Satire in Jonathan Swift`s writing
Jonathan Swift is an Irish writer from the 18th century and was known as a satirist, essayist and a political pamphleteer. He is the author of Gulliver`s Travels, A Journal to Stella, Drapier`s Letters, The Battle of the Books, An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity, A Tale of a Tub and A Modest Proposal. His last work, A Modest Proposal is an occasional essay in which he gives a response to an economical problem which shatters and weakens Ireland at that time, but his response is satiric and he gives irrational solutions. According to the Classic Encyclopaedia, based on the 11th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannia, Jonathan Swift is ‘a satirist struggling with a most uncongenial form of expression’. His text is based on solid argumentation, although irrational and unpractical, and also well structured. He begins by giving a description of the city of Dublin which is in a poor state ‘crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for an alms’. Only in his fourth paragraph he states his idea, his great plan, and he does it by telling the reader that he had heavily reflected on it, his words being ‘having turned my thoughts for many years upon this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of other projectors’. He ultimately suggests that Ireland`s greatest problem concerns him very much, and so he is obliged to come up with a solution for the love of his country. He implies that he had thought of many schemes but only one he thought to be of any help. His humbly position is in contrasts with the end of his essay which can be interpreted as his untouchable position, his plan cannot hurt him. Only after explaining to the reader the advantage of his scheme he tells them what it implies, and that is eating them while young and tender. This idea, ‘eating young children’, is given to him by an American, ‘a very knowing American‘ ,as he refers to him and it bears several connotations. From one point of view, a possible cause of including the Americans would be their perception that Irish, or other nation in general, is inferior to them, like savages, and Swift mocks them, and by using satire he shows them that Irish are capable of ‘eating their children’. From another point of view, Swift might show the reader that the Americans are the savage ones, due to the fact that he got the hint from one, he might imply that Americans are able to ‘eat their children’. Swift gives in the Preface to The Battle of the Books, 1704 the following definition of satire "Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own, which is the chief reason for that kind of reception it meets in the world, and that so very few are offended with it." and as a support of his theory he ends his essay in an unexpected way. He says ‘... I have not the least personal interest in endeavouring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the public good of my country, by advancing our trade, providing for infants, relieving the poor, and giving some pleasure to the rich. I have no children by which I can propose to get a single penny; the youngest being nine years old, and my wife past child-bearing.’ which can either mean that he bears in mind only the welfare of his country or that he cannot be touched by it, as I previously mentioned, his child being too old to be ‘eaten’ or ‘sold’ and his wife past childbearing. As The new Princeton encyclopaedia of poetry and poetics say ‘Despite the aesthetic and often comic or witty pleasure associated with much satire , their authors incline toward self- promotion as judges of morals and manners, of behaviour and thought.’ a writer may use irony to judge to set some moral guidelines. Swift uses irony to mock some of Irish habits and some common belief which were very popular at that time, a person who has authority over every one who lives in his territory. He speaks about landlords, he says that ‘...landlords, who as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children’ to help him sustain his theory. He mocks that the landlord is the highest authority and everyone must obey him. If the landlord would approve his theory, that would mean that all of the children from under his territory would be sold to him, whether the parents approve of it or not. Another element which belongs to the sphere of satire is the relationship between the title and the content of the text. At a first reading of the title, ‘A Modest Proposal’ which has a small introduction, by which the author explains the reason of his pamphlet, ‘For 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’ Swift may lead the reader into thinking that his proposal is fairly practical and useful; a reader may have expected an economical plan with may numbers and logical facts. It`s ironic, but in a way, he did offer the reader numbers ‘The number of souls in this kingdom being usually reckoned one million and a half, of these I calculate there may be about two hundred thousand couple whose wives are breeders; from which number I subtract thirty thousand couples who are able to maintain their own children, although I apprehend there cannot be so many, under the present distresses of the kingdom; but this being granted, there will remain an hundred and seventy thousand breeders. I again subtract fifty thousand for those women who miscarry, or whose children die by accident or disease within the year. There only remains one hundred and twenty thousand children of poor parents annually born.’ and this gives the text authenticity, but his ideas are, nevertheless, immoral and unpractical. The reason of writing such a ‘modest proposal’ is given by Carol Fabricant ‘As a parody of the many fatuous proposals for dealing with the problem put forward by writers who had little understanding of the situation’. According to what Fabricant says, there were created may systems to try and help Ireland overcome the economical problems, but all were proved to be useless. Swift mocks those who do not know how to write, and for that, he built with good and viable arguments an idea which is immoral, to show them that any idea can be proven, but that does not necessarily make it a good one. Carol Fabricant highlights that A Modest Proposal is an occasional essay and must be understood as a response to an economical problem. Its purpose is to mock the Irishmen, those who continue to write but do not understand what they are writing.