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Satire Essays Examples

satiric essays

Example #1

Diversity of any kind is something that should be celebrated whether it is about race, gender, religion or sexual orientation. However, even in the 21st century, Asian men and women are still often being neglected and overly stereotyped in Hollywood and especially in American sitcoms. The roles in which Asians are cast, depict dated characteristics. Stereotypical Asian roles narrowly lie at opposite ends of the spectrum from being nerds to being prostitutes.

The idea of Asians being inarticulate in English or not understanding the nuances of Western culture is popularly used for over-the-top comedic purposes. Behind the laughter brings the realization that Asian people still are not taken seriously but rather for others’ entertainment because being put on a pedestal as the center of the joke makes us insecure about the way we are being presented.

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Asians are a big part of the new diverse America and its culture but it doesn’t show as evidence of the lack of representation. By breaking down the way Asian characters are presented in the two popular early 2000’s sitcoms 2 Broke Girls and Gilmore Girls, the essay aims to analyze the ways in which Asians are, and have always been, depicted in Hollywood visually and linguistically. Furthermore this essay aims to see how far America has really come to accept and embrace Asian identity in its said culturally diverse country.

The paradigm of television is a very influential tool in the way that it informs how we perceive the world and shapes our knowledge on certain groups of people. When there are no or close to no portrayals of Asians on TV and the only portrayals are stereotypes being repeated over and over again, Asians are restricted to a handful of expectations being shown by the media that are not representative of their racial identity or culture. American sitcoms are examples of how Hollywood utilizes Asians as a stepping stone to make up a show’s punchlines rather than giving them a platform to expose their culture to educate the oblivious Western mass.

Seen as a breakthrough series for its mainly women-led cast, Gilmore Girls was progressive for female representation but their take on Asians received mixed reactions. One of the main characters, Mrs. Kim, took on characteristics that shine a negative light on the way Asian parents raise their children by showing a huge contrast with the main Western family when it comes to parental controls. She is also visually represented to stand out and look different on purpose with her conservative wardrobe that differs from the main mom character’s more laid back and casual style.

In more recent times, the early 2010’s sitcom 2 Broke Girls saw the character Han Lee, a Korean-American diner owner, portraying the stereotypical characteristics Western media loves to recycle; from an immigrant’s broken English to the idea of Asian men having low sexual appeal. Hollywood has had a long history when it comes to wrongly portraying Asians on-screen and stereotypes aren’t the only way they do it.

 

Example #2 – Satire In Gulliver’s Travels

In 1726, Jonathan Swift published a book for English readers. Primarily, however, Gulliver s Travels is a work of satire. “Gulliver is neither a fully developed character nor even an altogether distinguishable persona; rather, he is a satiric device enabling Swift to score satirical points” (Rodino 124).

Indeed, whereas the work begins with more specific satire, attacking perhaps one political machine or aimed at one particular custom in each instance, it finishes with “the most savage onslaught on humanity ever written” (Murry 3) satirizing the whole human condition. In order to convey this satire, Gulliver is taken on four adventures, driven by fate, a restless spirit, and the pen of Swift.

Gulliver s first journey takes him to the Land of Lilliput, where he finds himself a giant among six-inch tall beings. His next journey brings him to Brobdingnag, where his situation is reversed: now he is the midget in a land of giants. His third journey leads him to Laputa, the floating island, inhabited by strange (although similarly sized) beings who derive their whole culture from music and mathematics. Gulliver s fourth and final journey places him in the land of the Houyhnhnms, a society of intelligent, reasoning horses.

As Swift leads Gulliver on these four fantastical journeys, Gulliver s perceptions of himself and the people and things around him change, giving Swift ample opportunity to inject into the story both irony and satire of the England of his day and of the human condition. On the surface, Jonathan Swift s Gulliver s Travels seems to be a travel log of one man, Lemuel Gulliver, on four fantastic journeys. But on a deeper look, it is a biting work of satire aimed at the vast majority of humanity.

