The cynical gaze
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Humor in literature as a stylistic choice can have various implications ranging from merely seeking to amuse one’s audience to wishing to promote some sort of change in society. It is in this latter area that two of the most prolific writers of their time, Machado de Assis from Brazil and Mark Twain from the United States, will write their works. Instead of merely seeking to entertain, these writers use their humor to challenge their “enemies,” be they specific people or merely ideas that they find displeasing. By rendering an obstacle “ridiculous,” one is able to destroy its power. In the case of these two authors, they sought to point out the ridiculous, and often hypocritical, nature of the people around them. My research has shown that neither was familiar with the work of the other, so to understand the reasons behind their similarity of style one has to look more closely at the influences of the time period in which they lived. The nineteenth century, an epoch of great social and political change around the world, with great advancements in science and technology, by its nature created a fertile ground for writers to use their skills to point out the foibles and hypocrisies of their own culture. In order to better discuss the way in which these authors make their criticism by their use of humor, I will consider three areas of their writing – those of human vanity, politics, and religion. Within each will be a number of subsets, each of which will show the way in which humorous language attempts to poke holes in whatever social foible the author wishes to break down.