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caricature

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caricature

A 19th-century caricature of Charles Darwin (Hornet magazine, 1871)

Definition:

Visual art or descriptive writing that greatly exaggerates certain features of a subject to create a comic or absurd effect.

See also:

Etymology:

From the Italian, "load, exaggerate"

Examples and Observations:

  • "The listing of the spotted owl [as 'threatened' under the Endangered Species Act] opened a new front in this old class war, in which each side painted an equally contemptuous caricature of the other, as if pitting Emerson (that effete, granola-eating, over-educated New Englander) against Paul Bunyan (that unthinking and rapacious Western tough)."
    (Jonathan Raban, "Losing the Owl, Saving the Forest." The New York Times, June 25, 2010)


  • "A caricature is putting the face of a joke on the body of a truth."
    (Joseph Conrad)


  • "Caricature . . . comes from the forcing, the exaggeration, of the basic principle of good description--the principle of the dominant impression. . . . Here is a famous example from [Charles] Dickens, who delighted in the method:
    Mr. Chadband is a large yellow man, with a fat smile, and a general appearance of having a good deal of train oil in his system. Mrs. Chadband is a stern, severe-looking, silent woman. Mr. Chadband moves softly and cumbrously, not unlike a bear who has been taught to walk upright. He is very much embarrassed about the arms, as if they were inconvenient to him, and he wanted to grovel; is very much in a perspiration about the head; and never speaks without first putting up his great hand, as delivering a token to his hearers that he is going to edify them.
    Here the impression of oiliness and fattiness dominates the picture, first in a quite literal sense, but the literal oiliness becomes an interpretation of the character of Chadband; the smile is 'fat,' and his general manner is unctuous too, like that of a hypocritical preacher."
    (Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren, Modern Rhetoric, 3rd ed. Harcourt, 1972)


  • "They wear down-filled coats in public. Out on the ski slopes they look like hand grenades. They have 'audio systems' in their homes and know the names of hit albums. They drive two-door cars with instrument panels like an F-16's. They like High-Tech furniture, track lighting, glass, and brass. They actually go to plays in New York and follow professional sports. The down-filled men wear turtleneck sweaters and Gucci belts and loafers and cover parts of their ears with their hair. The down-filled women still wear cowl-necked sweaters and carry Louis Vuitton handbags. The down-filled people strip wood and have interior walls removed. They put on old clothes before the workmen come over."
    (Tom Wolfe, "The Down-Filled People." In Our Time, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1980)


  • "Caricature and the modern self developed in tandem. As the modern notion of selfhood--with its 'golden nugget' of identity deep within and its valorization of private authenticity, individualism, and consistency across time--rather suddenly replaced older, more flexible notions of identity, so caricature developed as a technology for representing this new self, making character visible on the surface of the body, unmasking the public role and revealing the authentic private self beneath."
    (Amelia Faye Rauser, Caricature Unmasked: Irony, Authenticity, and Individualism in Eighteenth-Century English Prints. Rosemont, 2008)


  • "Who are these people, these faces? Where do they come from? They look like caricatures of used car dealers from Dallas, and . . . there were a hell of a lot of them at 4:30 on a Sunday morning, still humping the American dream, that vision of the big winner somehow emerging from the last minute pre-dawn chaos of a stale Vegas casino."
    (Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 1998)


  • "[O]ver the course of the last several weeks, commentators have taken to portraying Mr. Obama as clinical and insufficiently emotive, which is really just another way of saying the president is not really knowable. It is a caricature his opponents can exploit in part because a lot of voters remain murky on his cultural identity."
    (Matt Bai, "Ethnic Distinctions, No Longer So Distinctive." The New York Times, June 29, 2010)
Also Known As: literary caricature

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