Swift ties his satire closely with Gulliver s perceptions and adventures. In Gulliver s first adventure, he begins on a ship that runs aground on a submerged rock. He swims to land, and when he awakens, he finds himself tied down to the ground, and surrounded by tiny people, the Lilliputians. “Irony is present from the start in the simultaneous recreation of Gulliver as giant and prisoner” (Reilly 167). Gulliver is surprised “at the intrepidity of these diminutive mortals, who dare venture to mount and walk upon my body” (Swift 16), but he admires this quality in them. Gulliver eventually learns their language and arranges a contract with them for his freedom. However, he is bound by this agreement to protect Lilliput from invasion by the people of Blefuscu.

The Lilliputians relate to him the following story: In Lilliput, years ago, people once broke eggs on the big end. However, the present king s grandfather once cut himself breaking the egg in this manner, so the King at the time, the father of the present king s grandfather, issued an edict that all were to break the eggs on the small end. Some of the people resisted, and they found refuge in Blefuscu, and “for six and thirty moons past” ( Swift 48), the two sides have been at war.

Of course, to Gulliver, such an argument would be completely ridiculous, for he could hardly distinguish the difference in the ends of their eggs. For Swift, Lilliput is analogous to England, and Blefuscu to France. This event of the story swift satirizes the needless bickering and fighting between the two nations.

Also, vehicles of Swift s satire were the peculiar customs of the nation of Liliput. The methods of selecting people for public office in Lilliput are very different from those of any other nation, or rather, would appear to be so at first. In order to be chosen, a man must ” rope dance” to the best of his abilities; the best rope-dancer receives the higher office. While no nation of Europe in Swift s time followed such an absurd practice, they did not choose public officers on the skill, but rather on how well the candidate could line the right pockets with money.

Gulliver also tells of their custom of burying “their dead with their heads directly downwards… The learned among them confess the absurdity of this doctrine, but the practice still continues” (Swift 60). At this point in the story, Gulliver has not yet realized that by seeing the absurdity of the Lilliputians traditions, that he might see the absurdity in European ones. With this Swift satirizes the conditions of Europe.

As Swift s story of Gulliver unfolds, the satire begins to take a much more general focus: humanity as a whole. Gulliver manages to escape the land of the miniatures; and after a brief stay in England, returns to the sea. Again, he finds himself in a strange land, but this time, he is the small one, with everything around him many times the normal size. Unlike the Lilliputians, however, he is alone in this world. when he encounters the first natives, he fears for his life, “for as human creatures are observed to be more savage in proportion to their bulk” (Swift 96).

This is but one of the many attacks on humanity that Swift s satire performs. While in Lilliput, Gulliver had been treated with respect, largely due to his size; here in this land of giants, Brobdingnag, he is treated as a curiosity, forced to perform shows for public amusement, until the royalty of this nation learns of his presence. During the time Gulliver spends at this court, he relates much of the situation of Europe to the king who listens with much eagerness. Gulliver tells us:

I would hide the frailties and deformities of my political mother,

and place her virtues and beauties in the most advantageous light.

This was my sincere endeavor in those many discourses I had with

that mighty monarch, although it unfortunately failed of success (Swift 156).

However well he tried to speak of England, he did not manage to tell only “her virtues”. Instead, much of what he so faithfully speaks to the king is actually the vice and immorality to be found in England. This is what the King of Brobdingnag learns from Gulliver s stories:

My little friend Grildrig, you have made a most admirable

panegyric upon your country; you have clearly proved that

ignorance, idleness vice may sometimes be the only ingredients

for qualifying a legislator; that laws are best explained,

interpreted, and applied by those whose interests and abilities

lie in perverting them… I am dwell disposed to hope you may

hitherto have escaped many vices of your country. But by what

I have gathered from your own relation… I cannot but conclude

the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little

odious vermin that ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of

the earth (Swift 153-154).

