Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

Sarcasm: Biting Wit—Ouch!

by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

November 2013

Watch for her insights every month on Authorlink

"…in literature, sarcasm can do wonders to subvert the original meaning…"

How we all love sarcasm, a type of ironic humor with a snide, cruel twist, except when it’s directed toward ourselves! But in literature, sarcasm can do wonders to subvert the original meaning of what is being said, creating satire.

Jonathan Swift’s A MODEST PROPOSAL for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from being a Burden to their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to is a rip-roaring example of sarcasm and satire. Just from the subtitle you can see that Swift’s Proposal is anything but modest. And as soon as you begin the essay, you’ll see that he is proposing something outrageous to hit his point home.

Swift makes the outrageous proposal that instead of having Irishwomen roam through the streets, begging for alms, with five or six raggedy and starving children following them, preventing the women from securing gainful employment, that the children, well-fed and well nursed , at a year old, make a delicious meal, whether baked, stewed, or broiled. He suggested this as not only a cure for starvation, but a way to stamp out abortion, too. He goes into more gory details of how the skin might be tanned for ladies’ gloves. His point is the opposite of what’s expressed here. He has an abiding concern for the poor.

"Sarcasm is usually used by the main protagonist.”

Sarcasm is usually used by the main protagonist. Hamlet, one of the most sarcastic of Shakespeare’s characters, who uses sarcasm to vent his rage against his mother marrying Hamlet’s uncle way too soon after the king’s death, especially since the father’s ghost has accused the uncle of “murder most foul.”

“Thrift, thrift, Horatio,” Hamlet says. “The funeral’s bak’d meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.”

Dorothy Parker, a trenchant wit, probably means just what she says in Good Souls, a hilarious essay that mocks those charitable good-deeders who manage to spoil every moment of their lives and everyone else’s.

Sarcasm is an age-old as the bible. In Exodus, 14:11, when the people of Israel saw the Egyptian army marching after them in the wilderness, they said to Moses, “Was there a lack of graves in Egypt, that you took us away to die in the wilderness?”

"Sarcasm can bring a point home."

Sarcasm can bring a point home as sure as an arrow. So draw your bow.

Rochelle Jewel Shapiro






Rochelle Jewel Shapiro is author of Miriam the Medium (Simon & Schuster) and the Indie Award Winning finalist, Kaylee's Ghost (Amazon and Nook). I Dare You To Write: First Aids, Warm Conforts, Sparking Advice for the Journey Ahead (Authorlink) is a collection of essays for anyone who dreams of writing. She has published essays in NYT (Lives), Newsweek (My Turn), and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in poetry. She teaches Writing the Personal Essay at UCLA extension.