Jest in Literature - Satire
Oct 30, 2002 10:43 PST
JEST in LITERATURE
28th October 2002 # 027
IN THIS DIGEST :
Don't Quote me on this Break
Another Quote Break
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Hello to each of you.
Guess who had a birthday?
1726 -- Irish satirist Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels
& he gave it for his opinion, that whoever could make two ears
of corn, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot of ground
where only one grew before, would deserve better of mankind,
& do more essential service to his country, than the whole race
of politicians put together.
---Jonathan Swift, "Voyage to Brobdingnag"
Satire is sometimes considered the highest form of art in literature.
Satire is often mistaken for those literary devices which are
associated with it: irony, sarcasm, and even pun.
Satire can be distinguished from other styles by its definition:
ridiculing or making fun of something in order to effect a change.
Satire has a specific purpose. Lacking that, and in the absence of
that desire to change something, we are left with irony and
Irony and sarcasm have their own little battle with being correctly
defined as well. One quick way to distinguish between them
is this: to a purist who marks the difference between the two,
sarcasm is always spoken. Yep. You can't write sarcasm, you
can only speak it. In effect, sarcasm is verbal irony, but that
doesn't quite clear it up, because one can write verbal irony.
In fact, that is its most common form. So, change verbal to
spoken irony, and you are probably getting close enough to
it to lord it over someone when he says, "This book is really
sarcastic." It can't be, you see? A speech can be sarcastic, but
not a book. If the person you have just condescended to is
not a purist, you will probably get whacked with the book,
Here, then, is an example of irony:
1659 -- William Robinson & Marmaduke
Steven, two Quakers who came from England in 1656 to escape
religious persecution, are executed in the Massachusetts Bay
Colony for their religious beliefs.
Now, that's definitely ironic that they escape persecution and
walk right into execution. That is sort of the ultimate in
persecution. Irony, yes. Satire, no. Why not?
The statement, as it stands, does not attempt to change anything.
It serves the purpose of exposing the hypocrisy of those who
likewise proclaimed to be escaping what they then perform, but
it does not seek to change that practice.
Irony is one of the tools that is most often employed in the service
of satire, however. It just doesn't make that last step of having
the purpose of trying to change something. Irony laughs at
something; satire laughs and tries to change it through that
laughter. If a work satirizes a group of people, the intent
is usually to get the members of that group to recognize what
they are and to change that.
Comments or Questions :
===> Quote Break
I believe that sex is a beautiful thing between two people.
Between five, it's fantastic.
More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroads.
One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to
total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose
Sex without love is an empty experience, but as empty
experiences go, it's a pretty good empty experience.
Sex between a man and a woman can be wonderful -
provided you get between the right man and the right woman.
Have you been putting your audiences to Zzzzzzleep?
Check out www.workinghumor.com/wake.htm
====> Satire (Cont)
One of the landmarks of satire is an essay titled, "A Modest
Proposal, For Preventing The Children of Poor People in
Ireland From Being A burden to Their Parents or Country,
and For Making Them Beneficial to The Public"
~ By Jonathan Swift (1729)
At the time this essay was written, the country of Ireland was
suffering under English hegemony. The English landlords, in
particular, were complaining that too many Irish were about in
the country, and that they were a bother because they were
starving, plagued with disease caused by malnutrition, and were
a problem that needed fixing before it got entirely out of hand.
Several ideas were given to the Crown for consideration, but
the argument that defeated each proposal came down to the
cost. There seemed to be no way the English would foot the bill
to feed and house these thousands of Irish ingrates who were in
their suffering condition as a result of the refusal of the English
landlords to pay them for their labor to begin with.
In a pedantic and most logical argument, Swift's essay contends
that the most obvious way to deal with the Irish poor, increase
their wealth and make them productive members of Great Britain,
and to add lucre to the budget of the Crown itself in the process,
is for the Irish, and some of the noble English as well, to learn
how to best prepare and serve those Irish children who are
under one year of age.
In plain terms, something that Swift avoids being blatant about,
he suggests that the problem can be rectified if the Irish, and
some of the richer noblemen, purchase, prepare, and eat Irish
babies up to a year old.
"I have been assured by a very knowing American of my
acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is
at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food,
whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt
that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout."
His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.
Yes, indeed, Swift imagines and counters all arguments against
his plan by strategically listing those things that will benefit the
nation as a whole if it will recognize the sagacity of his proposal.
He delineates the benefits thus:
"For first, as I have already observed, it would greatly lessen the
number of papists, with whom we are yearly overrun, being the
principal breeders of the nation as well as our most dangerous
enemies; and who stay at home on purpose with a design to
deliver the kingdom to the Pretender, hoping to take their
advantage by the absence of so many good protestants, who
have chosen rather to leave their country than stay at home and
pay tithes against their conscience to an episcopal curate."
The Protestant versus Catholic quibble was at the root of Swift's argument,
and his use of irony is replete in this essay. Irony is
defined thus: the use of words to express something other than
and especially the opposite of the literal meaning. Note that Swift
seems to be condemning the Irish Catholics, but by his referencing
the fact that many English landlords are loathe to tithe, or give ten
percent of their income to the episcopal alternative, they are actually
the ones being blamed for the increase in papists numbers. He says
those English who leave the Isle do so because they are following
their conscience, but his clever way of tying their flight to their
pocket books makes it fairly obvious that he means quite the
opposite of what he says.
"Secondly, The poorer tenants will have something valuable of
their own, which by law may be made liable to distress and help
to pay their landlord's rent, their corn and cattle being already
seized, and money a thing unknown."
