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Johnathan Swift’s Satire in a Modest Proposal and Gulliver’s Travels

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Johnathan Swift was a man with quite a bit to say. And he believed that for anyone to listen to him they would need to be either shocked or entertained. In his two satirical works, “Gulliver’s Travels” and “A Modest Proposal”, Swift takes two different approaches on speaking his mind about his country and its problem, as well as society as a whole.

Some would think that the satires of Swift are essentially writings of extreme hyperbole, but it is important to bear in mind that gross embellishment is still just one aspect of his satirical techniques. Swift uses irony and humor, parodies that portray a virtue and transforms it into a vice. The satire, A Modest Proposal, suggested that the very poor in Ireland should sell their children as delicious food to the English.

The whole idea behind ‘A Modest Proposal’ is ironic because it makes fun of other impractical solutions suggested by people to solve big problems in society. The idea (that the Irish should eat their babies) is completely satirical, as it makes fun of people who are suggesting absurd solutions believing they are pragmatic. Swift’s comparison to boys and girls as not a ‘saleable commodity’ is a good example of an absurd solution, as it shows the harsh minds of people who seek to turn everything into economic issues. ‘A modest proposal’ is designed to address several problems with a solution that is straightforward but morally unreasonable. One’s indignation at the potential solution should be directed into thinking of a practical solution.

If Jonathan Swift had written a thoughtful piece that about his political beliefs, he would probably have received no serious answer. Creating a serious piece about the issue in Ireland would have been hard enough, and at least people like to joke and laugh. A satirical parody was likely to get the public’s attention in ways that a seriously written piece could not achieve. A comedic satire is likely to attract the audience’s attention in ways that could not be done by a seriously written piece. ‘A Modest Proposal’ shocked people and made them think about Ireland’s poor condition and what should be done about it. And, being hard to interpret and seemingly joking, rather than questioning authority explicitly, is much safer. In his novel “Gulliver’s Travel” Swift took a much more adventurous and classically humorous approach.

As Gulliver’s adventure unfolds, the satire itself begins to reflect on a much wider subject than ‘A Modest Proposal’. This subject can be defined as humanity as a whole. He finds himself in a strange land, but this time he’s the tiny one, with everything giant around him. When he encounters the first natives, he fears for his life. It is but one of the many assaults Swift’s satire is going to perform on society. Although Gulliver was treated with respect in Lilliput, primarily because of his size; In the land of giants, Brobdingnag, he is viewed as a novelty, made to perform for public amusement, until the King learns of his presence. During the time Gulliver spends at the King’s court, Swift satirizes much of Europe’s actual government.

Gulliver’s adventures, interpreted as four journeys, were meant to show a deeper understanding of human nature and its shortcomings. This causes the views of Gulliver to shift, as do the story’s narrations. Swift can, therefore, express his criticisms of society. His view of humanity has improved a little after the first trip, similarly for the 2nd, although Gulliver’s opinion decreases gradually after this point until the fourth journey when he encounters the Yahoos. Swift uses the four journeys to presents his commentary on the human condition.

Both of Swift’s works examine human follies under the microscope. But satires intend to observe and explain these stupidities with a comedic approach to show people the absurdity in their thinking without arousing much conflict. Satires bring a light approach to many issues and Swift was a master at crafting ironic, but enlightening works.

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