Gulliver excuses the King for these remarks, believing that “great allowances should be given to a king who lives wholly secluded from the rest of the world” (Swift 156). Although the reader may find the king to be correct, Gulliver does not, even though he should “admit that the workings of the parliamentary government are vitiated by the method of selecting peers… so that… the original idea of the institution is blurred and blotted by corruptions” (Firth 10), and so Swift must take him on another voyage to shed light upon the matter for him.

Before embarking on his third voyage, Gulliver returns home. However, he is “confounded at the sight of so many pygmies, for such I took them to be… speaking of the men who rescued him, having for so long been accustomed to viewing people many times his own size” (Swift 170).

They return him home; however Gulliver s restless spirit will not allow him to remain long. Again he left home, and this time he ended up in the realm of Laputa, the floating island. His first impression of the people is not very good; for although they are highly skilled in mathematics, Gulliver has “not seen a more clumsy, awkward, and unhandy people, nor so slow and perplexed in their conception of other subjects” (Swift 191). By this point in the story, Swift s own views of humanity begin to show through Gulliver, as Gulliver relates, “But rather I take this quality to spring from a very common infirmity of human nature” (Swift 192).

Gulliver doesn’t remain long on the island of Laputa. He instead goes down to the surface and in time makes his way to Glubbdubdrib, the Island of Sorcerers. The Governor of this island allows Gulliver to listen to numerous people from history, both the distant and near past. In this place, Gulliver comes face-to-face with the negative aspects of human nature. Up to this point, he began to see these qualities; now, he is directly confronted with them as he listens to the great men of the past. Gulliver tells, “I was chiefly disgusted with modern history…

How low an opinion I had of human wisdom and integrity when I was truly informed” (Swift 236). By “drawing our attention repeatedly to this idea of steady human degeneration and the natural depravity of human nature, Swift seems to suggest broadly that man must realize that he is degenerate in order to strive for moral regeneration” (Lee 119). At this point in the story, Gulliver, as well as the reader, are plainly aware of Swift s understanding of human nature and his negative view of it.

It is during Gulliver s fourth journey that Swift s satire reaches its pinnacle, where “Swift put his most biting, hard lines, that speak against not only the government but human nature itself” (Glicksman). In this journey, Gulliver comes to the land of the Houyhnhnms, which are creatures that look like horses but have the ability to reason. Also in this land are the Yahoos, of which Gulliver could only say that “Upon the whole, I never beheld in all my travels so disagreeable an animal, nor one against which I naturally conceived so strong an antipathy” (Swift 263).

With great irony, Swift brings Gulliver into contact with a Yahoo once again. Gulliver says “My horror and astonishment are not to be described when I observed in this abdominal animal a perfect human figure” (Swift 269-270). Indeed, Gulliver finds that the only difference between himself and the Yahoo to be the Yahoo s lack of cleanliness and clothes; otherwise, a Yahoo would be indistinguishably human. With this line, Swift s satire achieves its goal, showing that the flaws of humanity are overwhelming, and if allowed to continue, will result in a total degradation of the human.

Taken on four voyages, Gulliver s ultimate travels are to a greater understanding of human nature and its flaws. Matthew Levy argues that as the “visited society” has an effect on Gulliver, “he no longer can be said to function as a constant or impartial measure” (Levy 2); however, this is the point: that Gulliver s perceptions change, and so do his narrations, as a result, and through this Swift can convey his satire and social commentary.

After the first voyage, his image of humanity is little changed, likewise for the 2nd, although at this point, Gulliver s image steadily declines until the fourth voyage, when he meets the Yahoos. In this way, Swift presents his commentary on the human condition through Gulliver s Travels.

 

Example #3 – The One about Democracy

The democratic political system is sometimes presented as one of the biggest achievements of the Western world, with its values of human rights and every individual freedom. However, in their fascination toward democracy, many people seem to forget (if not simply ignore) the multiple facts that prove how far from ideal this system is. Today’s democracy can be easily turned into a good-looking cover of authoritarian regimes and actions that are extremely far from proclaimed ideals.

