Language and Tone in Swift's Work a Modest Proposal

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Language and tone in Swift’s work A Modest Proposal

In Ireland in the eighteenth century many people wrote pamphlets in which they suggested solutions to the contemporary situation in their country. Among them was also Jonathan Swift, whose pamphlet A Modest Proposal differs from the others in its satirical tone. At that time Swift was a member of a literary club called the Scriblerians, who were against modern ideas in science and philosophy. Swift himself was inspired by this, which can be seen in his A Modest Proposal. The work I am writing about is a pamphlet written in a form of an essay. Swift alludes to the contemporary political philosophy in Ireland which was based on ideas of buying and selling. “People were beginning to look at the society in terms of money, economics and politics rather than in human terms” (Forsyth). To express his ideas Swift chose to write the pamphlet in a form of a satire to put emphasis on the problems. He is blind to the horrible moral implications of his proposal and favours the economic progress only. The dominant figure of speech in the work is verbal irony whose purpose is to say the opposite of what the author means. The irony is also in the content of the proposal in which Swift on one side wants to protect babies by saying: “There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas, too frequent among us, sacrificing the poor innocent babies, I doubt, more to avoid the expense than the shame, which would move tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast” (Swift), and, on the other side, he compares them to goods and wants to kill them for food. The expressions Swift uses are extraordinary, as demonstrated in the following quotation, in which he compares children to cattle, using words that denote its meat: “I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a...
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