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Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”, Essay Example

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Essay

Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” is a satire that uses narratorial tone and rhetorical devices to create a persuasive argument for the very thing Swift rails against:  the consumption of children.  Swift builds to his ‘surprise’ ending through the construction of a seemingly-logical argument concerning the overpopulation of the poor, however this argument is based on a series of false premises that serve to underlie his satirical aims.  Additionally, the reasonable and knowledgeable tone of the narrator invests Swift’s essay with a sense of authority that is undermined in the essay’s inflammatory conclusion.

Swift creates the appearance of sympathy for his narrator in the essay’s opening paragraph when he writes of the “melancholy” (Swift) experienced when one sees poor children in the streets.  This suggests that the narrator is concerned about the well-being of Irish children and wishes to address their needs through his treatise.  However, the narrator soon contradicts this appeal to sympathy through the use of the logical fallacy of an appeal to belief.  He suggests that although the reader may feel compassion for the plight of poor Irish children, “it is agreed by all parties” (Swift) that they represent a substantial burden on the nation.  Thus, he attempts to persuade his readers to accept his proposal that these children should be put to good use.     Given the logical framework created by Swift, it is mo great leap for the narrator to suggest that this burden can be alleviated by using children as “delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food” (Swift).

Swift uses rhetorical devices and logical fallacies to intentionally create a satire which mocks the notion of blaming the poor for their position in society.  The sympathetic yet authoritarian tone of the narrator contributes to the illusion that the narrator is driven by the urge to provide a true solution to the troublesome problem of poverty.  However, the inherent hyperbole of the narrator’s suggestion that poor children be used as food illustrates the difficulty in solving this social problem while implying that the poor are nothing but fodder for the upper classes.

References

Swift, J. (1729). 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. Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1080

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