One of the basic principles of modern democracy lies in people’s power to build the vector of their country’s political developments. However, modern times have proven that what might seem like a democratic state – with a system of regular elections, a variety of political parties, and constant social dialogue – is an authoritarian country with a democratic cover. Modern democracy consists of institutions that keep together the complexity and diversity of political movements and ideas. While these structures are meant to ensure that the democratic process is not interrupted, they can be turned against this purpose.

In Russia, for example, the media, political dialogue, and independence of political parties seem to have been slowly turned to serve to a single group of politicians and businessmen, led by President Vladimir Putin (Levy). While the above institutions are present and visible in Russia, they are all just instruments of imitation of a democratic process. In reality, Putin’s fully legitimate and “democratic” rule has been lasting for nearly two decades, giving him almost unlimited political and economic privileges and excluding any opponents from political discourse. Kremlin’s democratic “puppet show” may produce a beautiful picture for the outsiders, yet it carries ideas that are far from freedom and human rights.

Another structural issue of today’s democracies is the rule of the majority’s choice. Although democracies are built upon the idea of people choosing how to govern their country, modern times have shown that sometimes simple following of the majority’s choice may lead to catastrophic consequences. Sometimes democratic process leads to a tyranny of the majority over the minority’s interests, with no dialogue or compromise. What is even more ironic, sometimes because of an inadequate election system, even a minority might take over the rule and start aggressively pushing its agenda.

That is exactly what happened in the US 2016 Presidential election, when Donald Trump, despite his highly controversial and often simply ill-educated ideas, won, although losing the popular vote. Now, the US faces a series of social and political conflicts that emerged because of Trump’s developments, which are aimed at his audience but are completely unattached to democratic values and even the simplest common sense. Interestingly, democratic institutions are failing to unite the people using a shared set of values and ideas, only increasing the polarization and division within the political discourse (Packer). It seems that the US has fallen into a trap, set by the same democratic system decades ago.

To conclude, today’s democracy is still full of toxic issues and structural holes that produce tyrannies under beautiful covers. Surely, democracy may be the best possible solution to build a modern political process, but we have to be ready to face the challenges that this political system has reached and react appropriately, not just by hoping that the issues are going to solve themselves through the traditional democratic process.

 

Example #4

If there is a universal aspect of developed societies it most likely expresses itself in satire. Satire, as defined by Google is the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people ‘s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues. It seems to be especially prevalent in the current climate of America, from South Park to the Onion one never has to go far to get entertaining commentary on the social or political happenings of the day.

Satire is not a new literary device and satirical works have been documented in societies as ancient as the early Egyptian empire. It has made regular appearances in works of literature ever since. Despite the widespread and longstanding presence of satire on the earth, there are many who would say that satire is a largely American practice. This observation is likely due to the fact that one of the world ‘s most famous satirists was born in America and oftentimes made America the subject of his works.

This man ‘s name was Mark Twain and he used his intimate knowledge of life in the South to write several satirical works commenting on the more disagreeable practices of Southern society. His most famous satirical work, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is rife with satirical commentary on topics such as racism, religion, and romanticism. In this novel, Twain uses his satirical skills to criticize what he views as negative aspects of Southern society, aspects such as…

 

Example #5 – On Basis Of Our Reading, What Would Your Definition Of Satire Be?

An exaggerated, often witty or ironic, indirect approach to express one?s opinions or disgust with the aim to ridicule the desired victim. This is my definition of satire and hopefully satisfies the areas of satire that need to be explained.

The satirical text written by Jonathon Swift in 1729 fits the above description perfectly. The piece I refer to is “A Modest Proposal”. He wrote about cannibalism but more precisely the consumption of young babies. He stated that many children belonging to poor families were a burden and that by selling or eating them could make them beneficial to the Irish public.

