Satirical Novels

These novels ridicule something by exaggeration or taking it to a ridiculous conclusion, often with irony.

See also Comedy of Manners

See also Campus | Academic

Satire in Novels

Hard Times | Charles Dickens

Thomas Gradgrind is a successful business man who believes in facts, not fancy. Josiah Bounderby is a rich braggart who has his eye on Gradgrind’s daughter, Louisa. Stephen Blackpool is a weaver with a difficult marriage. When some money is reported missing, he is implicated in the theft.

Read “Hard Times”

Emma | Jane Austen

Emma Woodhouse is good-looking, clever, and rich, and is generally happy. She has a streak of arrogance that leads her to meddle in people’s lives. She becomes a matchmaker for a young woman of lower social class, Harriet. She steers her away from the man she loves, a tenant farmer, and toward a gentleman, Mr. Elton. Emma also deals with her own suitors, and tries to figure out the romantic intentions of some acquaintances.

Read “Emma”

Babbitt | Sinclair Lewis

The novels opens with a day in the life of George Babbitt, interacting with his family, going to work at his real estate office, and having lunch at his club with his friend, Paul. It continues with Babbitt’s obligations – social, family, and business as he pursues secular success.

Sinclair satirizes American society and values in the 1920s.

Read “Babbitt”

Scoop | Evelyn Waugh

William Boot, a nature columnist, is mistakenly sent to Ishmaelia, East Africa, as a war correspondent.

Foreign Affairs | Alison Lurie

Vinnie, a professor of children’s literature is going to London for six months on a grant to study children’s folk-rhymes. On her flight, she meets Chuck, a sanitation engineer who she finds coarse and uneducated. Meanwhile, Fred, an assistant professor at Vinnie’s university, is also in London researching an eighteenth-century writer. While in London, Vinnie and Fred each begin a separate romantic relationship while working and interacting with their social circles.

The Pickwick Papers | Charles Dickens

Samuel Pickwick founds the Pickwick Club, whose members travel around England looking for antiquities and curiosities. Mrs. Bardell, Pickwick’s widowed landlady, files a lawsuit against him because she believes he reneged on his promise to marry her.

The Pickwick Papers satirizes evangelicalism and the legal system.

Read “The Pickwick Papers”

The Corrections | Jonathan Franzen

Alfred Lambert is the aging patriarch of the family, suffering from the effects of Parkinson’s disease. He and his wife Enid go to New York to visit their son Chip. He is trying to write, working for little money; he lost his job as a college professor because of a relationship with a student. The Lambert’s other son, Gary, is an investment banker focused on material success. He is very concerned about his mental health. Their daughter, Denise, is in line to be hired as head chef at an acquaintances restaurant.

The Corrections satirizes permissive parenting and other trends of the 1990s, such as commercialism, intellectualism, drug use, and the financial system among others.

The Bostonians | Henry James

Basil Ransom is in Boston visiting a cousin, Olive Chancellor. Basil isn’t interested in social issues, which puts him at odds with Olive, who is into women’s rights. They meet Verena Tarrant, a benevolent, humble woman. Olive and Basil each want to win her over.

The Bostonians satirizes the intelligentsia and feminist reformers.

Read “The Bostonians”

The Prince and the Pauper | Mark Twain

Tom Canty lives in poverty, surrounded by the drinking and violence common to the lower class. He walks to the palace one day and is called in by the young Prince Edward Tudor, also about fifteen. They discuss their lives – Tom envies the luxury of Edward while Edward envies the freedom of Tom. They trade clothes, noticing a marked resemblance. Edward decides to go outside to admonish a guard for treating Tom harshly but, dressed as he is, he is thrown off the royal grounds. The boys find themselves living each others lives.

The Prince and the Pauper satirizes the social inequality in 16th century England.

Read “The Prince and the Pauper”

Bleak House | Charles Dickens

There are three main plot lines in Bleak House. One is the legal case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce that has gone unresolved for generations. There is a dispute over how the trusts of an old Jarndyce will should be administered. A second involves Lady Dedlock, who has a stake in the Jarndyce case, as well as a secret about her past. In the third, Esther Summerson, first a ward of John Jarndyce and then a teacher, manages the Jarndyce household. She doesn’t know who her parents are.

Bleak House satirizes some of the institutions of English society such as the complexity of the legal system and government’s failure to help the poor and provide a clean living environment.

Read “Bleak House”

Utopia | Thomas More

More records an account of the people of the island of Utopia – their history, laws, religion, and general customs. The Utopians hold all property in common, provide equal education for their citizens, and have a definite daily routine. More hopes that his acquaintance, Hythloday, an expert on the Utopians, will become an advisor to a king so others can benefit from their system.

More satirizes the problems he sees in society, especially those related to class, economics, and religious differences.

Read “Utopia”

White Noise | Don Delillo

Jack Gladney teaches at a college as a Hitler specialist. His wife, Babette, teaches an adult education course in posture. Jack’s thoughts often turn to death. Something toxic is found in their children’s school, resulting in its closure. The family begins to wonder if Babette is taking medication. The family consumes tabloid news, trashy literature, and disaster reports on television. A train hauling a toxic substance derails.

White Noise satirizes the falseness of modern life, particularly its focus on consumerism and the media’s influence.

Read “White Noise”

Stranger in a Strange Land | Robert A. Heinlein

A space ship, the Champion, returns to Earth from Mars with a man, Mike, who was born on Mars and raised by Martians. A previous ship, the Envoy, had crashed; a pregnant crew member gave birth before dying. Mike is considered the legal owner of Mars, and owns the patents of all the deceased crew members, making him the richest person on Earth. When the government shows a stand-in for Mike on television, a nurse who befriended him becomes concerned for his safety.

Stranger in a Strange Land satirizes 1950s American culture and religion.

Northanger Abbey | Jane Austen

Catherine Morland is a plain girl from a comfortable family. On a trip to a spa town, she meets Henry Tilney and is interested in seeing him again. She also becomes friends with Isabella Thorpe, who shares her interest in novels. When her brother John arrives, he takes an interest in Catherine, and all the more so when he thinks she might be in line for an inheritance.

Northanger Abbey satirizes both sentimental and Gothic novels.

Read “Northanger Abbey”

Martian Time-Slip | Philip K. Dick

Humans have colonized Mars. Businesses are vying for a large share of the profits, and there is black market activity. The natives, Bleekmen, are used as laborers in the mines and treated as sub-human by many. When a black market dealer kills himself, it sets events in motion that affect many of the planets residents.

This novel satirizes the behind-the-scenes maneuvering of big-business and politicians, labor unions, as well as the emptiness of daily life.

Erewhon | Samuel Butler

Higgs, a young man, travels into the mountains and, after a long journey, comes into open plains where some people take him into town. Machines are considered dangerous and are not allowed. Criminals are considered sick and given treatment, while sick people are punished with jail time.

This is a utopian satire that presents a society with some obvious flaws.

Read “Erewhon”

Vanity Fair | William Makepeace Thackery

Becky Sharp is a determined but poor young woman who goes to live with Emmy Sedley, a simple girl from a wealthy family. When Becky fails to marry Emmy’s brother Joe, she moves on as governess for the Crawley family. She continues her efforts at social climbing. Emmy’s father goes bankrupt, endangering her relationship with George, a handsome and selfish army captain.

Read “Vanity Fair”