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Sarcasm in Literature: Example & Explanation

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  • 0:01 Sarcasm
  • 0:56 Why Would an Author…
  • 1:19 Sarcasm in Literature
  • 3:50 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katie Surber

Katie has a Master's degree in English and has taught college level classes for ten years.

In this lesson, we will define sarcasm. We will then look at sarcasm in literature, including why an author would use sarcasm, the history of it in literature, and then some of the examples in writings.

Sarcasm

You might have heard one of these statements before: 'Well, aren't you a ray of sunshine?', 'Not the brightest crayon in the box,' or ' I work forty hours a week to be this poor.'

If you've never heard these phrases, picture the following example. You walk outside and it is raining. Your neighbor says to you, 'Nice weather, right?' You then go back inside and your spouse is making a phone call. You can hear him or her in the next room. When your spouse hangs up, you say, 'Next time, you should talk a little louder'. In the first example, the weather is not nice, and in the second example, your spouse is already being loud.

All of these statements are examples of sarcasm, a sneering or mocking remark. We encounter sarcasm daily on television, in conversation, and in media. We also encounter sarcasm in literature.

Why Would an Author Use Sarcasm?

An author may use sarcasm in literature to add humor or cynicism. It can also add variety to an author's writing. The use of sarcasm can make the reading more interesting to the audience. Finally, an author may use sarcasm to help develop a character. We may learn more about the character and his or her viewpoint by the sarcastic comments he or she makes.

Sarcasm in Literature

It is believed that sarcasm has been present in literature from the beginning. As early as the first book of the Bible, 'Genesis,' there are examples of sarcasm in the Bible. God asks Cain where his brother Abel is, and he answers, 'I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper?' In the book of 'Exodus,' Moses says, 'Was there a lack of graves in Egypt, that you took us to die in the wilderness?' The use of sarcasm continues throughout the Bible's Old Testament.

William Shakespeare used sarcasm throughout his plays, both in the tragedies and the comedies. Often we find the most sarcastic comments from his protagonists, the heroes of his plays. In the first Act of Hamlet, Horatio (who had quickly married Hamlet's widowed mother) arrives for Hamlet's father's funeral. Hamlet says, 'I pray thee, do not mock me, fellow student; I think it was to see my mother's wedding. . . The funeral baked meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.'

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