1. What is it?

Sarcasm is using an ironic tone so that everybody knows the words are insincere.

The words should not be taken literally. Indeed, because the tone says ‘I do not mean this’, the meaning is probably the opposite.

It is generally used in conversation and spoken word. It is difficult to achieve in writing because tone cannot be portrayed.

2. Why use it?

Insulting, ridiculing, making jokes, or showing disappointment.Giving flippant responses to questions.

3. Examples

“So, you thought you would share online your opinions on the work ethic of certain colleges. Now the boss has started fining people and the entire office despises you. Well done.”

Frank wanted to go home.
“What’s the score?” he asked in the hope that this purgatory was near an end.
“12-4”, Sheila responded. “And it’s your serve.”
12-4. Calculating it in his head, he reckoned there would be 30 minutes more, minimum, if he tried. The key, thus, was not to try at all. He raised his racket and flicked the shuttlecock into the net with a feigned sigh. It didn’t fool Sheila in any particular way.
“Don’t try too hard,” she said, walking to the net to scoop up the dormant feathers.
“I won’t” he replied. “Although nothing is more important to me than winning a game of badminton.”

4. Examples in literature

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams

Know Your Book

Title: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Author: Douglas Adams (1952-2001)
Published: 1978 (radio comedy), 1979 (novel)
Language: English
Genre: Fiction; science fiction; comedy
Plot: Arthur Dent wakes to find his home is being demolished to build a highway. This, ironically, is stopped when Vogons destroy Earth to build their intergalactic highway. Dent’s friend Ford Prefect, who is actually an alien, takes Arthur to a spaceship and an adventure begins alongside Ford’s cousin, Zaphod Beeblebrox, and passengers Trillian and Marvin, a depressed android. Along the way they find that mice are planning to build another Earth, and the answer to the universe is 42.
Setting: The galaxy
Characters: Arthur Dent; Ford Prefect; Zaphod Beeblebrox; Marvin the Paranoid Android; Trillian

Excerpt from Chapter 11:

  ‘Which government…’ started Ford again.
‘No government owns it,’ snapped the robot, ‘it’s been stolen.’
‘Stolen?’ mimicked Marvin.
‘Who by?’ asked Ford.
‘Zaphod Beeblebrox.’
Something extraordinary happened to Ford’s face. At least five entirely separate and distinct expressions of shock and amazement piled up on it in a jumbled mess. His left leg, which was in mid stride, seemed to have difficulty in finding the floor again. He stared at the robot and tried to entangle some dartoid muscles.
‘Zaphod Beeblebrox…?’ he said weakly.
‘Sorry, did I say something wrong?’ said Marvin, dragging himself on regardless. ‘Pardon me for breathing, which I never do anyway so I don’t know why I bother to say it, oh God I’m so depressed. Here’s another of those self-satisfied doors. Life! Don’t talk to me about life.’
‘No one even mentioned it,’ muttered Arthur irritably. ‘Ford, are you alright?’
Ford stared at him. ‘Did that robot say Zaphod Beeblebrox?’ he said.

Skimming, Scanning and Basic Comprehension

1. Something has been stolen. Who stole it?
2. How many characters are present in the scene?
3. What is Marvin? 
Identifying Techniques

4. What imagery is used to describe Ford’s surprise? is it effective?
5. What examples of rhetorical questions appear in the passage?
6. In which specific sentence is Marvin sarcastic, rather than merely complaining? 
Text Analysis

7. What type of personality does Marvin have? How is this shown?
8. Compare Ford’s behaviour in the passage to that of Arthur. How are the two different?
9. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has many comedic elements. Which sections of the passage do you feel are done for comic effect?
10. What image is created of Zaphod Beeblebrox? How is this achieved? 
Provoking Opinion

11. Although the other characters find Marvin insufferable, they need to keep him around because he is useful. How would you deal with Marvin?
12. Marvin hates the doors because they tell him things like ‘have a good day’. What is your opinion on public messages of positivity?
13. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sees a normal boring man suddenly involved in a space caper. Would you enjoy a sudden space adventure? Or do you prefer the simple life?

