What is the difference between cynicism and sarcasm in literature?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Cynicism is characterized by a deep pessimism about human nature. It is the belief that people do not act from altruistic motives, but rather out of self-interest, and that they should be dealt with as such. It is often characterized by skepticism, particularly religious skepticism, and reflects a generally negative outlook on human life. Cynics, especially in literature, may have arrived at their negative point of view through experience. Many very famous characters in literature demonstrate a cynical outlook on the world, or develop on over time. Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye, with his conviction that the world is full of "phonies" is one example, as is the younger Jason Compson in The Sound and the Fury. Cynicism as a literary device is often juxtaposed with optimism.

Sarcasm, on the other hand, is a caustic form of humor typically used to make a larger point. Marc Antony's repeated use of the word "honorable" in Julius Caesar is one example of the use of sarcasm in literature, as Antony clearly wants to convince the mob that Brutus and his conspirators did not act from honorable motives when they killed Caesar. Sarcasm can be used to express a cynical point of view, but not necessarily.

laurto | Student

According to the dictionary, cynicism is an inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest. It deals with pessimism towards people. Sarcasm is the use of irony to mock or convey contempt. Sarcasm is usually involved with humor,  while cynicism is involved with realism.

arjun | Student

Cynicism gives birth to sarcasm,both are used on mankind to make them civilized.These terms are merciles;they are used with great force as that mankind never civilize despite castigating.

discoverer | Student

Cynicism is basically used to negate an opinion or expression. For example, a person can be cynical about the idea of "god" but that person most certainly is not pessimistic per se. There is a very fine line between pessimists and cynics which is often blurred. A quotient of realism is evident in cynics which is not really the case for pessimists.

Sarcasm is ridiculing a person or an idea, often in a harsh manner. There is an element of irony in sarcasm. Sarcasm is used to portray a sense of hostility towards an idea. And, another point about sarcasm is that it is spoken in an undertone, not  in a very direct manner.