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One of the outstanding piece in the literature world, “A Modest Proposal” is known for its absurd usage of words as well as mockery and humorous nature to depict the problem of poverty in Ireland. Written in the perspective of a concern and empowering economist, this satirical essay promotes the solution of selling the children of the poor for food of the wealthy people. Jonathan Swift is the man behind the satire, “A Modest Proposal: 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” which is commonly known as “A Modest Proposal”.
Written and published anonymously by Swift in 1729, it was originally printed in the form of a pamphlet. Taking inspiration from the unfair economic and political policies of the Irish and English government, Swift was able to write an incomparable work of rhetorical brilliance. Swift’s homeland, Ireland, was a country that had been controlled by England for almost 500 years. Just like other colonies, the rights of the Irish people were severely limited in obtaining power in the government office, owning real estate, getting an education, and advancing themselves.
These lead to the migration of most Irish people to foreign lands such as America. Most of those who remained in Ireland lived in poverty. They were bound to face the worst conditions such as illness, starvation, prejudice and even death. Using the happenings in his homeland, Swift mocks the authority of the British officials through writing a proposal which appears to be suggesting that the Irish should sell their children as foods for the rich gentleman and ladies in order to eradicate the poverty. He also argues that other benefits from his proposal were a reduction in the population and increase in the income of the poor. He also suggested that the meat of the children should be considered a delicacy to English people as well as Irish landlords. This type of meat is highly recommended to be consumed during special occasions and feasts. To develop his peculiar thesis, Swifts provides detailed paragraphs in order to project a comprehensive proposal to the readers. He also showed detail mathematical calculations of the cost of upbringing the child to the estimated portion of the population where money can be generated. Highly dependent on the persona of the economist, Swift was able to construct an image of cruel society which aims for the sympathy for the poor. As he continues to expound his arguments, the nature of the essay was becoming murderous in a sense of upbringing the idea of cannibalism.
Though brutality was prominent, he was able to incorporate some humor in the development of his ideas. He was also able to rationally presented his arguments to support an irrational proposition. For the structure of the essay, Swift used the standard format- introduction, body, and conclusion. In the opening, the author stated his thesis statement as well as the problem which as the reprehensible economic and social conditions of the Irish people which prevents them from giving an adequate care for their children. The thesis was further developed in the body with the use of details and persuasive words. As for the conclusion, he restated the main benefits that one could acquire in his proposal. He also provided a brief explanation with regards to the superiority of his proposal when compare to other poverty remedies. The irony was the dominant figure of speech in Swift’s satirical essay.
Throughout the body and conclusion of “ A Modest Proposal”, Swift made his arguments with irony, stating the opposite of what he really means. He provides a positive development for the predicament of the Irish people. He compares them to animals in order to point out that Irish people deserve a better treatment from the British government instead of treating them as animals. Sarcasm and irony were properly maintained and used in his essay. Not only that, the irony was evident at the end of his essay where Swift stated that the proposal would not affect him since his wife cannot produce any children anymore and that his children were grown up men. This indicates that the author wanted the readers do not agree with him and the idea of cannibalism. Instead, he wants the readers to find a more practical solution to the problem of poverty. Since the proposal was ironic itself, the voice of the essay was also ironic. Aside from that, Swift also uses other techniques for his satire such as understatement, hyperbole, and juxtaposition.
The absurd thesis was used by Swift in order to attack the English government and the Irish politics. The themes emerging from the proposal were exploitation of the supreme government and the prejudice of the colony. Swift’s satire describes the brutality of the British officials through imposing unfair laws, high tax charges, and other injustice acts which resulted in oppression felt by the people of Ireland.
The lack of action of the Irish people was also a theme of the satire. Swift also expresses his concern with the Irish people who cannot act with a firm resolution to improve their situations. In terms of words chosen for the title of his essay, Swift was able to give a preview of style and nature of his essay. By using the word ‘modest’, he was able to mock the false modesty of existing pamphlet during his time. Having the word ‘modest’ is the title for a satire is outrageous for satire is known for its mockery and immodest nature. This alone can intrigue people into reading his work.
Overall, Swift was able to successfully used satire as a vessel to convey his perspective with regards to the social issues emerging during his time. With the use of irony, humor, and exaggeration, he was using an outrageous concept, selling children for food, to deliver a message. The persona of an economist, abundance of detail, and ironic techniques were the key elements used by the author in order to create a piece with devastating effect. A Modest Proposal is an outstanding example of satire.
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