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Satire In American Literature

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Many people go through life experiencing at one time or another "getting made fun of", however not many people would think of an author writing entire stories "making fun of" or using satire. Colonial authors explored different aspects of writing, but the theme that seems most present and persistent in the authors of the Chesapeake region is satire. Satire is a type or style of writing that was used in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, which criticizes and mocks its subject. Some good examples of authors that used this style of writing are Ebenezer Cook and William Byrd. To better understand satire I will define satire, tell how the authors use satire, and why they choose to use satire.

"Satire is a literary technique of writing or art which principally ridicules its subject (individuals, organizations, states) often as an intended means of provoking or preventing change" (Wikipedia). Although satire does not necessarily have to be funny, it often exaggerates things to the point where it arouses laughter. These exaggerations are a means of ridiculing the behaviors, actions, thoughts, and shortcomings of people. However some works of satire have subtle enough exaggeration that it can be believable. In most cases satire shows the speaker as thinking of themselves as superior or more intelligent, but it actually makes the speaker sound ignorant in many cases.

Ebenezer cook and William Byrd are two writers that display satire in their work. Ebenezer cook's The Sot-Weed Factor, is a satire about English expectations of Americans. At first it appears that cook is satirizing the "bumpkins" of Maryland. "To touch the shoar, where no good sense is found" (Cook p.699). "Standing erect, with legs stretched wide, we paddled to the other side" (Cook p.699). These statements show that

he thinks of himself as being better than the Americans that he has found. He thinks of himself superior and continues throughout the poem to ridicule and put down the Americans. His ridicules and exaggerations only show how ignorant that he really is about Americans. Any American reader would know better than to believe that they would stand up in a canoe. These exaggerations and ridicules out of ignorance continue throughout the poem.

William Byrd's The History of the Dividing Line and The Secret History, is a slightly different form of satire. It shows what his first impressions were of the first Virginia colonists. He ridicules them by saying "like true Englishmen they built a church that cost no more than fifty pounds and a tavern that cost five hundred" (Byrd p.601). He expresses his opinions on the wilderness, Indians, "half-savage whites", wild beasts, and other difficulties he felt that he had to face while trying to settle the boundary line between Virginia and North Carolina.

Satire was often used as a way of bringing about a change in something.



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