Understanding Satire: Definition, Use & Examples
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 6 min read


Let's take a journey into the world of satire—a land filled with humor, irony, and even a little exaggeration. This engaging genre of literature not only entertains us but also shines a critical light on society's quirks and faults. Whether you've heard the term before or are new to it, this blog will guide you through the twists and turns of the definition of satire. So, let's dive in!

What is satire?

First things first, what exactly is satire? Well, it's a special kind of artistic expression. It has a knack for tickling our funny bones while making us think. Using humor, irony, and often exaggeration, satire aims to expose and critique people's foolishness or vices. It's like a mirror held up to society, reflecting our follies back at us in a way that's both humorous and thought-provoking.

Definition of Satire

Now, let's break down the definition of satire a bit more. It's a genre of literature, but you can also find it in plays, films, and other forms of media. Here are some key points to remember:

  • Humor: Satire uses humor to highlight certain issues, but it's not just about making you laugh. The humor serves a purpose—to draw attention to something the author believes needs to change.
  • Irony: This is a central tool in the satire toolbox. Irony involves saying one thing but meaning another. It's a clever way to critique without being outrightly critical.
  • Exaggeration: Sometimes, to make a point, satirists will exaggerate the issue they're highlighting. This can make it more obvious and funny, but it also underscores the seriousness of the problem.

The Purpose of Satire

It's not all about fun and games, though. The definition of satire wouldn't be complete without looking at its purpose. Satire serves a vital role in society—it's a form of social commentary. It points out the absurdities, hypocrisies, and flaws in our society, often in the hopes of inspiring change. In essence, when you laugh at satire, you're laughing—and thinking—about the world around you.

History of Satire

Now that we've got the definition of satire covered, let's take a step back in time to explore its origins. You might be surprised to know that satire has a rich and varied history, dating back to ancient times!

Origins of Satire

Believe it or not, satire's roots go back to Ancient Greece and Rome. In fact, the word "satire" comes from the Latin "satura," which means "medley." This gives us a hint about the nature of satire—it's a mix of humor, irony, and critique. Ancient poets like Horace and Juvenal were known for their satirical works, which they used to comment on society and politics.

Satire Through the Ages

As centuries passed, satire didn't lose its appeal. Quite the opposite—it flourished in different forms and styles across cultures and eras. During the Middle Ages, for instance, Geoffrey Chaucer used satire in "The Canterbury Tales" to critique the Church and social classes.

In the 18th century, satire found a home in the works of Jonathan Swift and Voltaire, who used it to expose societal issues of their time. Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" is a prime example of satire used to criticize politics and human nature.

Modern Satire

Fast forward to today, and satire is alive and well, evolving to fit our modern world. You can find it in various mediums, from television shows like "The Simpsons" and "Saturday Night Live," to online platforms like "The Onion." These contemporary satirists continue the tradition of using humor and irony to reflect on society's shortcomings, proving that the definition of satire remains relevant across time.

Types of Satire

Now that we've journeyed through the history of satire, let's dive into the different types. You'll find that while the basic definition of satire remains the same—using humor, irony, or exaggeration to expose and criticize—it can take on various forms.

Horatian Satire

Named after the Roman poet Horace, this type of satire is light-hearted and funny. It gently mocks human folly, often with a sense of sympathy rather than contempt. Think of it as a friendly nudge, a way to say, "Hey, we all make mistakes, and that's okay."

Juvenalian Satire

This form of satire is named after another Roman poet, Juvenal. Unlike Horatian satire, Juvenalian satire is harsh, bitter, and angry. It aims to criticize corruption or incompetence with a severe tone. It's the kind of satire that makes you squirm in your seat and reflect on the world's problems.

Menippean Satire

Lastly, we have Menippean satire, also known as Varronian satire after the writer Varro. This form attacks mental attitudes or character flaws rather than specific individuals or events. It's often found in literature that breaks conventional storytelling structures, presenting a chaotic world where absurdity reigns.

By understanding these different types, you can better appreciate the nuances in the definition of satire. It's not just about making people laugh—it's about provoking thought and encouraging change.

Use of Satire in Literature

Let's steer our ship towards the shores of literature now. Have you ever wondered why authors use satire? The simple answer is: to communicate ideas in a way that's both entertaining and thought-provoking. It's a tool to, not just tell a story, but to also shine a light on society's shortcomings.

Creating Humor

One of the primary reasons authors use satire is to inject humor into their work. But this isn't just any ordinary humor. It's humor that packs a punch. It tickles your funny bone while simultaneously urging you to question what you find amusing. It's like a jester in a royal court, making you laugh while subtly criticizing the king.

Provoking Thought

Satire isn't just about getting a laugh. It's about making readers think. When authors use satire, they're often challenging readers to question their beliefs, their actions, or the status quo. It's a nudge (or sometimes a shove) towards critical thinking.

Encouraging Change

At its heart, satire is a call to action. By highlighting societal flaws or individual follies, authors hope to inspire change. Whether it's sparking a dialogue, shifting perspectives, or prompting direct action, satire is a powerful catalyst.

So, the next time you pick up a book and find yourself laughing at a sharp, witty comment about society, remember—there's more to it than just a quick chuckle. That's the power of satire in literature.

Examples of Satire in Literature

If you're like me, examples always help make things clearer. So, let's look at some instances where authors have used satire in their work.

"Gulliver's Travels" by Jonathan Swift

Swift's famous novel is a brilliant example of satire in literature. The book cleverly criticizes British society and human nature by depicting Gulliver's fantastical adventures in strange lands. It's not just about a guy hanging out with tiny people and giants—it's Swift's way of holding up a mirror to society.

"Animal Farm" by George Orwell

Orwell's "Animal Farm" is another classic example of satire. Don't be fooled by the talking animals. This book uses satire to critique the Soviet Union's totalitarian regime. The pigs don't just want more food—they represent a corrupt government seeking power.

"Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen

Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" isn't typically classified as satire, but it does contain elements of the form. Austen uses wit and irony to poke fun at the marriage customs and social norms of her time. So, while you're swooning over Mr. Darcy, also pay attention to Austen's clever commentary on society.

These examples give you a taste of how authors can use satire to convey deeper meanings. So, next time you're reading, look out for this technique—you might be surprised at what you find!

How to Identify Satire

Now that we've seen some examples, let's talk about how you can spot satire in literature. Here are some key things to look for:


A common technique in satire is to exaggerate reality to absurd levels. This can be a subtle hint that the author is trying to mock or criticize something. If you're reading something that seems too ridiculous to be true, it might just be satire.


Irony is another key sign of satire. This is when words are used to convey a meaning that is the opposite of their literal meaning. So, if a character says something that seems to contradict the situation, the author could be using satire.


Satire often uses humor, but it’s not always the laugh-out-loud kind. Sometimes it's a dry, subtle humor used to highlight the absurdity of the situation. So, if you find yourself chuckling at an oddly humorous scene, you might be reading satire.

Remember, satire is a tool authors use to critique or mock society. So, if you notice these elements in a text, it might be the author's way of saying, "Hey, let's take a closer look at this."

If you enjoyed exploring the world of satire and want to further develop your creative skills, check out the workshop 'Composing Complex Illustrations using Basic Shapes' by Juliet Schreckinger. Although not directly related to satire, this workshop will help you master the art of illustration, which can be a powerful tool for visual storytelling and conveying satirical ideas effectively.