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Satire is a literary device where the author criticizes some element of contemporary society through humor or ridicule. Literary satire has often been used to criticize the actions of government, current societal mores, and even other works of literature. Some noteworthy examples of satire in western literature include the works of Erasmus, whose In Praise of Folly used a fictitious goddess named Folly to point out many of the absurdities of sixteenth century religion and society.
One of the most famous works of satire ever written was Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal, a short essay in which he criticized both the Enlightenment obsession with rationalistic solutions to social problems and British exploitation of the Irish by recommending satirically that Irish babies be eaten as food by English people. Voltaire's Candide satirized almost every aspect of European society, particularly the belief among some philosophers that "all is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds."
In America, James Fenimore Cooper and especially Washington Irving satirized the perceived lack of cultural development in the new United States. Later Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce would satirize American society in the post-Civil War era. In more recent history, Animal Farm by George Orwell stands as an example of how allegory can be used to satirize the effects of concentrated political power.
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