Satire In Swift's Modest Proposal

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Each writer has his own approach to creating a narrative, rich in deep imagery and virtuoso conveying the main idea, message, and argument of the creator. In this regard, the well-known pamphlet ‘A Modest Proposal,’ written by Jonathon Swift, is a fascinating case of using satire as the primary method for effectively revealing social problems characteristic of that time and attracting the attention of the audience through a skillfully created narrative. This satirical pamphlet allows not only to discover the talent, skill, and accuracy of the writer’s word but also to evaluate the impression Swift achieves with the help of satire. Moreover, the author’s rhetoric, aimed at revealing such acute topics as poverty in Ireland, government failure, and fear for the fate of children and the future of society as a whole, is of considerable interest as an example of using wit to identify and demonstrate (broad) problems in society. At the same time, a close examination of the features of satire as a rhetorical tool may allow for a more detailed understanding of Swift’s approach to creating strong rhetoric. Therefore, Swift’s pamphlet ‘A Modest Proposal’ is not a gloomy, cruel, and inhuman mockery of a starving Irish society, but a provocative satire and parody as the most effective way to realize the rhetoric of the narrative in support of the kingdom and its future.

To appreciate Jonathan Swift’s literary skills, as well as the effectiveness of his rhetoric, it is necessary to consider satire’s main features and goals as a literary device. Thereby, satire is a literary tool designed to uncover moral judgment and constructive criticism of a phenomenon or people, as well as ridicule absurdity or stupidity through wit and irony (Singh, 65-68). Proceeding from this, satire becomes not just a stylistic device, but a more complex technique, allowing achieving the final result through a veiled narrative. Considering the plot of  ‘A Modest Proposal,’ one can conclude that the story is a mad and brutal call for child abuse and cannibalism. This is due to the fact that the narrator argues about the need to use the meat of babies in food as a way to combat hunger and poverty in Ireland, using numbers and economic indicators (Swift). Such text looks like mocking and misanthropic reasoning concerning the society surrounding the author and calls for inhuman treatment. However, a superficial glance at the pamphlet does not allow discovering a deeper meaning that the author creates through ironic and witty techniques.

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Hence, the condemnation of public policy, ridicule of stupidity, disclosure of crimes that are committed in Ireland by an indifferent government and blind society, is hidden behind the external farce and mocking formality, which are elements of Swift’s rhetorical strategy. A more detailed analysis of the text, as well as its historical implication, makes it possible to notice that, at first glance, cruel and unhealthy ideas constitute a powerful irony and ridicule of the most acute problems of society and drawing attention to the need to find their solution. Thereupon, Swift describes 19th century Ireland, suffering from poverty and hunger under the influence of England (Swift). Awareness of this crucial historical subtext makes it possible to notice that a more detailed analysis of the text neutralizes the first impression of disgust and absurdity and reveals the deeper meanings and ideas designed to support the writer’s argument. Given that the authors resort to satire to criticize and expose negative phenomena, it is possible to say that Swift’s satirical rhetoric is entirely focused on attracting public attention through horrific and cruel ideas (Singh 68). Consequently, the manner of narration and stylistic techniques allow the author to achieve a strong emotional response and reader’s attention through which an understanding of the text’s real idea comes.

Swift uses many methods to form a satirical frame for a pamphlet, openly highlighting the most acute problems for the attentive reader. First of all, it is worth noting that the author deliberately uses a formal tone, reinforcing his cruel statements with figures reflecting the economic instability of Irish society. For example ‘the maintenance of an hundred thousand children, from two years old and upwards, cannot be computed at less than ten shillings apiece per annum,’ or ‘the nation’s stock will be thereby increased fifty thousand pounds per annum,’ as well as the exact weight of babies and children of different ages (Swift 5, 7, 10). Such speech momentum and accurate data create a deceptive impression of a report or economic research, which is designed to reliably explain the need to use children as food to save the nation and overcome financial adversity. Nevertheless, understanding the historical conditions that the author reflects in the essay, one can assume that such a formality is used intentionally as a satirical device. At the same time, satire becomes the most effective way of ridiculing social problems sharply with Swift, since this rhetorical tool is designed to detect and criticize the shortcomings of society and humanity (Singh 68, 69). It is also noticeable that the enumeration of the economic problems characteristic of the Irish society at that time becomes apparent through familiarization with the ingenious statistics and data that Swift offers the reader as formal grounds for their proposals. Hence, the author’s ironic claim to a serious analysis of the economic situation of Irish society creates an underlined sense of the importance of political and economic decisions taken, while the actual situation reflects the failure of the government in resolving the crisis.

