Tools of Satire, Irony and Hyperbole
Most people can easily identify a carpenter's toolbox, but the tools of a writer are more subtle. In order to infuse life into their writing and help relate better to readers, writers dabble in humor and exaggeration. The tools of satire, irony and hyperbole are essential to a writer's craft, and this light-hearted, yet sometimes biting strategy, can pay dividends for a clever writer.
Satire uses scathing humor to point out vices in government or to debunk other systems the author finds offensive. Shows like "Weekend Update" on Saturday Night Live and the Colbert Report mock political or social systems the writers find distasteful. Authors such as Mark Twain and Jonathan Swift also used satire to point out problems with society. Twain's character Huck Finn shows the insanity of slavery, while Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" pokes fun at politicians and philosophers in England.
Types of Irony
Irony is a literary technique that highlights the difference between what seems to be and what actually is. There are three types of irony. Verbal irony occurs when a character says one thing but means another. Dramatic irony is when an action occurs that the audience understands, but the characters do not. Most situation comedies are built around this type of irony. Finally, situational irony occurs when the opposite of what is expected happens.
Examples of Irony
Edgar Allan Poe is a master of irony. In "The Cask of Amontillado," he offers extensive examples of all three types of irony. In the story, Montresor vows revenge on Fortunato and lures him into the catacombs during Carnival time in Italy to kill him. Montresor plays on Fortunato's haughtiness, and he thinks he is going into the catacombs to serve as a master wine taster. An example of situational irony is that Montresor is going to test the special wine, never suspecting that there is no wine at all. Furthermore, on the way down, Fortunato starts coughing uncontrollably and Monstresor says, "We will go back; your health is precious." This is verbally ironic because instead of being worried about his health, he actually wants to kill Fortunato. At the end of the story, Monstresor is walling in Fortunato brick by brick and Fortunato cries out "Ha! ha! ha! -- he! he! he! -- a very good joke, indeed -- an excellent jest." This is dramatic irony because the audience knows it is not a joke at all but that Montresor is committing murder.
Hyperbole is the writer's tool of exaggeration for effect. People use hyperbole in everyday speech when they say "This weighs a ton" or "I've told you a million times." William Shakespeare utilizes this tool often in "Romeo and Juliet." Romeo is verbose in his praise of Juliet: "Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight!/ For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night." This is an exaggeration to make the point that he is in love. He also declares, "Juliet is the sun." This hyperbole shows how Romeo's world revolves around Juliet, just like the world revolves around the sun.
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