Thursday, March 14, 2013


Satire: the change the world needs

They say laughter is the best medicine. But is it enough to change the world? Satirical authors desire to mend the world as they bring much more than just trivial comedy.  BY ……………………………………..

Figure 1: Algernon, Lady Bracknell and Cecily discussing about Algernon and Cecily’s engagement
almost of us have heard the saying that laughter is the best medicine. But will laughter in itself mend the fragments of society? We need a certain kind of laughter to change the world, and that is the laughter that satire brings. From trivial plays to bitter novels, satirical authors show us the follies and vices of humanity. But the real question is: can satire bring more than just trivial comedy? Ever since the writings of philosophers Horace, Juvenal and Li Po,  satire has been usilised to criticise society and bring about change..

We need a certain kind of laughter to change the world, and that is the laughter that satire brings.
Satirical authors present societal issues that they believe need  exposure. In order to catch readers’ attention, authors use satirical techniques to emphasize current controversies. Their intent is not only to make us laugh; but to highlight  fragmentation in society in the hope of piecing it back together. In other words, a true satirist is a moral crusader for change. American author E.L. Doctorow states, “Satire’s nature is to be...contemptuous of ambiguity, and so unfairly selective as to find in the purity of ridicule an inarguable moral truth.” [1] Satire is literature that not only exposes society’s absurdity, but changes the values and beliefs of society by implementing the tools of satire.

Sardonic English playwright Oscar Wilde is said to be “synonymous with satire”, and he proves through his play The Importance of
Being Earnest, showing usthat satire is more than just

trivial comedy. Targeting and criticizing the moral and social values of Victorian aristocracy, this entertaining play abides by the conventions of the Horatian style of satire, adopting a more comical style compared to the bitterness of the Juvenalian style.

Whilst Wilde regards the values of the upper classes of the Victorian era as foolish and hyprocrital rather than unjust; the desire to mend is still present. Wilde employed the tools of satire in his play to emphasise the moral rectitude of the elite. Valuing wealth and status, the Victorian upper class condoned snobbery and social injustice and Wilde attended to these flawed attributes by his use of satire.
Literature is replete with tales of dreams  of finding a rich and handsome Prince Charming. During Queen Victoria’s reign, finding an eligible spouse meant finding someone who was wealthy, not necessarily charming. One of the aristocratic obsessions portrayed in The Importance of Being Earnest was the Victorian society’s ideology on  marriage as a means to an end, rather than a loving partnership.

Wilde ridiculed  Victorian society regarding their foolish attitudes towards wealth and marriage. He hoped that by turning serious flaws into apparently trivial matters, the public’s attention would be captured and change might follow. In the play, one of the protagonists Algernon Moncrieff, proposed to Cecily Cardrew as they were  in love with each other. However, Algernon’s “snobbish…and domineering aunt” [2]Lady Bracknell, did not agree to the engagement since Cecily’s family and wealth background was unknown to her. She soon changed her mind.

“A hundred and thirty pounds! ...Miss Cardew seems to me a most attractive young lady, now that I look at her,” [3] announced Lady Bracknell after Cecily’s fortune was announced. Lady Bracknell’s “interest was greatly piqued” [4] as she considered Cecily as a possible match for Algernon. This reveals the folly of the Victorian attitude to marriage. Lady Bracknell’s attempt to control who married whom was for the purpose of maintaining class and wealth. Marriage came, to coin a book title,  with “great expectations”.

Figure 2: Charles Dickens – author of Great Expectations

“[Dickens’] power of evoking visual images...has probably never been equalled. When Dickens has once described something you see it for the rest of your life.”
Wilde wrapped his antagonism of Victorian elite society in a silken purse, while Charles Dickens savaged the injustices in Victorian England with biting satire. George Orwell suggested, “[Dickens’] power of evoking visual images . . . has probably never been equalled. When Dickens has once described something you see it for the rest of your life." [5] Following the style of Juvenalian satire, Dickens’ Great Expectations is written in a more cynical and serious style as compared to that of The Importance of Being Earnest. Dickens’ timeless novel demonstrates the post-Industrial Revolution model of England as it became wealthy often at the expense of the lower classes where poverty was rife. But what was so great about Great Expectations?

Common to satirists, Dickens sought to change the world through his writing, exposing the vices of the upper class. Juxtaposing luxury and love, fortune and friendship, richness and reliability, Dickens hoped to change the social morés and morals he saw enacted around him.

The story focuses on  the strange fortunes of the protagonist and narrator Philip Pirrip (Pip) – ironically, a young English orphan without any expectations at all. Numerous conflicts revolved around the acquisition of wealth and status as Pip realised that affection and love were more important than wealth and class. “As we got more and more into debt, breakfast became a hollower and hollower form.” [6]Dickens exposes the harsh reality of Victorian England through Pip as he learned the difficulty of surviving without money.

“It was not until I began to think, that I began fully to know how wrecked I was, and how the ship in which I had sailed was gone to pieces,” [7] said Pip who saw ships as a metaphor of “a life of money and privilege”. [8]Dickens portrayed the idea that Pip’s greed for money would lead him to destruction.

So...Is satire more than just trivial comedy? Satirical authors have greater expectations than just audience laughter; they wish to bring about change to the situations they find abhorrent. Like bringing medicine to those in need, satire brings  us the author’s need to change the world. Satirical authors expose the follies and vices; they seek to mend the fragmented pieces. Reaching out to change society’s perceptions on the various concerns in the world[WU1] , satire brings audiences much more than just trivial comedy.

[1] Goodreads. (2012). Retrieved 22 April from

[2] Sparknotes. (2012). Retrieved 22 April from

[3] Wilde, Oscar. The Importance of Being Earnest. (1895). Retrieved 24 April.

[4] Sparknotes. (2012). Retrieved 25 April from

[6] Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. (1861). Retrieved 24 April.

[7] Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. (1861). Retrieved 24 April.

[8] Shmoop University. (2012). Retrieved 20 April from

 [WU1]You've mainly been discussing a past era, so you can’t say this.

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