His second validation of his proposal is, since the landlords
have already rendered the Irish in a state of abject poverty,
and since no more can be gotten from them, to allow the
income the Irish make from selling their babies garnishable.
That way, their income could be used to pay off the debts
including the rent they owe the landlords.
"Thirdly, Whereas the maintenance of an hundred thousand
children, from two years old and upward, cannot be computed
at less than ten shillings a-piece per annum, the nation's stock
will be thereby increased fifty thousand pounds per annum,
beside the profit of a new dish introduced to the tables of all
gentlemen of fortune in the kingdom who have any refinement
in taste. And the money will circulate among ourselves, the
goods being entirely of our own growth and manufacture."
This is Swift's appeal to national pride. Along with filling the
coffers of the Crown, this plan allows the country to become the
soul source and producer of this new culinary product. "Born and
raised right here on the Island. The only thing good enough for the
British palate is something that is British itself." Or, perhaps,
"Oh, I wish I had an Oscar Myer baby...."
Does the idea of speaking in front on an audience
make you lose zzzzzleep?
Check out www.workinghumor.com/wake.htm
===> Don't quote me on this - break
When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle.
Then I realized that the Lord doesn't work that way so I stole
one and asked Him to forgive me.
My mother never breast fed me. She told me that she only
liked me as a friend.
I was making love to this girl and she started crying.
I said, "Are you going to hate yourself in the morning?"
She said, "No. I hate myself now."
I asked her if she enjoys a cigarette after sex.
She said, "No. One drag is enough."
Have you Clicked on the wake up link already or are you
===> Satire (Cont)
"Fourthly, The constant breeders, beside the gain of eight
shillings sterling per annum by the sale of their children, will be
rid of the charge of maintaining them after the first year."
Earlier in the essay, Swift determines that the cost of raising a
well-fed baby for one year will be two schillings. A nice, plump,
roasting baby should fetch about ten schillings at one year of age.
No further costs would be incurred by the mother since the baby
would be gone at the end of that year. Swift does imagine that the
mother should be told to keep the child at her breast during the
last month so the baby will be extra fat for the sale.
"Fifthly, This food would likewise bring great custom to taverns;
where the vintners will certainly be so prudent as to procure
the best receipts for dressing it to perfection, and consequently
have their houses frequented by all the fine gentlemen, who justly
value themselves upon their knowledge in good eating: and a
skilful [sic] cook, who understands how to oblige his guests,
will contrive to make it as expensive as they please."
This is his appeal to both gentlemen and cooks to develop further
enterprises based on the serving of the baby in ways that
would delight the epicurean palate. Served properly, a
well-prepared baby could fetch almost any price, he reckons.
====> Another Quote Break
Albert Einstein :
The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a
faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the
servant and has forgotten the gift.
The pursuit of truth and beauty is a sphere of activity in which
we are permitted to remain children all our lives.
(And, as Tom Robbins said, "It's never too
late to have a happy childhood.")
The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't
happen at once.
===> Satire (Cont)
"A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends;
and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter
will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper
or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in
In his sixth support for his proposal, Swift turns to the benefits
that would befall women as a result of this practice of making
babies a commodity:
"Sixthly, This would be a great inducement to marriage, which
all wise nations have either encouraged by rewards or enforced
by laws and penalties. It would increase the care and tenderness
of mothers toward their children, when they were sure of a
settlement for life to the poor babes, provided in some sort by
the public, to their annual profit instead of expense. We should
see an honest emulation among the married women, which of
them could bring the fattest child to the market. Men would
become as fond of their wives during the time of their pregnancy
as they are now of their mares in foal, their cows in calf, their
sows when they are ready to farrow; nor offer to beat or kick
them (as is too frequent a practice) for fear of a miscarriage."
Notice how he so deliciously compares a woman who is pregnant
to a cow in calf and a sow ready to farrow. He says this new
proposal would raise women to a new exalted level placing her
value alongside that of cows and sows. What woman wouldn't
delight in so grand an elevation, he suggests? Indeed, which
would dare complain?
These six advantages would accrue to the country, and others
which he does not enumerate.
He even goes so far as to suggest that, because this meat is
too fragile and fine for exportation, it will keep England from
being obligated to any imports. "For this kind of commodity
will not bear exportation, and flesh being of too tender a
consistence, to admit a long continuance in salt, although
perhaps I could name a country, which would be glad to
eat up our whole nation without it."
The country he refers to as being willing to eat the Irish without
salt would be, of course, England. It's such a relatively small
island, and these boys have not learned to play with each other
or share their toys, even yet. Remember, this essay was written
nigh on three hundred years ago, and it might as well have been
He ends by saying that he is not so staunch in defense of his
proposal that he would not listen to others, but he challenges any
others to settle as many of the problems as his proposal will.
He adds a charming disclaimer at the end that he is not seeking
any gain for himself since his own child is nine years old, and his
wife is past child-bearing age. He offers this proposal modestly,
and from his heart alone with no intention of lining his own
pocket when it is put into action.
Most certainly when the essay was presented, it was seen as
absurd and laughable, but I imagine there were those who
thought it had merit based on its arguments. Those English who
were being satirized might have realized, in the middle of their
laughter at such an absurd proposal, that they were the ones
being made fun of. If they did, and if it caused them to take a
second look at this situation with the Irish, then Swift's essay
not only met, but accomplished, the demands of satire.
Wit, pun, irony, sarcasm, double entendre, hyperbole: all of
these elements of language can be put to the use of satire, and
it probably bears the title of one of the highest forms of literature
with good reason.
===> Finishing Quote
Albert Einstein :
Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity,
and I'm not sure about the former.
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