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English 11-12

Literary Techniques: Satire

In this post, we take the mystery out of satire and show you how to discuss it for a Band 6 response.

Satire is a commonly used technique by writers employed to highlight the shortcomings and flaws common in societies.


In this article we discuss:


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Satires have been around since the days of Ancient Greek theatre! Although satires are extremely effective, sometimes they can be difficult to grasp. You can find satire everywhere:

  • Newspaper cartoons
  • Novels
  • Movies
  • Even television shows like The Simpsons and South Park!

The Simpsons is a classic example of satire. The Simpsons is a comedic satirical representation of American life. The Simpsons draws attention to, and pokes fun at, negative human emotions and behaviours like jealousy and ego.


Analysing satire: a quick guide

Analysing satire can be difficult if you are unable to understand its complexity and purpose. If we approach analysing satire methodologically, it can enhance the meaning and strength of your essay.

Let us have a look at an overview of the questions we will need to answer to analyse satire.

  1. Who or what is the subject of the satire? I.e is it about a single person, a group of people, a value or humanity all together
  2. What key issue about the subject is the author is trying to bring attention too?
  3. What other literary techniques have they used to get this message across?
  4. What type of satire is it?
  5. What is the didactic purpose of this satire- what change does the author want to see?

Keep these in mind whilst reading about the different types of satire and their effect!


a diagram illustrating a detailed step-by-step on how to analyse satire

Flowchart: A step-by-step guide to analysing satire


So, what is satire?

Satire uses humour, exaggeration, irony and ridicule to expose and criticise problems present in society. Many satirists want to change humanity for the better by mocking the social, values, behaviours and attitudes they feel need to change.

Satire often employs other literary techniques such as irony or metaphor to convey its message. Satirical texts exaggerate or under-play fictional characters or situations that represent real-life people or issues.


Classification of satire

Satire can be classified based on who or what it is dealing with. The common subjects for satire are:

Political satire
These texts bring attention to vices present in a governing institute or a particular politician. Political satires bring light to problems that are often ignored by society, acting as a mechanism to catalyse change.

Social satire
Social satires are aimed at common behaviours in society which are negative, such as ego and selfishness, which may either need to be removed or re-evaluated.

Satire of everyday life
This ridicules common life and the monotony of tasks which people may fall into. The Simpsons is a great example of this!

Philosophical satire
A philosophical satire identifies the values which may be deeply ingrained in humanity as a whole is usually the key target of such satire.


What effect does satire have?

Satire is an extremely powerful tool to provide a moral lesson with a didactic purpose.

One of the key effects of satires is comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. A good satirist will try to ease those who may feel overwhelmed by the state of society, telling them that they are not alone, whilst simultaneously raising light to the issue in front of those who have the power to create change. Through their writing, satirists try to mend society by trying to reverse trends of decay and forcing readers to not be complacent.


image illustrates the contrast between the allicted and the comfortable- showing a society where there is a barrier

How does satire work?

Satire is dependent on the flaw the author wants to draw attention to.

When satirists decide on what they’re going to skewer or satirise they ask themselves questions like:

  1. What needs to be brought to the attention of readers in society?
  2. Can we correct this problem?
  3. Who is required to catalyse this change? What steps will they need to take to catalyse this change?

The author will then blend critical attitudes with humour and wit, to foster feelings of aggression, annoyance and panic within the reader so that they can ultimately remodel human institutions and improve them. The language used will be vivid, punchy and clear- to increase the effect of the meaning.


How to analyse satire: Step-by-step

Let’s take a look at how to analyse satire in-depth using George Orwell’s political satire, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1951).


Step 1: The object

The first question that we need to answer to analyse satire is: Who or what is the object of the satire?

It is really important to identify if the author is criticising a single person, a group, a particular event or humanity in general first. This will allow you to pinpoint the classification of the satire so you can narrow down what you will write about in your analysis.

KEY POINT: One of the subjects which Orwell satirises in his text is the totalitarian government present in Stalin’s Russia. He does this through the Ministry of Truth and Big Brother. Big Brother is representative of Stalin and the ministry is representative of deceptive practices by governments in war-torn Russia.


