Definition of Sardonic

Sardonic means to be disdainful or skeptical with humor. Derived from the French term, sardonique, which originally comes from Latin and Greek terms. However, the meanings are almost the same that a person is disdainfully humorous or mocking. Its first mention occurs in Odyssey of Homer that is sardanios that means to be hated.

In literary terms, it means to be cynically humorous and mocking with scorn. It is a type of wit that means to make others laugh by putting forth truth in a very clever way. It does not mean maliciousness, however.

Examples of Sardonic in Literature

Example #1

From “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift

There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas! too frequent among us, sacrificing the poor innocent babes, I doubt, more to avoid the expence than the shame, which would move tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast.

This passage occurs in the popular essay of Jonathan Swift. When Swift terms it as a scheme it seems scornfully humorous as he states that abortions and other such issues, which involve having fewer children, seem horrific practices to Swift. Although he suggests a sarcastic proposal to his audience, he cleverly hides his true intentions in a mockingly serious tone. This is a type of sardonic attitude toward the problem.

Example #2

From The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

“It’ll show you how I’ve gotten to feel about—things. Well, she was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling, and asked the nurse right away if it was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. ‘All right,’ I said, ‘I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool —that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.’”

This passage occurs in Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The tone changes from seriousness to mockery when the speaker reaches Tom and God. Then he tells about the girl that is going to arrive in this world and happily announces after weeping that it is a girl and that he is happy. This tone seems interesting that he is welcoming the girl in this world with an unwelcome attitude.

Example #3

From A Raisin in The Sun by Loraine Hansberry

That’s it. There you are. Man say to his woman: I got me a dream. His woman say: Eat your eggs. (Sadly, but gaining in power) Man say: I got to take hold of this here world, baby! And a woman will say: Eat your eggs and go to work. (Passionately now) Man say: I got to
change my life, I’m choking to death, baby! And his woman say —(In utter anguish as he brings his ɹsts down on his thighs)—Your eggs is getting cold!

This passage occurs in the beautiful play of Loraine Hansberry, A Raisin in The Sun. Ruth Younger is talking to Walter Lee Younger, using both serious and mocking tones. Although she talks about great issues of love and domestic issues like the dreams and their materialization, she is also adding a trivial issue of eggs in it, saying by the end that “Your eggs is getting cold.” She means that when Walter is not paying attention this matter at hand, how he can pay attention other such great issues. Therefore, this seems a classic example of a sardonic tone.

Example #4

From Beloved by Toni Morrison

Don’t talk to me. You lucky. You got three left. Three pulling at your skirts and just one raising hell from the other side. Be thankful, why don’t you? I had eight. Every one of them gone away from me. Four taken, four chased, and all, I expect, worrying somebody’s house into evil.” Baby Suggs rubbed her eyebrows. “My firstborn. All I can remember of her is how she loved the burned bottom of bread. Can you beat that? Eight children and that’s all I remember.”

This conversation occurs between Baby Suggs and the only male with whom she has passed her post-slavery time. They are talking about her children and specifically Beloved, her daughter. The way they discuss this serious issue shows that trivial and serious tones have merged, creating a sardonic tone.

Example #5

From The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery

I jumped to my feet, completely thunderstruck. I blinked my eyes hard. I looked carefully all around me. And I saw a most extraordinary small person, who stood there examining me with great seriousness. Here you may see the best portrait that, later, I was able to make of him. But my drawing is certainly very much less charming than its model.

This passage occurs in the novel, The Little Prince, by Saint-Exupery. In this passage, the first-person narrator sheds light on his encounter with the little person yet with the expression of great seriousness. This juxtaposition of the seriousness with mocking tone makes it sardonic prose. This shows how sardonic prose is full of contempt and yet it shows the humorous side of human nature.

Functions of Sardonic

Sardonic or sardonic tones play a significant role in all literary genres whether they are plays, stories, poems or novels, or even modern genres. Sardonic tones create humor and make readers laugh. It makes the situation light and trivial, decreasing the intensity of the conflict and tension. However, in an uncomfortable way, it creates a situation where even the seriousness of an issue is lost in the haze of skepticism or triviality.

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