It would be helpful if I could tie the topic in with some of the material we have read such as "Gulliver's Travels," Pope's "The Rape of the Lock," "A Young Nymph Going to Bed," and/or Johnson's "The Vanity of Human Wishes." Thanks!
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"Satire" is a very broad word – maybe you could break it down into types, and then taxonomize them – that is, list them in order of their “something.”
I’m thinking of social satire, vs. personality satire vs. moral satire, etc. In your literary pieces, for example, the satire of “Rape of the Lock” is of a different order from “Gulliver’s Travels” in that Pope is satirizing**** while Swift is satirizing *****. (I’m purposely not filling in these blanks; the joy of your assignment will be how you fill them in.) Here are just four ways satires can differ from each other:
1. Subject: Some satires are critical of personal behavior or traits, while others are critical of societal wrongs, injustices, collective values and illusions, etc. Still others criticize those in power or influence. While all satire is critical, the objects of that criticism vary in degrees of personal reference;
2. Tone: A humorous tone is assumed in the term “satire,” but the viciousness of the attack, the anger or seriousness of the satirist, the egregiousness of the wrong (think of The Rape of the Lock’s tone vs. Gulliver’s Travels) all vary and are reflected in the language, the narrative voice, etc;
3.Literary artificiality: Gulliver’s Travels tells its story is a different way from The Rape of the Lock (not just prose vs. verse). They have found two different ways to (in Aristotle’s terms) “imitate an action.”
4.Level of Sophistication: There is such a thing as “classy” vs. “non-classy” in literature, determined in large part by the intended (contemporary with the author) audience.
Anyway, my idea is for you to make an essay out of “the kinds of satire,” making a taxonomy (arranging like items by listing their differences) of them. You could easily incorporate examples from previously studied literature. The secret of a good essay is one that intrigues you while you work.
I like wordprof's idea of breaking your paper into categories. Here are some other ways that you could discuss satire.
- Compare Juvelian and Horatian satire by citing examples from the works you've studied.
- Discuss the difference between informal (poems, short stories, novels, indirect satire) and formal (first person, direct) satire.
- Choose one of the works you've studied and connect its target with its social or historical context, concluding with a discussion of whether it is effective satire.
If you're doing Gulliver's Travels, you might want to compare it with Swift's other great work of satire, the essay "A Modest Proposal." Not as subtle as some of the other examples mentioned in this thread, but as acidic an example of satire as has ever been put on paper. It would also provide a wonderful opportunity to do as post #3 wisely suggests- connecting the work with its social and historical context.
One standard approach to statire is to try to determine the positive values (if any) that lie behind the satire. What ideals motivate the speaker of the satire to attack the vices s/he attacks? Another (maybe better) topic might be to discuss what factors make the satire rhetorically or artstically effective. Anyone can write a satire; only a talented writer can compose an effective satire. What specific elements of the satire make it worth reading or give it its energy or success? An excellent and standard book on satire is The Cankered Muse, by Alvin Kernan; it is very much worth consulting.
Post #5 makes a most cogent point. For, the purpose of satire is not just to ridicule, but to effect reform. So, as Post #3 mentions, one must be knowledgeable of the historical context in order to understand what exactly is being ridiculed and why.
For a high school student, an examination of the type of satire and an analysis of what is being ridiculed and why would be adequate. As a college student, an examination of the type of satire and an analysis of how effectively it is used as post #2 suggests is more appropriate.
Why don't you compare these works with modern satire. You can find modern satire in movies and books, and also on TV such as The Colbert Report. Satire has been used to sell political messages for a very long time, so you could compare how satire is used or if the message is the same.
The underlying power of satire is that an issue, code or behavior, persons or person is violating an accepted code of behavior that society agrees is critical to the benefit and function of a sound social order. The thing being satirized has broken a social agreement and society as a whole (or a portion of society: The Rape of the Lock) has either (1) felt impotent to effect a correction or (2) has turned a blind eye to the breach of social/cultural order. You might do well to research the social or cultural agreement that has been broken and has inspired your favorite satirist to speak out thus employing the stinging humor of satire to bring society back to its senses and to bring the offenders back to the governance of social or cultural order.
I'd echo the idea in post 7 and suggest looking at television and film for a subject to research. If you would like to look at popular fiction using satire from the 20th century, Kurt Vonnegut is probably the greatest example in American letters.
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