Guest post: Satire is a mirror

A comment by Lady Mondegreen aka Stacy, originally a comment on a Facebook discussion and posted here with permish.

Ironic racism/sexism can be harmful even if the intent is good.

I think it can be–sometimes. And sometimes it can be harmful and also good.

I suspect that a young African American child reading Huckleberry Finn could suffer emotional pain reading all that raw racism. I would never dismiss that pain. Neither would I ever, ever stand with the people who think Huckleberry Finn shouldn’t be taught, should be taken off the library shelves, or should be bowlderized.

I would hope people hurt by Twain’s ironic racism (for example) would, if they don’t get the context, have it explained to them. Having it explained wouldn’t take away all the pain. But the true cause of that pain is not in the irony. It is not in the representation of the problem.The cause is in the bigotry itself, its effects on society.

I’m starting to suspect there’s some shoot-the-messenger going on here. It’s like looking in a mirror, seeing a dangerous troll is standing behind you, and getting mad at the mirror. Maybe it’s a form of displacement. I feel pretty powerless to do much about all the hatred and bigotry in the world, but if I can displace my indignation onto a smaller target, I can feel like I’ve done something (and I’ve signalled that I stand against bigotry.)
Satire is a mirror. It reflects terrible things, sometimes.


  1. johnthedrunkard says

    And…sanitizing the past in order to avoid ‘triggering’ leaves the supposedly protected parties without a grasp of what the ‘triggers’ ARE.

  2. latveriandiplomat says

    Is the racism in Huckleberry Finn satirical?

    The way white people treat Jim doesn’t seem exaggerated or implausible in any way. It’s the empathy and humanity of Jim (and Huck’s progress) that is the critique of slavery.

    There are definitely satirical elements, like the Duke and Dauphin, that attack elements of Southern (or rural, or American as you prefer) culture, but the treatment of slavery doesn’t seem to me to be satirical at all, just honest.

  3. Lady Mondegreen (aka Stacy) says

    @latveriandiplomat, maybe I’m mislabeling it. Certainly the racism evident throughou the book (“‘Was anybody hurt?’ ‘No ma’am. Killed a nigger.’ ‘Well that’s good, because sometimes people do get hurt”)* is ironic (which some tell us is just as bad as the real thing,) but maybe I shouldn’t call it satire.

    * Reproduced from memory, may not be an exact quote.

  4. John Morales says


    Is the racism in Huckleberry Finn satirical?

    It’s crude realism that depicts the ubiquity of the racism that justified slavery in the story’s setting. How would its most powerful moment work without it?

    From its Wikipedia entry:
    “When Huck is finally able to get away a second time, he finds to his horror that the swindlers have sold Jim away to a family that intends to return him to his proper owner for the reward. Defying his conscience and accepting the negative religious consequences he expects for his actions—”All right, then, I’ll go to hell!”—Huck resolves to free Jim once and for all.”

    (Huck really thinks he will go to hell for it, and that’s the hell of it)

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