A Modest Proposal
By J--- -----------
2 May 2011
Jonathan Swift’s Use of Satire and Exaggeration
Satire is a form of literature in which an author tries to demonstrate his or her point of view by ridiculing. The author uses heavy irony and sarcasm in order to criticize a social issue. A perfect example of a work of satire is Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal. In this satirical essay, Jonathan Swift attacks on the issue of the Irish poverty in the 1700s. The essay sarcastically suggests that Ireland’s social and economic problems would be quickly solved by putting the children of impoverished Irish families on the food market. Through heavy exaggeration, Jonathan Swift’s essay provides a good insight on the themes of ignorance, human greed, and human corruption.
In this essay, Jonathan Swift writes as if he were being completely serious. However, his intention is for everyone, or anyone in the right mind, to see that his personal opinion is actually the opposite of what he writes in the essay. He wants to use irony to cause the readers to understand that he isn’t being serious at all. For example, he ironically explains his hopes that he “will not be liable to the least objection” (Swift 803). He actually wants objection. Another way he shows that he isn’t serious is with the title of the essay, “A Modest Proposal”. As the reader reads further into the essay, they see that Swift’s proposal isn’t modest at all. They see that Swift’s proposal is an outrageous one.
Swift’s proposal is for the poor Irish families to allow their own newborn children to be killed for food. His goal in this proposal is towards “preventing the Children of poor People in Ireland from being a Burden to their Parents or Country, and for making them beneficial to the Public” (801). In detail, the plan proposed by Swift is for families to contribute a majority of their children’s flesh as food for themselves, or a marketable good to butchers and tailors in order to bring money into their homes.
Heavy exaggeration is used by Swift with the purpose of shocking the readers. He shows a lack of emotional attachment to the children in order to produce an opposite result with his audience. By causing horror in readers, the essay both helps them feel sympathy and pity for the largely poor Irish population, and feel dislike for the ignorant narrator. He also wants people to understand that all of the people of England and Ireland that are not in poverty are in fact greedy and corrupted.
One way he does this is by saying innocent children are in fact the only ones guilty for the impoverishment of Ireland. In order to do this, he refers to them by terms that make them seem disposable, such as “bastard children” (802). Although he says that the children are the ones responsible for the corruption, he expects the reader to understand that children are the ones that are least responsible for any types of social problems, because children lack any kind of power. By reading this essay, one would desire that the children wouldn’t be the victims of this corruption. They would rather the children and their parents to be helped by the ones that are actually responsible.
Swift goes on to shock the readers by describing in detail what kind of disgusting things people would do to the flesh of the infants. For example, he describes the variety of ways that the infants’ flesh can be cooked, such as being “stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled” (803). He also explains how the flesh of infants can be used as fabric for fashionable clothing, going on to say that it will “make admirable gloves for ladies and summer boots for fine gentlemen” (Swift 804). By planning practices of mutilation towards the babies, he really wants his audience to completely object to these plans, in order to show how precious the poor children of Ireland really are.
Unfortunately, similar to livestock, children are doomed...
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