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A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift: Review

By jadiebby Oct 10, 2008 777 Words
A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift:
A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift was written in 1720 as a satirical piece to highlight the child abuse inflicted on Irish catholic children by well to do English protestants. Swifts native heritage of Ireland put him in an excellent position as an observer and, eventually, a commentator, on the extreme poverty experienced by the Irish population. This poverty mostly caused by the ‘ruling class’ … the English…and their appalling mistreatment of Ireland, its people and its land. In A Modest Proposal, Swift satirizes the English landlords with outrageous humour, proposing that Irish infants be sold as food at age one.

The main audience for Modest Proposal started as The English Protestants however it did not succeed with but took strongly to the Irish. Ireland lived on the edge of starvation and poverty for many years, causing this to create an importance to the Irish. Demonstrating an effective use of satire through out the piece, satire being a literary composition incorporating techniques such as irony and sarcasm, proven by his satirical language and persuasive techniques. Swift mentions real reforms that could help Ireland at specific points in the essay to give it an over powering effect that strengthens the moment. The language is specific and succinct and is packed with wit and irony. Swift carefully selects words to shock and amuse the audience. He makes specific references to Catholics and Jews through sarcasm are interpreted as the different views of religion and their contribution to the situation the essay covers. Swifts Social politics come through relatively clearly, placing much of the blame for the state of the nation on the greed and wealth of the upper class, however swift goes into intricate detail to bring his point across.

He starts the piece off by opening his proposal with a humble explanation of how he has the country in best interest. He grabs the audiences attention by informing them that ‘it is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town… crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags’ creating a gloomy, darkened and serious atmosphere accumulating the audience. He then later goes on to explain his proposal in moderate detail making statements such as; ‘I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food,’ The modern day reader would interpret this as an inhuman proposal of the direst cruelty, however the perceptive modern day reader would detect some kind of sarcasm.

A modest proposal is littered with persuasive techniques such as; Emotive language, Repetition, Irony, Humour and Imagery. Swift uses these techniques to create a powerful essay underlining the poverty in Ireland. The Imagery in the essay such as; ‘whereof only one forth part to be males, which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle, or swine.’ This would be known as animal imagery creating the feeling that children are like savage beasts. Another reference to animal imagery ‘I have reckoned upon a medium, that a child just born will weigh 12 pounds, and in a solar year if tolerably nursed encreaseth to 28 pounds.’ Telling the reader that a child is very like an animal, a piece of meat. Swift kills off the children in his piece to create the satirical climax. Swift repeatedly uses simple sentences to be painfully obvious on the point he is making however, he is mocking the audiences intelligence by being so obvious. The reader of the time would find it hard to cope with the understanding needed to take in this essay. Swift then later goes on to use such techniques as persuasion by telling the audience that if they agree with the proposal and carry it out it will sustain the nation and everyone will live in wealth. He uses this as bate as all the people care about is their money and wealth. Swift generates an atmosphere of cannibalism and how it could be used to the nations advantage, this creates dramatic tension through out the piece to the modern day reader as cannibalism today is thought of as in human. The proposal then outlines the closing statement of how Swift has the countries best interests at heart and wants for nothing for his great service.

The proposal is a fantastic piece for usage in teaching and essays because of its language sarcasm and literary techniques used through out the piece such as the satirical rhetorical questions Swift asks and the seriousness of his writing.

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