Step 2: Key issue

Now that we have identified the object of the satire, we need to think about why the author has chosen to satirically represent this object: what is the underlying issue at hand?

Authors use satire because they believe something is wrong in society and it needs to be corrected. We need to figure out what the author wants corrected in society as this will help us figure out the linking statement for our paragraph.

KEY POINT: In 1984, Orwell satirises Big Brother because he was appalled by the oppressive aspects of totalitarian regimes present in Spain, Italy, Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, raising concerns for Britain’s political future.


image illustrating that change needs to occur, however no one can see the problem at hand

Step 3: Other literary techniques used

We have now figured out the object of satire, the reason why the author chose to illustrate it hence now we have to now move onto what other literary techniques has the author used. Why does this matter?

It is important to be able to pinpoint the other literary techniques used by the author because it will help you enhance your analysis and will allow you to show links between literary devices- a key thing needed for getting a Band 6 in English!

The different techniques that are commonly used in satire are:

Through the use of these techniques, authors can an extra layer of meaning to their satirical representation.

KEY POINT: Let’s look at Orwell again and what devices he uses in conjunction with satire. Orwell hyperbolises the Ministry of Truth, portraying it as a propaganda machine; inflating half-truths to delude the masses.


Step 4: Type of satire

After we have done the first three steps, we can now deduce if it is Horatian (satire that is gentle and is used for humorous effect) or Juvenalian (Satire that is harsh and is used to create pathos and engender emotions like fear or anger) satire. The question that I ask myself whenever I get to this step is:

  • Is this making me feel overwhelmed, or am I able to have a wry laugh?

It is really important to ask yourself this question because it acts as a clear indicator of the type of satire used by the author.

Pinpointing this will help develop the explanation to your TEEL paragraph as both types of satire have different purposes.

KEY POINT: If we think about Big Brother in Orwell, we can see that Orwell utilises Juvenalian satire because he wants to instigate fear in the audience. Orwell wants his audience to catalyse change and reject totalitarian control. This is a fear he held for England if a political change didn’t occur.


Step 5: Purpose

The final step is to think about what the author is trying to achieve from the satire- how are they trying to improve humanity? What do they wish will occur?

Identifying the purpose will allow you to go that one extra step ahead of your peers and provide a concise and detailed analysis. This is key if you want that Band 6!

KEY POINT: Orwell’s purpose for using satire is to allow his text to act as a didactic warning towards the use of propaganda and abuse of surveillance by totalitarian states creating an atmosphere of mistrust.


Illustrates the satirist bringing light to an issue that needs change, so that humanity can be improved

Step 6: Put it all together

Now we’ve looked at how to analyse the satire in Nineteen Eighty-Four, we can now put all the key points together to form a strong paragraph.

A strong paragraph will have the following TEEL structure:

  • Technique: Technique used in the example
  • Example: The example
  • Effect: Your explanation of the effect of this technique and how it develops meaning
  • Link: An explanation of how this example supports your argument.

Let us have a look at what that paragraph will look like:

Throughout his text, Orwell utilises satire in “Big Brother is Watching You” to illustrate the loss of freedom, paralleling Stalin’s Russia where the government restricted choice. This hyperbole is repeated throughout the novel so that Orwell’s text acts as a didactic warning about the abuse of surveillance by totalitarian states, creating an atmosphere of mistrust. Orwell further satirises Second World War propaganda through the Ministry of Truth, a fictional version of propaganda agencies like Britain’s Ministry of Information. Orwell portrays the Ministry of Truth as a propaganda machine that exercises “power” by figuratively “tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes” as it inflates half-truths to delude the masses. Thus, In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell satirises the rise of totalitarianism regimes in Spain, Italy, Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia using Big Brother in conjunction with the Ministry of Truth to raise concerns for Britain’s political future.


Want to learn more about satire and other literary techniques?

Cover an extensive range of literary techniques and learn how to analyse texts with us in our Matrix English course!


Written by Matrix Education

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