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A Modest Proposal, Essay Example

Pages: 1

Words: 461

Essay

Jonathan Swift’s text A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick is a satire of economic disparity in the time period of Great Britain in which he wrote. The satirical thesis of the text suggests that the economically underprivileged Irish should consider selling their children as food to the higher classes. Here, Swift is clearly promoting the opposite thesis, by expressing the dire situation of the underclass and poor in these dark and morbid terms, he surfaces the life and death situation of their existence, showing the desperation of economic poverty. At the same time, he refers to a clear gap in class difference which is crucial for creating the social structure as it is: extreme poverty is contrasted by a wealthy elite, creating a situation in which social justice is opposed, such that in Swift’s words, for example, the elites may make from the skin of children “admirable gloves for ladies, and summer boots for fine gentlemen.”

Swift’s text is arguably so effective because the extremes with which he goes in his satire: by satirically arguing for what amounts to essentially the murder of children, Swift has shown the total lack of humanity of the society in which he composed his writings. The strength of Swift’s text in this regard is its uncompromising nature, which thereby vividly and inexorably shows the social injustice prevalent in British society. Furthermore, the metaphor of cannibalism is apt to the society he is describing: by neglecting the needs of the poor, the elite classes are essentially killing the poor. It is an example of economic genocide which Swift identifies by showing this economic genocide in a satirical and at once direct form. For Swift, economic discrepancy in class difference in its extreme form is essentially a state-sponsored form of murder of the underclass, whose lives are deemed to bear less value than the lives of the upper class. This economic genocide is correlative to the class war at the heart of Swift’s text, and this is why it is so effective: it shows the entire causal chain of poverty and its effects, thus presenting in an absurd form an entirely logical argument to the reader.

The existence of contemporary satire shows the effectiveness of this form of argumentation: for example, consider the television program The Colbert Report, where the host, with his exaggerated patriotic and jingoistic repetitions of American political rhetoric, demonstrates the underlying cruelty and irrationality of this same position. Satires created by Colbert and Swift show how this form of creation may expose the presuppositions that structure a given discourse, presuppositions which are often grotesque in their effect on reality and human existence. (462)

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