by Jane Austen

Know Your Book

Title: Emma
Author: Jane Austen (1775-1817)
Published: 1815
Language: English
Genre: Fiction; novel; novel of manners
Plot: Emma Woodhouse thinks she is a good matchmaker, and decides to find a husband for new friend Harriet Smith. Unfortunately her plans go awry when people start falling in love with the wrong targets. Worse, when handsome Frank Churchill arrives, Emma begins to worry she is falling in love too, a fate that displeases Emma’s friend and moral compass Mr Knightley – and not only because he suspects Frank Churchill is a bad influence.
Setting: Highbury, a fictional estate in Georgian England
Characters: Emma Woodhouse; Mr Knightley; Harriet Smith; Frank Churchill; Mr Elton

Excerpt from Volume III, Chapter VII:

“Oh! For myself, I protest I must be excused,” said Mrs. Elton. ‘I really cannot attempt – I am not at all fond of the sort of thing. I had an acrostic once sent to me upon my own name, which I was not at all pleased with. I knew who it came from. An abominable puppy! – You know who I mean (nodding to her husband). These kind of things are very well at Christmas, when one is sitting around the fire; but quite out of place, in my opinion, when one is exploring about the country in summer. Miss Woodhouse must excuse me. I am not one of those who have witty things at every body’s service. I do not pretend to be a wit. I have a great deal of vivacity in my own way, but I really must be allowed to judge when to speak and when to hold my tongue. Pass us, if you please, Mr. Churchill. Pass Mr. E., Knightley, Jane, and myself. We have nothing clever to say – not one of us.” 
“Yes, yes, pray pass me,” added her husband, with a sort of sneering consciousness; I have nothing to say that can entertain Miss Woodhouse, or any other young lady. An old married man – quite good for nothing. Shall we walk, Augusta?”
“With all my heart. I am really tired of exploring so long on one spot. Come, Jane, take my other arm’.
Jane declined it, however, and the husband and wife walked off. “Happy couple!” said Frank Churchill, as soon as they were out of hearing: – “How well they suit one another! – Very lucky – marrying as they did, upon an acquaintance formed only in a public place! They only knew each other, I think, a few weeks in Bath! Peculiarly lucky! – for as to any real knowledge of a person’s disposition that Bath, or any public place, can give – it is all nothing; there can be no knowledge. It is only by seeing women in their own homes, among their own set, just as they always are, that you can form any just judgment. Short of that, it is all guess and luck – and will generally be ill-luck. How many a man has committed himself on a short acquaintance, and rued it all the rest of his life!”

1. Which of the characters speaks sarcastically?

a) Mrs. Elton
b) Mr. Elton
c) Emma Woodhouse
d) Jane
e) Frank Churchill

2. Which word might best describe Mrs. Elton, based on this passage?

a) Pompous
b) Cantankerous
c) Affectionate
d) Unintelligent
e) Sociable

3. Which point is not implied by Frank Churchill?

a) The Eltons are killjoys
b) He is envious of the Eltons’ marriage
c) The Eltons’ marriage is not based strong mutual understanding
d) People behave differently at public gatherings than they do in more comfortable situations
e) Marrying in haste is a bad idea

4. ‘How many a man has committed himself on a short acquaintance, and rued it all the rest of his life!’. Which of the following phrases might best describe Frank Churchill’s meaning?

a) You can’t hurry love
b) Only fools rush in
c) The best relationships are built on friendship
d) A man needs a maid
e) It is better to have loved and lost than never loved at all

5. Although both The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Emma use sarcasm for comical effects, the comedy in Emma is more

a) satirical
b) slapstick
c) offbeat
d) dark
e) blue


5. Tasks

Task 1: Write a short scene in which one person’s actions trigger a sarcastic response from a second person.
Task 2: Write a prose paragraph in which sarcasm is used to express a point.