Contrasting Political Satire

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Alex Williams
Final Comparative Essay
Contrasting Political Satire
Andrew Stott says the following about satire: “In the best instances, it takes its subject matter from the heart of political life or cultural anxiety, re-framing issues at an ironic distance that enables us to revisit fundamental questions that have been obscured by rhetoric, personal interests, or realpolitik.” In Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut and “Crazy for This Democracy” by Zora Neale Hurston, satire is used to scathingly critique American politics. Slaughterhouse Five relates the story of an unpretentious young man named Billy Pilgrim as he experiences World War II and the firebombing of Dresden. Vonnegut responds to the rampant deaths throughout the book by countlessly using the phrase “so it goes,” sarcastically mocking the realpolitik approach to war and death. In “Crazy for This Democracy,” Hurston satirizes the American government and its perceived hypocrisy in affording democratic rights to whites while denying them to blacks, Asians, and other groups. The two pieces differ, however, in their approach to satire. While Slaughterhouse Five and “Crazy for This Democracy” both use satire to propose a reevaluation of the American political structure, the two differ as to how they envisage change from the status quo.

In “Crazy for This Democracy,” Hurston establishes a clear sarcastic tone throughout the essay in a number of ways. She begins the essay by describing the virtues of democracy according to others, pretending to be completely ignorant: “They tell me this democracy form of government is a wonderful thing. It has freedom, equality, justice, in short, everything! Since 1937 nobody has talked about anything else” (165). This sense of ignorance is the key to Hurston’s satire in the essay. By pretending not to know anything about democracy, Hurston lays the foundation for the political argument she is to make. She goes on to say of democracy: “…this talk and praise-giving has got me in the notion to try some of the stuff. All I want to do is to get hold of a sample of the thing, and I declare, I sure will try it. I don’t know for myself, but I have been told that it is really wonderful” (163). Hurston, an African-American woman, used this playful and sarcastic tone not to criticize democracy itself; rather, she used this sarcasm to critique the American government which she argues hasn’t been entirely democratic. While America has given rights to whites, Hurston argues, it has not given equal rights to blacks or other minority groups.

Hurston continues her humorous slant by playing on the nickname “The Arsenal of Democracy” that FDR gave to the United States, renaming it the “arse-and-all of democracy” (165). Hurston also compares herself to Will Rogers by saying that like him, “all I know is what I see by the papers” (165). Rogers was a famous humorist, vaudeville performer, actor, and celebrity known for his witticisms and funny quotes. Mentioning him helped establish a sarcastic tone to lay the foundation for the rest of the essay.

Hurston begins to develop her political argument when she reveals the perceived hypocrisy of the American and Western governments with regard to the Atlantic Charter, saying, “I thought that when they said Atlantic Charter, that meant me and everybody in Africa and Asia and everywhere. But it seems like the Atlantic is an ocean that does not touch anywhere but North America and Europe” (165). The Atlantic Charter, which was the 1941 policy the Allied powers agreed to that set goals for the post-war world, was very idealistic and advocated for enhanced democratic rights for people around the world, including the right to self-determination. She revealed her frustration and cynicism by portraying the Western governments as hypocrites; although they may be advocating for democratic values across the world, in practice they are only helping themselves and not looking to help other countries and other...
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