This is an outrageous statement and highly unlikely that Swift actually believed that this method would really help the public at this difficult time. So this fits the criteria in the first part of my definition. A Modest Proposal was exaggerated and ironic. This then leads me onto ?indirect approach. At the time that Swift writes, he lived in Ireland. The fact that he could read and write alone was a rarity and showed his stature and importance well. The English had taken control of Ireland and the potato famine had now struck the nation.

The piece was published in English newspapers and some took its literal meaning: that Irish were turning in to cannibals. Others saw the use of satire. This makes it an indirect approach to ridicule the English, the desired victim in this case.

I kept my definition brief because to describe the uses and methods would take a far more educated than myself. Upon reading further definitions a phrase caught my eye, which also defines satire well but briefly: “An artfully developed assault on a topic or idea”.

This is a good definition but only scrapes the surface of what satire really is. Although the dates of these quotes are not known (so a comparison concerning the date cannot be made) a general pattern is followed (Leonard Feinberg) Satire is a playfully critical distortion of the familiar. (Molly Irvins) Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful. Both these quotes describe A Modest Proposal well.

Irvins is right in that Swift was a powerless civilian trying to ridicule the English government. Feinberg also showed accuracy as Swift did actually distort the familiar occurrences in Ireland. Molly Irvins’ quote is backed by several other similar quotes. (W.H Auden) I have no gun but I can spit? is a good example. This basically means that despite not having a weapon (power) I can still make a difference. This demonstrates that the most common satirists are powerless people.

A dictionary definition is shown below and should hypothetically be the most accurate of all definitions given: Satire: Poem, prose, or composition, in which prevailing vices or follies are held up to ridicule. Charles Dickens was probably the most admired, inspirational, and successful author in the Victorian era. I believe that he used this fame to attack the education policies in England. Hard Times was a satirical novel and did just that. I believe that through the character of Gradgrind he aimed to ridicule the education policies. Gradgrind’s beliefs are that education should be about facts and nothing else. His understanding is that without statistics and calculations education will deteriorate.

NOW, what I want are Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. The importance of the facts is indicated by a capital letter. This hypothesis of education leaves students with no practice in using creativity or imagination, which is what I believe that Dickens disagrees with, especially being an author. Siegfried Sassoon also wrote a famous satirical composition but this was after 1900 and was called “The General”. The poem doesn’t try to put it?s meaning across indirectly but is a demonstration of satire none the less.

The poem begins describing the cheerful moods that the soldiers and the Generals possessed at the start of the war. The later part of the poem is discriminating against the General’s judgment, attitude, lack of care and general incompetence: (Cheerful moods:)  “Good morning, good morning” the General said. The changeover in the mood of the poem is evident in these two lines. Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of them dead. And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine. This changeover in moods is an indication to the public of how quickly the war was over for some people and that the war was not as great as people made it out to be.

This, although, not indirect is witty and has a clear objective which is to ridicule the English government and the people in charge at the time of World War 2. There is however another adjective that was in my original definition that isn’t used in Sassoon?s composition. This is “exaggerated”. It is unfair and immoral to say that Sassoon?s poem was exaggerated as some terrible and shocking happenings occurred in the Second World War.

Therefore to judge what is exaggerated or not may cause offense to the soldier?s who fought.? ??? There are many other examples of satire, thousands in fact across the world today. Television programs such as “Have I Got News For You”, “Goodness Gracious Me” and “Harry Enfield And Chums” all use satire in vast amounts to attract viewers. Have I Got News For You for example exaggerates the current headlines and twists the headlines into something humorous. This particular program exaggerates the truth, is immensely witty, and aims to ridicule several desired victims. The texts written before 1900 tend to try to attack the Government. I think this is because of the class divisions in the Times. Jonathon Swift, for example, lived in an era where there was a huge class difference, as did Charles Dickens. After the social reform in England, which occurred after the Boer War, things started to change and the class divisions although still existent were far less noticeable.

