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“A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift is a powerful and well thought out essay addressing a problem that arose in the countryside of Ireland. Swift uses satire to evoke emotion in the reader and provide motivation for those who are idling waiting for a solution to appear. The purpose of the essay was not only to address the politics and policies of that time period, but also to encourage people to think critically about motivation and values. It is important for people to actively work on solving issues around them, instead of sitting back and waiting for a solution to arise.
Swift opens up his essay by using vivid imagery to set the scene, “It is a melancholy object to those, who walk through this great town, or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads and cabin-doors crowded with beggars…” (paragraph 1). This is one of the main issues presented in the essay. There is an overpopulation of people, tragically high poverty, famine, abortion, and other economical issues. Two themes we see with these issues are: social class levels and morality. When Swift talks about the poor he uses animal imagery, “…whereof only one fourth part to be males; which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle, or swine…” (paragraph 10). This is very dehumanizing to this level of the social classes. The obvious theme of morality is throughout the whole essay. This is shown through the many brutal details of how they could eat a portion of the children to eliminate some of the issues that Ireland faces. The themes, plot details, and literary forms of this work show the reader the severity of their situation and the importance of working to solve issues so that a solution like this does not take place.
“A Modest Proposal” was written during the Enlightenment era. Unlike many works done during this time period, Swift’s essay focuses on the poor. This was unusual, because most literature was about the upper class. The setting (time period, location, and culture) of this essay is crucial to the understanding of it. Jonathan Swift had just relocated to Ireland and was frustrated by the oppression of England and the degradation of the majority of the people living in Ireland. During that time, England wanted to keep Ireland weak in order to remain in control. This lead to the dehumanization of many, and Swift depicts this in his essay using animal imagery. This time period and the culture that surrounded him was a major influence for his writing.
I learned a few things from this specific work and the culture that surrounded it. The major takeaway would be that it is important to fight for what is right, and to not be passive with issues in our everyday life. Even when culture tells us that it has been that way for many years, that does not make it right. It is easy to sit back and wait for someone else to come up with a solution, but it is not the most effective and it might not be the right solution. This essay also helped me learn about another culture that I never knew about. The fact that Swift wrote this essay illustrates the severity of the situation Ireland was facing. It is heartbreaking to know that the people living there had become so accustomed to that culture and lacked motivation to work to change it.
After reading this essay, it has really made me appreciate the life that I have been able to live. It has also made me aware of how serious situations can become. This literary work has taught me to take advantage of opportunities to make a difference and I can apply this in my everyday life. This essay has shown me that whenever issues arise, I should actively work to find a solution and not sit back and watch.
Although Swift’s essay was not meant to be taken literal, his satirical take on the issues Ireland was facing at the time were relevant. Swift used this approach to evoke emotion in the reader and illustrate the severity of the situation. The most valuable thing that he portrays in his work is the importance of earnestly working to solve the issues that arise, rather than being passive and waiting for someone else to come up with a solution.
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