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Jonathan Swifts A Modest Proposal (1729) is one of the greatest satires written in history. It deals with overpopulation and undernourishment problems in Ireland. Swift makes a very interesting proposal, to put an end to all this problems. As the reader starts reading several questions pop into his mind. What exactly is the narrators so called modest proposal? What is Swifts real purpose in his essay? What changes does he hope for Ireland? Whose hearts and minds does Swift hope to influence? And whom does he blame for the poverty in England? In the following essay I will try to explain what I think was his real purpose.
I will try to interpret why Swift made use of this type of satire. Also I will make a special emphasis on his very peculiar selection of language throughout his proposal.
Swift is very concerned about the crisis that is going on in Ireland, that is why he dares to give such a powerful suggestion to end Irelands troubles concerning poverty.
What exactly is the purpose of his proposal? He tries to qualify his proposal by saying, “it is very well known that they are dying, and rotting, by cold and famine, and filth, and vermin … they cannot get work and consequently pine away for want of nourish. (pg.480) Once a reader understands this, he can see the true purpose of his proposal. He wants to lower the population of beggars in his country, so what better way to do it than by putting an end to the younger generation of beggars? This is also proven since throughout the story he only mentions that the upper class of society would be able to purchase the sacrificial children.
The upper class would also take the carcasses and use them to, “make admirable gloves for ladies summer boots for fine gentlemen.(pg.479) Also, when he makes his calculations as to how many children would be available for sale, he never takes into account the children from the rich families. In short, Swifts message is that rich children serve a purpose, the advancement of Ireland, while poor children are nothing but a burden to the republic. It is a clear example of the ridiculousness of Swifts proposal. But then I asked myself, can there be such a grotesque man that truly wants this for his countrys children? And it is then that I truly realized that Swifts real purpose of his proposal was to alarm his people of the critical situation that was going on in Ireland. He believed that this was the only way to really catch their attention. And this proposal was intended to make the upper class examine the conditions under which the lower class lived. In fact it was intended to help the lower class to gain more recognition from the upper class.
Another important observation that I made from A modest Proposal was Swifts target or for whom was the proposal written to. Back in those times, and still today, its extremely important to be very focused on the audience that the author intends to reach. First of all, one must take into account the environment in which the story was written. During this time period, the beggars that Swift describes could not read, much less afford to buy one of Swifts works. Swift was well aware that his audience was the well-to-do upper class. He could write proposal like this knowing that there would be no repercussions since the upper class would treat this as a comedy. Actually, the lower class could have revolted fearing that their children were in danger if they knew of the story. In effect, it is a combination of both propaganda and humor aimed for the educated audience. I believe that Swift thought of all the possibilities before realizing this essay, knowing that I could create a catastrophe.
Throughout the essay, Swift has a very unique and cold use of language. He picked strong, powerful words to get his message across his audience. The preciseness of Swifts language is one of the things that made this proposal so powerful. The perfect balanced combination of his words, with that satire/sarcasm makes this a true masterpiece. We observe such a good example when Swift attempts to fool his readers by the sarcasm of the dreary scene that he presents. He mentions that it is a melancholy sight to see beggars and their children on the street. The sarcastic paradox in this statement is whether it is a melancholy object for him, having to see homeless people every day, or for the beggars lifestyle? Upon first reading this one may be led to believe that Swift is a compassionate writer attempting to feel the pain of the beggars. But as the story continues, a reader can look back and note that he is using a sarcastic tone and the only sad sight that he sees is the fact that people of his status have to deal with commoners. It is a good combination that makes the reader think twice about any other statements, and the voice used, after the first paragraph. Swift does not hesitate to use cold and cruel words. He states a child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends (pg.479) As said before, these are cruel words, and come hard to a sane person ears. His essay is full of descriptive phrases. I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration that of the hundred and twenty thousand children already computed, twenty thousand may be reserved for breed, whereof only one-fourth part to be males; which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle or swine Sick words! As he proposes the use of children as if they were cattle, how they should be slaughtered, and then always keeping in mind others to be kept as reserves. Though these words are not taken into consideration by the majority of the readers, I thought of them as one of the most efficient tools used in Swifts proposal.
One can spend many hours trying to analyze the words, the sentences and even entire paragraphs to find a deeper hidden meaning in this story. Yet, this story should be viewed as a fictional work and as one of the best demonstrations of dual sarcasm and satire combined. Anything beyond that would be purely hypothetical and would distract from the purity of this story.
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