classics, Fiction

A Study in Satire

These classics use satire to critique individuals, society, or government policy. All you need is your sense of humor and your library card. Curated by Hope L.

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A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift
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Referring to the worsening state of poverty amongst families and children in Ireland at the time, Swift’s proposal is to solve the problem by feeding the children of the poor to the rich. Throughout the text he uses statistics, data, and various methods – including recipes – to evidence the economic viability of his suggestion. The essay was received with humor, yet Swift’s powerful critique of social welfare and political injustice is clear.


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The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
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Imagine, if you will . . . a flat world sitting on the backs of four elephants who hurtle through space balanced on a giant turtle. In truth, the Discworld is not so different from our own. Yet, at the same time, very different . . . but not so much. 

In this, the maiden voyage through Terry Pratchett’s divinely and recognizably twisted alternate dimension, the well-meaning but remarkably inept wizard Rincewind encounters something hitherto unknown in the Discworld: a tourist Twoflower has arrived, Luggage by his side, to take in the sights and, unfortunately, has cast his lot with a most inappropriate tour guide–a decision that could result in Twoflower’s becoming not only Discworld’s first visitor from elsewhere, but quite possibly, portentously, its very last. And, of course, he’s brought Luggage along, which has a mind of its own. And teeth. 


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The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde 
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The controversial comedic play from a master dramatist that shattered social conventions in England. Oscar Wilde’s most brilliant tour de force, a witty and buoyant comedy of manners, has delighted millions with countless productions since its first performance at London’s St. James’ Theatre in 1895. The Importance of Being Earnest is celebrated not only for the lighthearted ingenuity of its plot, but also for its inspired dialogue, rich with scintillating epigrams still savored by all who enjoy artful conversation. 
  
From the play’s effervescent beginnings in Algernon Moncrieff’s London flat to its hilarious denouement in the drawing room of Jack Worthing’s country manor in Hertfordshire, this comic masterpiece keeps audiences breathlessly anticipating new bons mots and fresh plot twists from moment to moment.


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Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
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Set in Italy during World War II, this is the story of the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. But his real problem is not the enemy—it is his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he’s assigned, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved. 


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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
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It’s an ordinary Thursday morning for Arthur Dent . . . until his house gets demolished. The Earth follows shortly after to make way for a new hyperspace express route, and Arthur’s best friend has just announced that he’s an alien. 

After that, things get much, much worse. 

With just a towel, a small yellow fish, and a book, Arthur has to navigate through a very hostile universe in the company of a gang of unreliable aliens. Luckily the fish is quite good at languages. And the book is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy . . . which helpfully has the words DON’T PANIC inscribed in large, friendly letters on its cover. 

Douglas Adams’s mega-selling pop-culture classic sends logic into orbit, plays havoc with both time and physics, offers up pithy commentary on such things as ballpoint pens, potted plants, and digital watches . . . and, most important, reveals the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything. Now, if you could only figure out the question. . . .


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Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
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Since its immediate success in 1813, Pride and Prejudice has remained one of the most popular novels in the English language. Jane Austen called this brilliant work “her own darling child” and its vivacious heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, “as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print.” The romantic clash between the opinionated Elizabeth and her proud beau, Mr. Darcy, is a splendid performance of civilized sparring. And Jane Austen’s radiant wit sparkles as her characters dance a delicate quadrille of flirtation and intrigue, making this book the most superb comedy of manners of Regency England.


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Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
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Cervantes’ tale of the deranged gentleman who turns knight-errant, tilts at windmills, and battles with sheep in the service of the lady of his dreams, Dulcinea del Toboso, has fascinated generations of readers and inspired other creative artists such as Flaubert, Picasso, and Richard Strauss. The tall, thin knight and his short, fat squire, Sancho Panza, have found their way into films, cartoons, and even computer games. Supposedly intended as a parody of the most popular escapist fiction of the day, the ‘books of chivalry,’ this precursor of the modern novel broadened and deepened into a sophisticated, comic account of the contradictions of human nature. Cervantes’ greatest work can be enjoyed on many levels, all suffused with a subtle irony that reaches out to encompass the reader.


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Animal Farm by George Orwell
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Animal Farm, one of the great social satires of our century, is based upon modern Eastern European history. First published in 1945, it is the classic fable of the utopian dream and the corruptive influences of power. When the animals at Manor Farm revolt against their master, Mr. Jones, their goal is to take over the farm and establish an ideal community based on hard work, honesty, and the equality of all animals. Guided by the memory of Old Major’s utopian vision and the seven commandments, Animal Farm, as the animals have renamed it, briefly fulfills the ideal. Memories are short, however, and soon, through manipulation and aggression by those who assume power, the farm’s founding principles are slowly eroded and abolished. Decades after its debut, Animal Farm is still a relevant and powerful tale of how blind allegiance to political leaders leads to ruin. 


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Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
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Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s most imaginative and exuberant comedies, contrasting two pairs of lovers in a witty and suspenseful battle of the sexes. Attracted to each other, the maddeningly skeptical Beatrice and Benedick are dead-locked in a lively war of words until their friends hatch a plot to unite them. The mutually devoted Hero and Claudio, on the other hand, all too quickly fall victim to a malicious plot to part them. Near-fatal complications ensue, but with the help of the hilarious Constable Dogberry and his confederates, the lovers are ultimately united. 
First presented in 1598, Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s last comedies. Its darker undercurrents foreshadow the playwright’s growing concern with the frailties of human character that would dominate his late tragedies. But in its clever turns of plot, vivacious displays of wit, jovial conversations, and charming songs, this merry comedy is among Shakespeare’s most artistic creations. 

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