Satire is a literary work that invokes reader distaste of a real life subject by exposing “the failings of individuals, institutions, or societies” (Baldick 198). To achieve satire, authors may use many literary devices, including caricature, irony, parallelism, exaggeration, and parody.
Satire requires the reader “to make the necessary comparison between the …fantasy [the author] creates and the moral norms or ideals by which it is to be judged” (Fowler 167). For example, reading Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins, you find that a dirty sock, an empty, rusted can, and an old spoon are animate and ostensibly human, with a mission to complete. The reader must realize that the story relates to humans, though it is happening to inanimate objects, and from there draw his or her own conclusions.
There are works which are comedies, but also contain satirical passages. According to Barnet, Berman, and Burto, “satire is sometimes distinguished from comedy on the grounds that satire aims to correct by ridiculing, while comedy aims simply to evoke amusement, sometimes even at the speaker’s own expense” (96).
Satire may also be divided into two groups: Indirect satire and Formal Satire. Barnet, Berman, and Burto define the two for us: “the author of indirect satire (e.g., a Menippean satire) presents a fantastic story, however slight, with invented characters. But in a formal satire, there is no story; the only speaker is the author who, in his own person, attacks in colloquial language the immorality and folly that he sees around him” (97).
Fowler, Roger, ed. A Dictionary of Modern Critical Terms. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973.
Baldick, Chris. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.
Sylvan Barnet, Morton Berman, William Burto. A Dictionary of Literary, Dramatic, and Cinematic Terms. 2nd ed. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1971.
--LeaJ 16:13, 12 Feb 2006 (EST)