A Modest Proposal: ‘Satire Is Characterized as Much by Wit and Outrageousness as by Moral Condemnation

Topics: Satire, Jonathan Swift, A Modest Proposal Pages: 5 (2157 words) Published: January 2, 2011
‘Satire is characterized as much by wit and outrageousness as by moral condemnation’. Do you agree?

Satire is the preferred tool of a voice with an axe to grind. In the right hands it can cleave a devastating blow. No matter how black or macabre the subject is, humour has its part to play. It is my intention to use Swifts, A modest Proposal to examine the relationships of the various aspects associated within the use of satire. Jonathon Swift had already achieved some success and notoriety as a satirist with his anonymously produced letters, as the Drapier. (sic) (Published in 1724) He also of course, had his satirical and witty Gulliver’s Travels published in 1725. Dr Swift’s: A modest proposal was written in the year 1729. It is an extremely ironic paper, which has been written against a period of harsh times, for the Irish under class. It is set in a climate of economic gloom and crop failure, all leading to an outbreak of famine. It is a situation that was to leave a divide between the Irish Nation. Resulting with the poor being abandoned to fend for themselves. The whole situation was made worse by the lack of employment. The affluent, predominately Anglican land owners, had in the main, made themselves absent, and were living in relative affluence and luxury in England. Dr Swift’s intent was to highlight the plight of these poor unfortunate creatures, in a most audacious and controversial pamphlet. Dr Swift’s pamphlet has an authenticity that could confuse the sense of reality; however as a work of fiction, for that is what it is, humour is present in all its forms, wicked, sarcastic and mocking. The proposal itself goes on to suggest an outrageous and despicable plan that reveals it to be a dark and sinister resolution, purported to benefit the Irish poor. More importantly, it is also to be an economic solution that will be of benefit to the gentlemen to whom he is lobbying. The author’s ultimate aim is to convince the reader, that he has the solution to resolve all the problems associated with the poor and starving Irish. Not only that, it will also be of financial benefit for the already affluent classes. He assumes the persona of one who has a mission; he is out to relieve the plight of Ireland. He intends to demonstrate that the poor citizen’s natural assets are indeed their very own flesh and blood. He can with his simple modest proposal, cure all the ills to the benefit of all, in an impoverished and beleaguered country, Ireland. The question is, would we be able to read and accept A Modest Proposal without the acknowledgement of its witty, satirical content? Dr Swift’s modest proposal was a shock tactic, to expose the predicament that the poor and homeless Irish were in. He asks his readers to suspend reality, while he makes merriment out of the plight of the Irish under class, and lampoons their overseers, the mainly wealthy gentlemen. Despite the repulsive subject matter, Dr Swift managed to maintain, what is a sarcastic and ironic delivery in the transcript of his A Modest Proposal. The concerned Dr Swift takes an authoritative lead; that is tempered with a concerned and considerate voice. He is talking on behalf of all like minded gentlemen, who have to bear the sight of the beggars of the female sex, with their numerous children in tow. We can imagine the unfortunate gents, who are forced to endure the task of making their way past the pathetic figures, draped in their rags. The gents in their finery, with a scented handkerchief pressed to their flared nostrils, having to dodge the numerous extended arms, all with pitiable brats attached. With the wailing mothers, all of whom are pleading for alms. It is a dilemma that even the contemporary reader of today can associate and sympathise with, as we weave our way through the ever growing collection of buskers, homeless and the endless line of registered charity collectors. We are told by Dr Swift, that the mothers’ options not to work, are due...

Bibliography: (2009 - 10). In Ways of Reading 1: Forms and Approaches.
Beaumont, C. A. (1961). In C. A. Beaumont, Swift 's Classic Rhetoric. Athens Georgia: University Georgia Press .
Swift, J. (2009). A Modest Proposal . In C. Fabricant, A Modest Proposal and Other Writings (p. 230 239). Penguin Classics.
Swift, J. (2006). A Modest Proposal. In N. Anthology, English Literture Eighth Edition V1 (pp. 1284. 2462 - 2468). New York. London: W.W Norton & Company.
[i] Extracts from A Modest Proposal para 1
[ii] Extracts from A Modest Proposal para 4, 5
[iii] Extracts from A Modest Proposal para 19
[iv] Extracts from A Modest Proposal para 20
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