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Satire in Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”, Essay Example

Pages: 2

Words: 425

Essay

One of Jonathan Swift’s most famous works is “A Modest Proposal.” The genre of this piece is satire, as Swift uses the essay to discuss the issue of Irish poverty in the 18th century. Swift was concerned with the relationship between the British and the Irish; according to the textbook, “A Modest Proposal” symbolized “what was actually happening to Irish families and their children” (Sayre, 2012) as many Irish farmers worked on farms that were owned by the English and also paid extremely high rents to the same owners. As Swift saw it, this relationship was terribly unfair, and led to the poverty and starvation of many Irish men, women, and children. In “A Modest Proposal” Swift uses satire to draw attention to his concerns about the suffering of the Irish.

“A Modest Proposal” begins with a description of the economic conditions in Ireland, and at first it seems like a serious examination of these conditions. Swift goes on to describe how the situation in Ireland is especially difficult for the children there, as their parents cannot afford to feed them. After describing the poverty and starvation of the Irish, Swift begins to explain that he has some ideas about “a fair, cheap, and easy method of making these children sound, useful members of the commonwealth” It is not until several pages into the essay that Swift writes “a boy or girl before twelve years old is a saleable commodity” who would be “a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food.” This is the surprise twist in “A Modest Proposal”: in order to alleviate Irish poverty, Irish children should be sold for food.

What makes “A Modest Proposal” so effective is that Swift never breaks character. As he begins to explain how children can be raised like cattle, describes the various ways they can be cooked, or details the economic benefits of selling children for food, he maintains the same serious tone he used in the beginning of the essay. As the textbook notes, by describing this proposal as if it was a legitimate idea, Swift satirizes the way that England was “sucking the lifeblood” from the Irish though “oppressive economic policies” (Sayre). This also shows how effective satire can be; if Swift had merely complained about England’s policies he may have been ignored. By creating such a horrible scenario where children are sold for food, he drew attention to just how serious the problem of Irish poverty was in the 18th century.

Reference

Sayre, H.M. (2012). The humanities: culture, continuities, and change. Vol 2. New York, N.Y. Pearson Education.

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