Satire is the use of satire to highlight flaws or negative characteristics in a culture, a person, or a government. Voltaire and Swift use parody in their literary works Candide and A Modest Proposal to highlight societal horrors and folly. They convey their messages to their readers in both toothed and toothless humor.
Voltaire’s Candide contains satire. Candide is the story of a man who embarks on life with strong hopes of seeking success and pleasure. And if he is aware that society is full of bad, he convinces himself that goodwill somehow emerge from it. To his shock, his philosophy of life is completely altered by the realization that no evil births good. Voltaire refers to the massive earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 which claimed many human lives. He wonders what God would allow such a thing to happen and makes fun of the predicament as a sign of divine wrath demanding human sacrifices!
In the course of narrating this beautiful story, Voltaire uses satire to relay his opinions about the evils in the European society in his days. For instance, Candide portrays religious persecution as the worst evil in the society. Although Christianity teaches that all people are children of God, a Black slave working for a religious who turns out to be a cruel master. An old woman narrates to Candide the irony of a “holy” man who convinced Janizaries not to slaughter women for food. However, the man goes on to slice one of the women’s buttocks to eat and further convinced the Janizaries that “heaven will be pleased by such a charitable action.” Voltaire attacks hypocrisy and corruption of religious leaders and the heinous acts that their congregations tolerate in the name of “honoring their leaders” as God commands in the Bible. He calls the religious authorities to order and warns Christians to be careful so that their “buttocks” are not “sliced and eaten” by the clergy (Voltaire 48).
Candide also addresses the inconsistencies in politics and the ineptitude of rulers. For instance, the governor of Buenos Ayres possesses several names alluding to his pride and vanity. The satire is portrayed in how the governor is called y Figueora, Don Fernando d’Ibaraa, y Souza, y Mascarenes, and y Lapourdos. This is a typical politician who, instead of focusing on the needs of the people, he amasses so much wealth and demands recognition. Meanwhile, he does nothing to improve the welfare of the people in the society.
Satire in A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift
Swift uses satire to expose the cruelty of the rich Irish landlords who were oblivious of the suffering and poverty of the peasants. Satirically, he makes an outrageous claim that the Irish are eating their own children. He states that out of the 120,000 infants born yearly, 100,000 should be sold to the rich in the society and 20,000 preserved for breeding purposes. He goes on to justify his proposal by stating that it would increase domestic revenue, ease financial burdens of the low class families, reduce the number of Catholics in Ireland, and provide farmers a means of paying their landlords (Gundry 2017). His repulsive solution to eating the infants alludes to the predicament that most citizens face due to governments that continuously enrich themselves and care little about providing even just the basic social amenities required for the survival of the poor in society. Governments misuse the taxes paid by their struggling citizens, steal away monies into personal bank accounts, and finance their luxurious lifestyles at the expense of their citizens. One of Swift’s famous statements is;
“I am 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 ragout” (Swift 207).
The title of his work A Modest Proposal is a satirical statement alluding to Swift’s proposal that the Irish should eat their young.
Question 2: Societal Trappings of Women
For many years women have suffered in the hands of men and the society at large. Nevertheless, they have shown tremendous grace and strength in dealing with their challenges such that they emerged heroes of their time. In the Life of Sensuous Woman by Ihara and Punishment by Tagore, cultural circumstances seemingly conspire to “trap” women in very restricted lives. However, they thwart the oppressive social structures through their innate strength of character.
Ways in which the women are trapped
The woman in the Life of Sensuous Woman is trapped in a marriage where only the man’s need for sexual gratification is important; not the woman’s desire for love, vitality and eroticism. Consequently, there’s the objectification of a woman as a result of the men dominance in the society. In the Life of Sensuous Woman love means finding contemporary happiness based on an exchange of beauty and fortune. Ukiyo is a society in which people have dedicated themselves to a pleasure-seeking lifestyle. Consequently, rarely do people form meaningful relationships resulting in “shallow” life experiences. Ihara’s book also outlines the story of a woman who is gradually aging but is seeking love and an understanding of her sexuality. Having brought up from a rich family, the woman falls from grass to shame. In her new social class, she struggles to make ends meet and ends up becoming a prostitute. She is trapped by the fate of life.
