descriptions, reactions that don’t fit what is actually being described
  • Be on the look out for the elements of analysis and in particular those devices of satire: hyperbole, understatement, sarcasm, and irony
  • Look for patterns in the things you’ve noticed—look for repetitions, contradictions, similarities.
  • Ask questions about those patterns—especially how and why
diction and the persona in modest proposal
Diction and the Persona in “Modest Proposal”

Solar year


Lawful occupation






swift s objective
Swift’s objective

“Was not to spew venom, but to strip empty pride and grandeur and to show men what they are, and to teach them what they aught to be.”

William Hazlitt, 1818

elements particular to humor
Elements particular to humor
  • Object of laughter

  • Incongruity (what violates expectations)
  • Safety and goodwill

Flashes of insight/spontaneity (the old is new)

don t forget humor is just another function of tone
Don’t forget—humor is just another function of tone!

So that means…






empire falls and last picture show
Empire Falls and Last Picture Show
  • How did Russo/McMurtry create humor?
  • Which technique(s) do you think were most effective?
  • Give an example or two.