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A Modest Proposal Analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1334 words Published: 11th Jul 2017

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In A Modest Proposal the author, Jonathan Swift, uses techniques such as irony, satire, and sarcasm to mock the Irish government of his time. A Modest Proposal was a heavy-duty social commentary. At the time there was great hand-wringing over what to do about the masses of the poor in England, mainly London. Swift lays out a very well-reasoned solution to the problem. The solution was of course, ridiculous. After reading Swift’s masterpiece, I could not believe how graphic and shocking it would be. At times I was sickened in the way he details his feelings. He does this in a letter sarcastically proposing that they sell the children of the poor to the wealthier families, as this will provide food, clothing, and will decrease the population. Throughout the letter he uses remarkable details as to how they should go about eating the children, treating them as nothing more than a new type of livestock. The letter ends with a completely different tone when the author explains the absurdity of his proposal and instead suggests something a bit more realistic like the wealthy giving up some of their luxuries. Swift’s annoyance at what he saw as the immoral economic and political policies of the Irish and English governments, and he author uses the assumed voice of the economist. He uses great quantity of thorough, literalized metaphors, and ironic and sarcasm techniques to devastating effect. A Modest Proposal has been judged as an unsurpassed work of rhetorical brilliancy, and it acquires new readers additional critical attention up until now Swift exposes all of the bizarre remarks and ideas he has been discussing about are all a humorous way to make fun of the way the government is run and how they are not serving the terrible state of the country. Afterwards he expresses a proper proposal of taking away some of the wealthier people’s luxuries in order to help their economy. In this essay, I will explain the 3 techniques that I have found in Swift’s proposal, such as; Irony, Satire and Sarcasm.

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Satire is a second technique Swift uses, he states “The skin of which artificially dressed, will make admirable gloves for ladies, and summer boots for fine gentlemen” (p.286). He is indicating that rich people have a purpose and have the power to full-fill their wishes without any conditions. Swift shows all of his pain for the beggars and as a reader it shows that it’s all about status. On another note, Swift uses the children as satire, by exaggerating and dramatically grabs the reader’s attention, such as boiling and brewing of the children would end all the problems. This is a revelation of how Swift persuades the reader on how to help the rich out. Going back, he wants something done. Perhaps this satire isn’t spoken as a second person, or someone else’s voice, possibly what Swift’s tone in this piece is anger and annoyance. Since no one is doing anything about it, in his mind he might as well suggest “Eating children”. This classic poem is worded completely simple and the most logical thing in the world. It’s not to amuse us, but to substitute this phrase “should reduce their outgoings” with “should eat their babies” and it’s just another “op-ed” piece ‘that’ is what makes it satire. The wealthy physically kept getting fatter while the poor kept starving. Swift stated that instead of spending money on importing meat, they should eat their own children and as a result to control the population and provide their own food instead of depending on importing. Yes this is sickening, but this is exactly Swift’s intentions, by grossing out the public, he hoped to have them take a second look at their society and hopefully reform it. It is mocking the society, predominantly the rich and at the same time suggesting an eccentric solution to a dreadfully real problem that was obvious in London. As a matter of fact he hoped to bring a social transformation with his “modest proposal”.

As we move on to the third technique ‘sarcasm’, was greatly involved all over in the poem. In the first paragraph of A Modest Proposal, Swift uses the words melancholy, tears and pity and grievance to sympathise with the poor people while reading and come into view to understand their situation, slowly gaining the readers confidence in preparation for his shocking proposal (p.283). When he sent out his proposal to decrease Ireland’s population, he only looks at the positive aim in his idea. He is showing that he’s serious about his proposal by fabricating proof and figures, which shows that he has planned the dilemma for a very long time. This proposal is written sarcastically to belittle the attitude of the manufactured revolution that saw people as being a product to be exploited; in addition the mindset that the rate of people developed was beyond the rate of food growth so that there could never be enough food. Swift mentions “a year old offered in sale to the persons of quality, and fortune, advising the mother to let them suck plentifully, so as to render then plump, and fat for a good table. A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends and family” (p.285). His ludicrous scheme is to plump up the children and feed them off to the wealthiest. Reading that part, this made me become conscious of Swift’s extreme opinion is to point out where the reader should be feeling this is unacceptable and we must put a stop to this ludicrous. This manner shows a lot of antagonism which grabs your attention and wanting to read more of his preposterous language. Swift mentions absurdity quite often, he states that the wives will be treated better now that they are having children to sell on the meat market by their husbands. He illustrates the wives as livestock, and now that they are a source of income, the husbands will treat them better, as they do their cows, pigs, chickens (p.284). This is bizarre with the idea not explored in the passage that a husband is exceptionally vigilant with his wife and a changed man when she is with the child, because in her belly is his own family, and he wouldn’t dare cause his own flesh and blood harm. However, Swift implies an opposed idea to attack the men living in tough economic situations that are cruel to their wives.

After thinking it over, I have come to realize that only a true genius could write something as emotive and realistic and be taken seriously. All his techniques used gain the readers’ confidence and make him seem practical and realistic in an ironic way. He shocks the reader by suggesting infant cannibalism as a solution to social and poverty issues in Ireland. In doing so, Swift highlights the contrast, playing an essential role in classical satire, as well as the hypocrisy of the politicians he’s looking to blame. As readers, he wants us to know “how can we save Ireland?” Swift managed to make it reasonable, by using many techniques, such as; irony, satire and sarcasm. He uses a lot of exaggeration to highlight his points and beliefs, shown through his irony and imagery. Humans are more than just rational beings; we rely on emotions and faith. Swift provides a cultural criticism; he clearly believes that things such as faith, emotion, and religion help our human reason in arriving at truths. Without them, there would be no final cause and hope for salvation because there is no sense of data to prove heaven, we would never love, relatives could die and we would not care, and life itself would lack what makes humanity so beautiful, and that is emotion. Swift recognized a problem and was able to offer a resolution “in a tongue-tied way”. Some were blaming the poor or the rich. Swift was able to point out the errors of both groups by simply using these three techniques.


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