When Sassoon wrote, at the outbreak of the war, the gap slightly increased between working and upper classes. This was because the Government was needed to defend the country and organize the war tactics and therefore the public was hugely dependent on it’s government. I believe that as times have progressed satire is used mainly as a source of humour. The Adbusters (adbuster.org) site was a site hosting “spoof adverts”.

Adverts were made to ridicule large firms such as McDonalds and Calvin Klein. The designers of the advertisements believed that firms such as these were giving an unbalanced diet and forcing youths to spend money on their appearances and that their looks was the only important factor in life.

Through these images, they aimed to ridicule the companies. They did this however in a humorous way, which would attract people to look at the images. Generally, I have found that uses of satire before 1900 are very serious and are more often than not, trying to attack the government at the time. After 1900 hundred, except in a few cases, the main uses of satire are to produce humor.

 

Example #6 – Satire In Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker was born in 1893 and died in 1967. She is known for using a mixture of humor, satire, and sarcasm in her poems. Satire is a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn. Three poems in which she uses humor, satire, and sarcasm are “R?sum?”, “Comment”, and “One Perfect Rose”.

In the poem “Comment” she uses an example of sarcasm. Sarcasm is harsh or bitter derision or irony. This poem is about how life is sweet bliss. The sarcasm displayed in the poem is the reference to Maria of Romania and the quote “And I am Maria of Romania”. Maria of Romania was a lady who had a horrible life; her life wasn’t sweet bliss as described in this poem. The point showed in this poem is described by this quote, “Dorothy Parker was famous for her wit and sarcasm”.

In her poem titled “R?sum?” she uses a mix of satire and humor. Humor is a sudden, unpredictable, or unreasoning inclination. This poem is about many ways of committing suicide, it tells you that u can use razors, guns, acids and other things but they all hurt you in some way. The humor and satire are displayed from this line from the poem, “You might as well live”. This line is basically saying suicide is painful so just live. “Dorothy caustically shows her disapproval by use of sarcasm and satire.”

In the poem “One Perfect Rose” she tells how her boyfriend sent her one rose ever since she met him but she wants something better. The lines “Why is it no one ever sent me yet one” and “One perfect limousine, do you suppose?” shows how she wants more than just a rose. These lines show her use of humor in the poem. “The senses of adventure and fun combine with a practical turn of mind to produce works that make fun of the stated or implicit ideals”. This quote shows how she used the element in the poem.

In conclusion, Dorothy Parker uses different elements in her poems to get her point across. Some of the elements she uses are humor, satire, and sarcasm. She used these elements in different ways, not the ways we use them in our writings. Her three poems “R?sum?”, “Comment”, and “One Perfect Rose” are very good examples that display how she uses the elements of humor, satire, and sarcasm.

 

Example #7 – Huck Finn: The Birth of American Satire

Making people a laughing-stock is a common occurrence in America. Most people experience being made fun of in life. Not many people would think of an author writing an entire story employing satire. Mark Twain did write using satire, not only for parts of his book but for almost all of it. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain entices his reader with many moments of satire.

Mark Twain reveals many of his satirical remarks about Romanticism in the book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. One of the first adventures for Huck includes the ship Walter Scott sinking, which is hilarious once you know the inside joke. The Romantic book Ivanhoe, which was written by Walter Scott, is ridiculed in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain mocks Walter Scott by having a ship on the Mississippi River, with the name Walter Scott, sink.

Twain does this because he believes that Romantic books were written by hacks who knew little about the real world and nothing about the people in it. Another time that Mark Twain ridicules Romantic books is when Jim, a Negro slave, escapes from his owners, the Phelps. Huck and Tom Sawyer help plan Jim s escape. Unlike the Romantic books that Tom reads, Huck plans a simple escape. Tom tells Huck that the only way for Jim to escape is the way it is done in Romantic books, and it must be done that way. Twain infers at this point that Romantic books were ridiculous and exaggerated.