The mockery and accusations that appear throughout ‘A Modest Proposal’ also become ways of conveying the irony of the situation of Irish society and the importance of the problems that stand behind them. Accordingly, from the very beginning of the essay, Swift shows disapproval and hostility towards children and women, who, in his opinion, idle around and begging for alms instead of honestly earning a better life (Swift 5). Knowing that satire is aimed at criticizing social tendencies and phenomena, it can be concluded that the narrator brings hatred not to impoverished weak people and children, but to English power, which allows for hunger and poverty. Further, the narrator reports that he found a way to overcome hunger, namely, butcher children for meat, and even calculated that the weight of a one-year-old child reaches twenty-eight pounds under favourable conditions (Swift 7). The cruelty and inhumanity of this proposal breed the reader, however, the intensity of the emotions it evokes allows for enhanced contrast in the ideas of babies and the decisions that government makes in dealing with the plight of the kingdom.

Moreover, the suggestion of killing children and ridiculing ordinary people’s plight is not the last time that the author uses obscure words to more effectively convey the essay’s rhetoric. Therefore, the narrator continues to enumerate arguments in favour of atrocities over children, underscoring them with the idea that the production of new food type will have a positive effect on society. In his opinion, this is due to the fact that mothers will begin to show great care to their little ones, while their husbands will begin to show great care to pregnant wives as to livestock that brings posterity, as this will become a matter of benefit and well-being for everyone (Swift 10). One can see that the author seeks to cover up atrocities with arguments about the benefits and needs of society in transforming the culture and production of food, thereby strengthening the irony of his words, drawing a parallel with the motives of the government. Moreover, Swift does not stop at describing the new way of the Irish society’s life He also offers the most successful recipes for preparing children, recommending ‘buying the children alive, and dressing them hot from the knife as we do roasting pigs’ (Swift 10). The constant increase in absurdity and gloom in the proposals for improving the economic situation of Ireland is causing an increasingly strong horror response. It can be noted that such an overlap of ironic hints reflects the satirical nature of the pamphlet since irony is intended to indicate the inefficiency and stupidity of certain norms, policies, and phenomena (Singh 69). Thereby, the layering of ironic ideas that hide actual problems under them allows the author to form an effective satire as a way of translating the need to solve existing tragedies.

Each paragraph of the essay is full of statements with a double bottom, which allows creating not only an impressive text that evokes strong emotions but also encourages the reader to analyze the reading and identify clear parallels with the surrounding circumstances. At the same time, Swift continues a mocking narrative, saying that he puts forward a proposal to eat children solely out of good motives and care for society since he does not hope to enrich himself on this since his child has already reached the age of 9 years (Swift 12). This final part of the pamphlet reflects the moral position of the narrator and at the same time refers to unscrupulous landowners and politicians who are also not concerned about the fate of Ireland, since this is not related to their welfare. Moreover, Swift goes further, warning that Ireland cannot be afraid of England’s wrath for the attempt to enrich themselves since the export of baby meat is impossible because of its delicate properties (Swift 12). This final statement loops over all previously expressed ideas and suggestions, pointing to England’s connections with the search for alternative ways to combat hunger and poverty for the sake of survival. Moreover, immunity, prudence, and at the same time the naivety of the narrator, who does not feel pity for either women or children or the starving society as a whole, reinforces the irony that sets the satirical tone of the whole narrative (Pollard 68). Thereupon, the coverage of England’s inaction regarding poverty and the economic crisis in Ireland’s kingdom and drawing close attention to the unfairness of the situation becomes obvious and impressive thanks to the writer’s satirical rhetoric.

Therefore, the pamphlet ‘A Modest Proposal’ is a vivid example of social satire, which is designed to draw attention to unfairness. Empathizing with the Irish society, Swift uses satire as an effective tool of rhetoric, allowing through pessimism, ridicule, and parody to create the most extensive and relevant subtext calling for change. 


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