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A Modest Proposal Essay

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A Reading of ‘A Modest Proposal’ concentrating on how Swift criticised the society in which he lived. A Modest Proposal is a satirical pamphlet written by Jonathon Swift in 1729. It outlines the dreadful way in which Catholics were treated by the protestant minority in Ireland during these times. During the time Swift wrote this piece of prose, a series of laws called the ‘Penal Laws’ excluded Catholics from society. They made it illegal for them to own any land and if they made a profit of more than a third of their rent, they could face eviction.

They lived in absolute poverty and had no human rights.

Swift may have written this text for innumerable reasons but one can suggest that there were three main points: (1) to cause outrage and shock in order to get the author, Swift, much attention, (2) to draw attention to the government’s refusal to do anything about child poverty and (3) to draw attention to the plight of the poor by showing that his proposal was no more monstrous than the situation that already existed.

The text works by combining many elements of literary techniques, such as irony, shock tactics and moral pronouncements, in order to create the maximum response possible from the reader- shock.

It can be suggested that this shock was hoped to achieve anger throughout the protestant communities and maybe to cause some civil unrest until something was done about it. The title also covers up what the proposal actually is. In a rough ‘translation’, the title could mean ‘A humble suggestion for preventing the children of the poor from being a burden to their parents as they are of no use to their parents or society, and making them useful to the public’.

Though this ‘translation’ may give an insight to what the suggestion is about, the reader still does not know what it actually is. The text can be split into four parts: (1) the problem, (2) the plan, (3) the solution and (4) the benefits.  The first criticism made by Swift can be found in the first paragraph, ‘It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town… crowded with beggars of the female sex. ‘ This shows that Swift may be implying that the proposal is about the poor people of Ireland.

One may notice that this quotation is also a criticism about how many poor Catholics there are in Ireland and that something should be done about it. The next criticism is in the fourth paragraph ‘supported by her milk for a solar year with little other nourishment. ‘ This could suggest that there is not enough food for Catholics, so they have to feed the babies on just their mothers milk, however, this quotation could just show that babies can survive on just their mothers milk so it could be a statement of fact.

The next criticism can also be found in the fourth paragraph, ‘wanting food and raiment for the rest of their lives. ‘ This can be connected with paragraph one as this may mean that the catholic children would be begging for food and clothing for the rest of their lives unless something is done about it. Another criticism can be found in paragraph six, ‘able to maintain their own children, although I apprehend that there cannot be so many’.

This may appear to some readers that the author is writing about the poor state of Catholics and that they are so poor, that cannot provide for their own children but it could also be translated that Protestants think so badly of Catholics that they do not care how their children are treated. In paragraph seven, there is a further criticism concerning Catholic children. He says that ‘a boy or girls before twelve years old is no salable commodity’ meaning that young children are useless to society.

Swift then compares the poor children to animals in paragraph fifteen, ‘will make admirable gloves for ladies and summer boots for fine gentlemen. ‘ Here, Swift is comparing children’s skin to leather from a cow. Going back to paragraph twelve, yet another criticism can be found within the quotation ‘landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of their parents, seem to nave the best title to the children. ‘ This could be seen as a pun with the word ‘devoured’ literally meaning that the landlord has consumed virtually all of the Catholic’s assets.

By using this word, Swift as linked to the suggestion of eating children by saying that the landlords have already destroyed the Catholic tenants lives, so what difference will it make if they eat their babies? To make this pamphlet seem real, Swift has used a number of literary techniques, for example, he has used a vast amount of irony such as in paragraph twenty eight, he implies eating babies at wedding and christening ceremonies. Swift also uses a large amount of shock tactics, par se, paragraph fifteen, ‘will make admirable gloves for ladies’ Though it may seem true, Swift does not actually mean to eat the children of Catholics.

By suggesting such a hideous and shocking proposal, he would have gained much attention and reveal the way in which Protestants were treating the Catholic majority. Overall, it can be said that this pamphlet was very successful in trying to eliminate racism toward the Catholics but this prejudice can still be seen today between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland and parts of Scotland. It is also a great example to show how satire has changed very little throughout the centuries, for example, ‘The Office’ is set out very much in the same way as A Modest Proposal.

The same techniques can be applied (Irony ect) and some of the same subjects can still apply such as government and other races of people but most of all, this pamphlet shows the reader just how effective using satire is to get the author’s point across successfully. Simon Garlinge Pre 1914 prose coursework first draft Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Jonathan Swift section.

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