Mark Twain, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, heavily mocks the belief of religion. When the reader notices the irony of the Shepardsons and Grangerfords bringing guns into a church, while listening to a sermon about brotherly love, he must naturally laugh. The Shepardsons and Grangerfords have been feuding for over thirty years. Neither of them knows when it started or why, but they keep killing each other constantly. While they are at church, the preacher gives a sermon about brotherly love. Both families believe in that type of love. At this point, the reader can decipher that Twain is trying to say that many times people try to act religious but don t.

The Shepardsons and Grangerfords are hypocrites. Another item that Twain sees in need of satire is Heaven and Hell. At the beginning of the story Huck resides at the home of Widow Douglas and Miss Watson. One night Miss Watson tells Huck that she is he is going to Heaven, along with Miss Watson herself. After Huck hears this he decides that Hell must be a better place because Miss Watson isn’t going there and he wants to go to Hell. Mark Twain points out to the reader that religion is not very effective on most people and that it may never be.

Mark Twain s satirical remarks on the subjects of religion and romanticism help the reader to enjoy The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn more. From the different views on the Bible to the involvement of 19th-century literature, the reader can stay interested in the book, mainly due to Mark Twain s remarks. Mark Twain put a great impression on the rest of the writing world after the publishing of Huck Finn s story. As Ernest Hemingway said in 1959, All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. If you read it you must stop where the Nigger

Jim is stolen from the boys. That is the real end. The rest is just cheating. But it’s the best book we’ve had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.

 

Example #8 – Satire In The General Prologue

The General Prologue of the Canterbury Tales satirizes almost every character that Chaucer introduced. Each person fits into one of four character descriptions; three of which are satires. But what are these descriptions and what characters fit into which?

One of the character descriptions is a Perfect character. These were people that excelled at what they did with little faults. They had an established reputation and were looked up to by others. The Knight is one such example. He is the epitome of Christian chivalry and a perfect nobleman but still remains a humble person. In a period of relatively fixed social classes, he could wear plain clothing and associate with whomever he wants and would still remain noble. There was no satire whatsoever in his description as well with the Squire and the Yeoman whom he traveled with. These were Ideal characters.

People that were much like the Knight and the Squire, but had minor faults were portrayed with a gentle satire. A good example of this was the prioress who was very polite and kind but didn’t do her job as she should have. She shows much compassion for living things and especially animals. Setting her eyes upon a dead mouse she begins to shriek; a gross over-reaction to a small tragedy. Also, the money that she possesses is supposed to go to help the poor, but she uses it instead to feed her dogs quality meats. The nun is a good person with a large heart but loses sight of what she should be doing and therefore, fails to be perfect.

Chaucer s other satirical use (the third was comical) is much more of a serious satire than with the previous pilgrims. Generally, these were religious people with power (over souls) and a few of them abused it. Instead of using their wealth and status to help the poor, they used it to enrich their own lives and gain respect from the rich. Hubert, the Friar (one of the few individuals names that Chaucer revealed) was a crooked man, indeed. He didn’t waste his time helping the poor but preferred associating with the rich. During confessions, he would only pay attention to those with money and would arrange marriages for young women after impregnating them.

The Monk is very similar to the Friar, but his sins are much less obvious. A monk is supposed to have a fairly confined life of study, labor, and chastity, but he would have none of it. The monk is wealthy, eats in abundance, and has sex (which is signified by a gold pin with a love knot), all of which goes directly against what a monk is supposed to be. While Chaucer the pilgrim admires the monk for everything he does, Chaucer the poet sees them as flaws.

Chaucer the pilgrim is fairly gullible and represents much of the common man in that period, making Chaucer the poet seem all the more insightful. It is the difference between the perceptions and opinions of these two Chaucers that creates much of the ironic tone in The Canterbury Tales.

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