In “Decline and Fall”, Waugh uses many techniques to produce satire; these include irony, hyperbole and litotes, juxtaposition and bathos. Through these, he wishes to make a condemning comment on the society around him particularly the upper class, the education system, the judiciary system and at the same time illustrate the loss of significance of religion in that society. Although Waugh makes fun of these institutions, he does not offer or suggest a moral code by which these should operate. His prime aim is to simply make a comment and make people aware of the vulgarity and irrationality of society.
Throughout the whole book the style is split between objective commentary and emotional character dialogue. The contrast of the strict and tight wording of the narration and the ridiculousness of the events it is describing is incongruous which creates humour. The narration in the beginning of chapter Eight “The Sports” is humours because it is so detailed to the extent that it becomes ridiculous: “It was the colour of indelible ink on blotting paper, and was ornamented at the waist with flowers of emerald green and pink”.
The strange imagery of “blotting paper” and the triviality of the subject at hand does not deserve such elevated language, but the fact that Waugh gave it so much attention makes it humorous. The incongruity here suggests overall ridiculousness of the events that are taking place, namely the sports day, which then relates to Fagan’s running of the school. The book is in three parts: the first concentrates on the contemporary public school system. In this part of the novel Waugh ridicules the incompetence, shallowness and moral decadence of public schools.Order now
In the “Notice of Vacancy”, Fagan tells applicants to enclose “copies of testimonials and photographs, if advisable”. This seeming made up joke was actually taken from a real advertisement for a teaching post. By associating this ridiculous request with Fagan, the head of Llanabba Castle, Waugh gives the impression that Fagan is an irresponsible, inexperienced and light minded headmaster. It is ironical that a public school should be run by such an incompetent man.
These traits do not make a good headmaster as readers see later, at the sports day, when Fagan makes every effort to make a spectacle of the event, while ignoring all values traditionally associated with sports day, such as sportsmanship, honesty and honour. “He passed on. ‘â€¦ Pennyfeather, if you would with tact direct the photographer so that more prominence was given to Mrs Beste-Chetwynde’s Hispano Suiza than to Lady Circumference’s little motor car, I think it would e all to the good. ” By letting Fagan worry about petty things like that, Waugh again uses irony to mock Fagan and his running of the school.
Another technique Waugh uses is innuendo. This is particularly effective when the subject at hand is especially taboo, such is the case with the relationship between Captain Grimes and Clutterbuck. There is an implied sexual relationship between the two. “: ‘You can’t keep me in. I’m taking a walk with Captain Grimes'” Paedophilia in Waugh’s time was a most taboo topic but Waugh raises the issue in “Decline and Fall” and associates both the older and younger participants in the relationship to Llanabba Castle School.
The use of innuendo to describe the paedophilic nature of their relationship here then only discredits the school’s moral values. Waugh also uses bathos to mock and ridicule in the novel. Prendergast, the clergyman at the school, suffers from doubts about his religion. He is therefore where he is; teaching religion at Llanabba Castle. “: ‘I asked my bishop; he didn’t know. He said that he didn’t think the point really arose as far as my practical duties as a parish priest were concerned. ” If Prendergast has lost his faith in the religion he is supposed to teach, then certainly he is unsuitable to teach it.
Prendergast also becomes drunk at the sports day and shoots a boy in his foot. Even after the shooting Prendergast does not realise his wrongdoing, instead he says: “First blood to me! ” However, Fagan keeps him as a teacher, and this clearly shows a collapse in values, and hints at the loss of significance of religion in schools at least. Waugh cleverly uses the names of characters to satirise their personalities. Paul is supposed to be easily pushed around, and “light” in his self defence, and is thus called “Pennyfeather”.
Margot manipulates and lies to people to achieve her aims, and is therefore called “Beste-Chetwynde”, which in Irish is pronounced “Best-Cheating”. “Digby-Vane Trumpinton” can only suggest vainity and lack of purpose. Dr Fagan’s name echoes Fagin who keeps a school of boy pickpockets in Dicken’s “Oliver Twist”. This allusion further underlines Fagan’s corrupt teaching ways at Llanabba Castle. Waugh also mocks Welsh culture by giving Welsh cities and land marks names simply impossible to pronounce, such as Llanabba and Cymbrggpade.
Waugh also utilises litotes to taunt the upper classes, especially Grimes and Margot Beste-Chetwynde. Grimes describes himself as being “in the soup” and he seems to be in quite serious trouble. However, he remains calm and collected, saying that he’ll get out of it, simply because he’s a public school man: “they might kick you out, but they’ll never leave you behind”. And with his connection to his former public school, he has escaped execution and imprisonment. There is definitely a corrupt system here which is making the law a mere joke.
Margot describes her business in South America simply as an “Entertainment” company. But the readers know it’s much more than just “entertainment”. Paul however does not see this, and agrees to go to Marsailles for Margot who obviously knows that this is a very dangerous trip to give “the right man a few hundred francs” to sort out business. The use of euphemism tricks Paul into thinking that it’s simply paying a man his wages, but it is in fact a rather large sum of bribery and breaking the law quite severely.
This episode adds to the mocking of Paul’s naivety and Margot’s coldness in using those around her for her corrupt benefit. Waugh uses paradox to illustrate the failure of the prison system. The chapter titles “Stone walls do not a prison make” and “nor iron bars a cage” simply mock the dysfunction of prisons. Grimes climbs onto a horse and easily escapes from prison and eludes police. Obviously something is wrong when a man can escape from prison so easily. Paul doesn’t find prison life bad at all, rather he finds it relaxing and better than the lifestyle he had while living with Margot Beste-Chetwynde.
This compounded with the fact that a mad man managed to commit an atrocious murder inside the prison clearly shows that imprisonment isn’t working as it is supposed to. In “Decline and Fall” Waugh uses many different techniques to illustrate his themes. Incongruity, litotes and bathos all contribute to satirising aspects of society. In the end he does not propose an ideal code of honour to direct change, but his listing of moral deficiency in the educational system and the upper classes demands reform. Some readers might even identify themselves with characters in the novel and begin the path to change.