From early history, satirists have used depictions of man as animal to critique human behaviors in order to suggest that we are still rather savage in the ways that we act. Animals have been a sort of tool for exposing some of man’s greatest folly due to the fact that these depictions are attention grabbing; humans do not generally prefer to be depicted as savage and tend to take offense. Thus, analogies comparing humans to animals reveal to society that its behaviors are lowering humanity to the level of beasts, and perhaps open people’s eyes to how ridiculous the acts they are engaging in are.
Because people were particularly offended at being depicted as socially equivalent to an animal, these satires were able to become a strong critique of society in the nineteenth century. One particularly popular satirist that arose from the nineteenth century was J.J. Grandville, a cartoonist that sought to expose the rotten underbelly of society through his illustrated works. In an article on Huffington Post, Boria Sax points out that the ways in which Grandville’s cartoons satirize animals make the “animals […] really humans in disguise.” By creating an artwork in which “[p]eople are bestial while animals are human,” (Sax) Grandville is able to use his animals in order to propose judgments about human society. Sax argues that “[Grandville’s] animals dress in human clothing not to reveal their basic humanity but, rather, their (and our) essential strangeness.” Therefore, while it is likely his cartoons were somewhat offensive to the eighteen hundreds’ society, Grandville’s cartoons remain to be whimsical satire on human nature.
The work here is titled, “Conjugate the Present Indicative ‘I Am Bored’,” and features an image of a group of parrots being taught in a school by a donkey. Although featuring animals, Grandville’s cartoon looks highly mocking of human society, because the animals are very human in the way that they are dressed and positioned. Therefore, we can be inclined to imply that Grandville is making a statement about the nature of elementary education, where the teachers are merely asses, and the students are parrots mimicking what they are taught by an ass. In his book Satire: Spirit and Art, George A. Test mentions that “the cartoons of J. J. Grandville […] have served the satirist as a device for commenting on human behavior.” We can see this very occurrence in our particular cartoon, as Grandville comments on the poor nature of education, lowering humans to animal levels in order to make the criticism in his cartoon.
J. J. Grandville’s popularity in the 1800’s demonstrated that his works were a success. And although perhaps offensive to some, Grandville’s satires did expose the elite layer of society as being particularly foolish in its practices and behaviors. Grandville’s satire seemed to target the middle and lower class audiences by picking at upper class society to give the middle and lower classes a good laugh, undoubtedly offending the elite class that his satires criticized.