The Bedford Glossary of Critical and Literary Terms - Ross Murfin 2018


Caricature: From the Italian for “to load,” an exaggeration or other distortion of an individual’s prominent features or characteristics that makes the person appear ridiculous. Caricatures exaggerate distinctive or idiosyncratic traits, such as a large nose or a habit of apologizing frequently. The term caricature tends to be applied to graphic rather than written representations, where the term burlesque (or sometimes satire or parody) is usually used.

EXAMPLES: Victorian novelist Charles Dickens created many literary caricatures, including Fagin, the antagonist in Oliver Twist (1837), “whose villanous-looking and repulsive face was obscured by a quantity of matted red hair.” Anthony Trollope parodied Dickens’s tendency to create caricatures rather than three-dimensional characters in his novel The Warden (1855), where he described a fictitious character in a fictitious novel (The Almshouse) written by a fictitious author (Mr. Popular Sentiment) as follows:

The demon of The Almshouse was the clerical owner of this comfortable abode. He was a man well stricken in years but still strong to do evil; he was one who looked cruelly out of a hot, passionate, bloodshot eye, who had a huge red nose with a carbuncle, thick lips, and a great double flabby chin which swelled out into solid substance, like a turkey cock’s comb … ; his husky voice told tales of much daily port wine, and his language was not so decorous as became a clergyman.

Garry Trudeau often caricatures American political figures through the use of symbols in his comic strip Doonesbury (1970— ). He represented vice president Dan Quayle as a feather, for instance, president Bill Clinton as a waffle, and president George W. Bush as an asterisk wearing a cowboy hat.