In the Punishment, two women face dehumanization by men. The first one is Radha who is killed by her husband known as Dukhiram simply because she mocked him. It is sad to think that Dukhiram believed that he owned Radha so much that he could take her life at any time and without just cause. The second woman, Chandara, finds herself trapped in murder case that she knew nothing about. To protect her brother from receiving capital punishment for pleading guilty to murdering his wife, he convinces his wife (Chandara) to take blame for the murder and say that it was an accident. Later on when the men decide to tell the truth about the murder case, it is too late as the judges believe Chandara’s confession. It is unfortunate that Chandara and Radha had to find themselves in these inhumane scenarios by virtue of them being women.
The justice system is also against Chandara. Even when two men plead guilty of the murder that she had confessed to have committed, the court does not hear their testimony, they are quick to make judgments even when the evidence cleared Chandara’s name. Thus, an innocent person is executed while the real murderer’s life is spared. Such an instance points to the rot in the judiciary in most societies. It also exposes the fact that not everyone who is declared guilty is guilty of the offence they are accused of.
Women are treated by society as second to men. In fact, at the beginning of the story, we see the men mentioned first, then the wives. They are put first in the society, and the women are considered last. The men also have a purpose which is “to work the field” while the women stay home. Instead of praising the work that women do at home, the writer just focuses on the negative saying they would “quarrel and shout” as further quoted below;
“When the brother Dukhiram Rui and Chidam Rui went out in the morning with their heavy farm-knives, to work the field, their wives would quarrel and shout”(Tagore 964).
The women are invisible to the reader, as Tagore conspicuously omits their names while mentioning the full names of their husbands. The names of the women are withheld up to the fifth paragraph. Besides, Chandara’s mouth is covered when she tries to scream and moan her sister in law. This depicts the invisibility with which women are treated in the society. They are not even allowed to express their grief (Tagore 965).
How they overcome these traps
The woman in Ihara’s story overcomes her “traps” by rediscovering the value of her voice in the society. When she lands a spot as Mistress of the Domain Lord, she sets her own terms that make her stand out from the rest (Saikaku 598). Consequently, she avoids any competition that may arise for her position. At the time that this story was written, women had no voice in the society. Thus, the woman shocks many by her manner of operation which not only guards her honor as a woman, but also brings to an end a long era of male dominance.
On the other hand, Chandara, in the Punishment feels like she has had enough and presents herself as the murderer of her husband’s brother’s wife. One wouldn’t expect to be given up for a death sentence by their husband! The fact that he would think of doing that to protect his brother meant that he valued him more than his wife. Consequently, as in most cases, the women are treated are second class citizens. Chandara, out of rage and a desire to punish her husband, pleads guilty of a murder that she never committed. She also refuses to see the husband before her execution just to indicate that she no longer felt valued by her husband. The two men would always be tormented by their actions as long as they lived!
Question 3: Gregor Samsa, the Cockroach
Why refer to Samsa as a despicable piece of human vermin?
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is a narrative of a man called Gregor Samsa that suddenly turns into a cockroach. On this fateful day, Samsa had planned to get to his work as usual. Although he did not like the fact his boss would not excuse being even a little late even when one worked very hard. Samsa is known as a despicable human vermin for several results including his strained relationship with his father and lack of passion for his “Brotberuf” (bread job).
Prior to his literary works, Kafka had a strained relationship with his father. Consequently, he did not enjoy the normal father-son relationship like most people. The relationship was so bad such that when Kafka is diagnosed by tuberculosis he is weakened by his sour relationship with his father. Secondly, Kafka was forced by his father to take a course that he was not passionate for-Law. He did well and became a lawyer by profession. However, he would work as a lawyer during the day, as a formality, and in the evenings Kafka would spend time writing which he was quite passionate for. The law job made him feel worthless and dissatisfied. Unfortunately, he died of tuberculosis without having sufficient time to grow his writing career. If Kafka’s friend heeded to his request not to share his literary works with the world, then the world would have missed out on his beautiful works.
Thus, Samsa is a despicable man because he dared to go against his father’s wishes by pursuing his passion in literature.
Gundry, David J. Parody, Irony and Ideology in the Fiction of Ihara Saikaku. Brill, 2017.
Swift, Jonathan. A Modest Proposal and Other Prose. Barnes & Noble Publishing, 2004.
Tagore, Rabindranath. “Punishment” Ed. Martin Puchner. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 2013. 964-970.
Voltaire, Francois. Candide: Or Optimism (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition). Penguin, 2005.