English Literature


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Understanding Parody: More Than Just a Joke

Have you ever encountered something so serious that you found yourself unable to stifle a laugh? It's not uncommon for individuals to take themselves too seriously, and sometimes, others find enjoyment in pricking that inflated sense of self. This is where the concept of parody comes into play.

But what exactly is a parody? In simple terms, it is a form of literature that imitates the style of another author or work, typically in a comical manner. Think of it like looking at your reflection in a serene body of water, only to have someone throw a stone in, causing ripples that distort or change your image. That is the essence of parody - a distorted reflection of the original.

However, parody is not merely a means to poke fun at something. It can also offer a fresh perspective or interpretation of an idea. For example, imagine a potter creating a stunning vase featuring a portrait of Apollo. Then, his assistant, feeling the need for a change, decides to make a copy but adds a top hat and Groucho Marx mustache to Apollo's face. The result is a parody - Apollo may still be portrayed as elegant, but our perception shifts from awe to humorous sympathy or even outrage.

Parody can also be referred to as lampooning, sending up, taking off, or caricaturing. Now, let's take a look at some examples of well-known literary parodies throughout history.

  • Shamela by Fielding (1740)

One of the earliest examples of literary parody is Henry Fielding's Shamela, published just five months after Samuel Richardson's bestselling novel Pamela. In Pamela, the story follows a servant girl who navigates a relationship with her master until they eventually marry. In Shamela, Fielding presents a different perspective - Pamela is portrayed as a cunning and manipulative woman who deceives her wealthy master into marrying her. Fielding wrote this parody as a form of protest against what he viewed as the moral hypocrisy in Pamela.

  • Northanger Abbey by Austen (1818)

In Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, we meet the imaginative Catherine Morland, an avid reader of gothic novels. She falls for Henry Tilney, whose father General Tilney invites her to his home, Northanger Abbey. Catherine, influenced by her love for gothic literature, believes that the General is a murderer and that the abbey is haunted. However, with the help of humor and reason, the misunderstandings are eventually cleared up, and Catherine learns a valuable lesson. Through this parody, Austen pokes fun at the popular gothic genre, particularly the works of Ann Radcliffe.

  • Nightmare Abbey by Peacock (1818)

Another author who utilized parody to satirize the gothic genre was Thomas Love Peacock. In Nightmare Abbey, he parodies both gothic novels and the Romantic movement, which included his friends such as Percy Shelley. Peacock felt that the Romantics were taking themselves too seriously and decided to hold up a mirror to them through his writing. Despite his intentions, his friends received the parody in good humor. The story follows Scythrop Glowry, who is torn between two women, Marionetta and Stella - a reflection of Shelley's real-life love triangles.

So the next time you come across a parody, don't just brush it off as a simple joke - it may have a deeper meaning and purpose. Parody offers a fresh perspective, challenges the norm, and encourages critical thinking. From James Joyce's Ulysses, a parody of Homer's Illiad, to literary classics like Shamela and Northanger Abbey, parody has proven to be a powerful tool in literature, with the ability to entertain, satirize, and offer a new way of seeing the world around us.

The Art of Parody: How Authors Use Humor to Critique

In the 18th century, author Henry Fielding imitated the literary style of Samuel Richardson in his work Shamela through a series of letters. While retaining the character of an intelligent young woman, Fielding added a twist by making her less virtuous and portraying her as manipulative in order to secure marriage to her master. This parody was further emphasized through the alteration of the protagonist's name to Shamela, a combination of the words "sham" and "Pamela". Such clever use of parody was also observed in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, where she playfully poked fun at the gothic novel genre through the protagonist's exaggerated fears of a haunted abbey.

Parody is not limited to literature alone, as it is also a popular form of humor in the world of film. Some notable examples include Garfield - A Tale of Two Kitties (2006), which satirizes Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, and Galaxy Quest (1999), a parody of the Star Trek franchise. Even Alice in Wonderland's 2010 adaptation by Tim Burton can be seen as a parody of Lewis Carroll's beloved children's novel.

While both parody and satire serve as forms of criticism, they differ in their specific targets. As discussed, parody mimics the style of a written work or author, while satire takes aim at specific individuals, events, or societal issues. Iconic works such as The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy (1759–67) by Laurence Sterne, The Critic (1779) by Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) by Oscar Wilde masterfully utilize satire to poke fun at the absurdities of human nature and society. In more contemporary times, authors like Terry Pratchett and Tom Holt have also used satire to cleverly comment on our world, often incorporating elements of parody in their works.

To sum it up, parody is a literary technique used to imitate and mock a specific written work or style, while satire uses irony, sarcasm, and wit to critique people, events, or societal issues. Both are forms of humor that provide commentary on the world around us, making us laugh while also inviting us to reflect on the flaws and absurdities of our society.

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