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Black Comedy in Literary Fiction
For some of us who may not know the meaning of the term 'Black comedy', we may pause when we see the phrase for the first time, wondering if the term was a racist comment, referring perhaps to a comedy show featuring black people or geared towards them. It seems the logical explanation for it, doesn't it?
Black comedy (also now referred to as dark humor) actually refers to a genre - whether in written form or motion form - that makes light of deep themes and disturbing life issues such as rape, death, amputation, murder/torture, etc. It's like telling a 'bad' joke that can sometimes either turn to be a 'haha' moment for all, or get a completely opposite reaction.
A lot of literary authors have this element of literature in their works; it is that moment when the mood of a heavily themed work is lightened up by a character, event, or perhaps by another literary element: the irony of an event or circumstance. A most popular work of this kind is George Orwell's Animal Farm. Of course, one would think at first that this book was a joke, showcasing talking pigs in a realistic way. It is humorous and seems almost silly, but it is a humorous sad truth as we delve into the deep meanings behind Orwell's words and style, exposing us to the truth about the Russian revolution and how it pretty much 'went down'. Another example of a black comedy work is Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, a satirical novel that narrates the events of WW2 in a light, witty narrative voice and tone.
Shakespeare was another scholar who played with this element in his works. In most of his tragedies, there are moments in his plays - known as the 'comic relief', which provide relief and letting out of deep breaths amidst tension and apprehension, mostly provided by a clown or a 'fool' (as they were referred to in those days) within the play. Examples of these plays are Macbeth, King Lear, and Troilus and Cressida.
Below is a short list of modern day black comedy fiction works – mind you, these works are not comedy works, so do not expect a hilarious tale that ends in merriment. With these works, - just like with every other literary work, always expect the unexpected. Get to reading these; you wont be disappointed!
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan
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