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Satire: Enlightened Wit in the Age of Reason

Mad Magazine, The Simpsons, Saturday Night Live. In our society, satire is among the most prevalent of comedic forms. This was not always true, for before the 18th century, satire was not a fully developed form. Satire, however, rose out of necessity; writers and artists needed a way to ambiguously criticize their governments, their churches, and their aristocrats. By the 18th century, satire was hugely popular. Satire as an art form has its roots in the classics, especially in the Roman Horace’s Satires. Satire as it was originally proposed was a form of literature using sarcasm, irony, and wit, to bring about a change in society, but in the eighteenth century Voltaire, Jonathan Swift and William Hogarth expanded satire to include politics, as well as art. The political climate of the time was one of tension. Any criticism of government would bring harsh punishments, sometimes exile or death. In order to voice opinions without fear of punishment, malcontented writers turned to Satire. Voltaire’s Candide and Swift’s Modest Proposal are two examples of this new genre. By creating a fictional world modeled after the world he hated, Voltaire was able to attack scientists, and theologians with impunity. Jonathan Swift created many fictional worlds in his great work, Gulliver’s Travels, where he constantly drew parallels to the English government.

The new form was not limited to literature alone, William Hogarth expanded Satire to include art as well. His series of paintings, A Rake’s Progress, narrate the life of a young man in eighteenth century London. Hogarth’s paintings also illustrate that anything can be the object of satire, as he made fun of every aspect of life, not simply the institutions of religion, science, and politics. Although not all Satire dealt with religion, science and politics, the most notable satirist of the time, Voltaire confined his writings to these subjects. His style, which has been widely used in our time, is to portray a member of the society he is satirizing as foolish and hypocritical. In one of his more famous works, Candide, Voltaire repeatedly mocks the supposedly all-knowing philosophers with the character of Dr. Pangloss, professor of “metaphysicotheologicocosmolo-nigology” (Lamm 175). Voltaire portrays this man of science as very misguided, not the brilliant thinker one would expect. Evidence of this is seen in the Dr.’s proudest accomplishment, “he proved admirably that there is no effect without a cause (Lamm 175).

Siddhartha Essays: Achieving Enlightenment at the River

Achieving Enlightenment at the River in Siddhartha

In Siddhartha’s quest for enlightenment, Herman Hesse makes the river the final focal point of the novel. Siddhartha is set on his journey to the river by listening to his inner voice and questioning authority. The river comes to represent the ideas through which Siddhartha reaches enlightenment. The essential concepts of time and how it relates to life are discovered by Siddhartha through listening to the river. He comes to realize that his previous conclusion is correct, wisdom cannot be taught. When he reaches nirvana, he also sees how spiritualism and materialism both have a place in the cycle of life. Acting as Siddhartha’s inspiration to his ultimate goal, the river operates as a significant element in Hesse’s novel, Siddhartha.

Early in the novel, Siddhartha sets his life pattern by questioning the authority of Hinduism. With his friend Govinda, he begins life amongst the samanas. With the samanas, Siddhartha begins to master their teachings. Feeling unfulfilled, Siddhartha concludes as an ascetic he will not reach bliss as the eldest samana has yet to obtain enlightenment. Leaving the forest, Siddhartha and Govinda go to hear the teachings of the illustrious Buddha. After listening to Gotama’s preaching, Siddhartha realizes that he will not reach enlightenment through teachings but along a path which he must contrive. Once again lead by his inner voice, Siddhartha begins to explore life in the material world. Over the ensuing twenty years, he becomes deeply entangled with samsara. In forgetting the past teachings, Siddhartha is able to start his journey anew. Disgusted with his life, Siddhartha leaves again and discovers the river. By listening to his…

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…hat leads him to the river where he learns the concepts of time and timelessness. From seeing many disciples of varying religions, Siddhartha decides that wisdom is incommunicable. His last revelation comes has he reaches nirvana. The two worlds of spiritualism and materialism do not exist as forces to side with but powers to be in harmony with. The ideas discovered come through his life experiences and most significantly at the river and the nature of it.

Works Cited

Hesse, Herman. Siddhartha. Dover Publications, 1998.

Malthaner, Johannes. “Hermann Hesse: ‘Siddhartha'”. The German Quarterly. Vol.25, No.2, March 1952.

Timpe, Eugene F. “Hesse’s Siddhartha and the Bhagavad Gita”. Comparative Literature, V.22 No.4 , 1970, p.23.

“Nirvana”. The World Book Encyclopedia, (Vol.14). Toronto: World Book, Inc., 1987, p.332-333.

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