Black Humor Definition

Written by Henry Young. Posted in Humor

If you are searching for the black humor definition, then you can stop searching, because we have it all explained here!

In this article we will approach the subject of black humor or black comedy. We will not only provide the black humor definition, but we will also talk about the origins of the term “black humor” and we will offer examples of black humor in literary works and in cinema.

First, as with all literary devices, we need to be familiar with the black humor definition. Black humor, also known as black comedy, represents a literary device, a form of writing in which morbid or terrifying elements are juxtaposed with comic elements that give emphasis to the pointlessness or futility of life. In black humor there are employed forms of comedy, such as farce and other low comedy, in order to clearly bring to our attention the fact that people are only powerless victims of destiny and personality. Black humor does not have to be, neither is it always amusing, cheerful nor funny; therefore, it is considered most of the times rather disturbing. In addition, black humor does not take into consideration the patterns and values of feeling, thought and behavior, patterns and values which have maintained Anglo-American culture effective and constant, providing a foundation that ensures the equilibrium of the individual and of the society. Black humor basically violates sacred and profane taboos, as well, without regret or restraint. It unveils reasons for laughter within themes and topics that have been considered in general too serious to not be taken seriously, such as: mental and physical disease, anguish, the disintegration or social institutions, suffering, deformity, terror, war, abuse, etc.

Now that we have given and explained the black humor definition, we can further discuss the origin of the term itself. André Breton, a French surrealist, published in 1940 the book Anthologie de l’humour noir (in translation “Anthology of Black Humor”). He made up the term “back humor” for the mentioned book and he attributed the term to Jonathan Swift, whom he considered the creator of this type of humor and of the gallows humor. In Anthologie de l’humour noir Breton encompassed extracts of black humor from 45 other writers. In Swift’s work, he identified black humor in particular in the works entitled: A Meditation upon a Broom Stick (1710), A Modest Proposal (1729), and Directions to Servants (1731).

Later on, black humor was employed by novelists Joseph Heller, Vladimir Nabokov and Nathanael West. The novel Catch-22 written in 1961 by Joseph Heller is a prominent example in which Captain Yossarian fights the terrors of air warfare over the Mediterranean in the period of World War II by using amusing absurdities that equal the futilities of the military system. Black humor is also used in the situational comedy M*A*S*H.

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