Satire and Colonialism in the eighteenth century: 'A Modest Proposal' and 'Gulliver's Travels'

Categories: Satire

Jonathan Swift is an eighteen century English writer. I am going to have a look at two of his satirical texts, ‘A Modest Proposal’ and ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. They are both satirising The English ruling class and government. I personally think that satire is used by writers and people to make fun of something or other people, but in a more clever way, and sometimes the targets of satire don’t realise that are being satirised.

Swift was a member of the English Ruling Society during the eighteenth century, but in all of his novels he is satirising the English Ruling Class and the English government.

Almost all of the books that he has wrote were published anonymously, because he was also satirising the English Monarchy. After the publication of ‘Gulliver’s Travel’ Swift was nearly arrested and he knew that this was going to be the end of his writing career. Although Swift was a stout defender of the Protestant Church of England, he was chosen as a deacon in the Church of Ireland.

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At that time the politics party Whigs were the leading party in power, but he supported the other political party, the Tories. In his books and novels Swift was attacking ruthlessly the Whigs.

In the eighteenth century when Swift was writing English and Irish Protestants were controlling the Irish Catholics. Catholics were not allowed in a position of authority and power. The harder a Catholic worked the more likely he or she would be punished. A law was designed to keep people poor.

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By 1750 the Catholics owned only seven percent of the land in Ireland, but ninety-five percent of the population were Catholic. This shows that a small group people can be the result of mass poverty and pain. This is a perfect example of colonialism. A group of people go into a country that it’s not their own, and they try to convert their way of life with religion, language and conventions. In my opinion the way the Protestants were ruling over Catholics was disgraceful, because they were treating them like animals by keeping a large amount of people in a small area like chickens.

I will now consider the use of satire in Swift’s Text, ‘A Modest Proposal’. In the text Sift is satirising the English ruling class and the way that English government treated the Irish Catholics. In the text Swift is suggesting that Irish babies should be eaten because there are too many poor people and the poor people can sell their children. Swift is also saying that there will be many advantages for almost everyone. For example the baby meat is expensive, so the pubs that sell it will make a good profit.

When I first read ‘A Modest Proposal’ I couldn’t believe what was I actually reading. Then after a couple of minutes of wondering I understood that this genre is called satire and that it is satirising the English Ruling class at that time. When Swift says that ‘ ten shillings for the carcass of a good fat child, which , as I have said , will make four dishes of excellent nutritive meat, when he hath only some particular friends or his own family to dine with him. Thus the square will learn to be a good landlord, and grow popular among his tenants…” I think that from h the reader begins to grasp that the text is satirical. A baby can’t really be ‘nutritive meat’ and there weren’t many “good” landlords.

A lot of satirical techniques are used in ‘A Modest Proposal’. At the beginning Swift uses a very believable beginning, “It is a melancholy object those who walk through this great town or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the road, and the cabin doors”. Also he uses a lot of unexpected words such as “baked”, “boiled”, “roasted” when he is referring to how to cook the babies. Another good example here is how he refers to the parents. Swift is comparing the parents of the children with animals “sheep, black cattle or swine”.

Another technique that Swift uses is exaggeration and this is shown throughout the whole text, “Those who are more thrifty (as I must confess the times require) may flay the carcass; the skin of which artificially dressed will make admirable gloves for ladies, and summer boots for fine generation.” Swift uses a lot of irony as well in ‘A Modest Proposal’. A perfect example is the way that he ironically praises the English Ruling Class. “having no other motive than the public good of my country, by advancing our trade, providing for infants, relieving the poor, and giving some pleasure to the rich.”

Swift uses a lot of odd comparisons to shock the reader and to shock the other landlords from the ruling society of England. He is comparing people to animals and babies to meat and food.

Swift’s text ‘A Modest Proposal’ satirises the Anglo-Irish Ruling society. Swift is aware that there are too many poor women with children begging on the streets, so he is suggesting a “fair, cheap and easy method of making these children sound, useful members of the commonwealth”

This shows that the whole English Ruling Society is thinking only of money and nothing else and by writing that ridiculous proposal he is highlighting that arrogance of Swift’s fellow ruling class.

Terry Jones who is a writer and satirist gives his opinion on “A Modest Proposal” “A Modest Proposal is still relevant today. I think Swift goes to the heart of the values that have taken over our country.” Jones thinks that the text is still relevant to today’s politics and society. He suggests that the way English ruling class was looking only for money just like today’s government and politicians.

Moreover hand Katrina Dunbar, from Shelter, believes that, “We find we are up constantly against battle of people wanting to argue about, for example, whether there are eight thousand or nine thousand people sleeping on our streets. What I want to say to them is: wake up! if there are ten people sleeping on the streets, that is tragic in 1993” Dunbar suggests that by writing “A Modest Proposal” Swift made the English ruling class look at themselves and make some changes in the way they governed the country and the way they treated the Catholics.

I am going to look now at another text that Swift wrote called “Gulliver’s Travels”. The opening of Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” is very believable at the beginning, but soon it becomes satirical. The most obvious technique that tell the reader that the whole novel is not a straightforward autobiography are the satirical techniques that Swift uses. Swift uses quite a lot of unexpected words such as “Lilliputians” and “Blefescu”. Another things is the size of the people. The beginning is very believable, but when he starts to talk about the size of the people that live on the island the reader realises that it is not true.

When Gulliver is thrown by the sea on the Lilliputians’ island, the people that find him are very scared of him, but when the Lilliputian army comes they start to treat him as a slave.

The Lilliputians agree that with him that Gulliver can live with the, but they give him nine rules that he has to obey. This show that they don’t think well of him, that he can be a danger to them; but they still use him as a slave and to help them fight in their war. The Lilliputians are being completely arrogant.

When Swift writes about the places that Gulliver has visited, he is actually using another satirical technique which is the use of unexpected words and fake facts and statistics. All the names for the places that are being used, are actually names for the English ruling class and the Irish people. This way Swift is showing the way how English ruling society was treating the Irish Catholics. In that case the war between the Lilliputians and the Big Enders, Swift is comparing them to the Roman Catholics and the Lilliputians are the Protestants. The Tramecksans and Slameckans probably stand for the two main political parties at that time the Whigs and the Tories.

At the end Gulliver becomes a hero. He saves the queen form the fire by basically “pissing on the monarchy” by putting the fire out and he is given a very great award. In that part Swift is satirising the English queen and the whole of English ruling society.

In the Second section of the novel Gulliver travels to the country of Brobdignag, where the roles are reversed; he goes form being very big to being the small one. This shift changes the perspective of the novel considerably and makes us look at the Lilliputians as if they are English. In the novel the Swift describes the Lilliputian aristocracy as they thinks they are the greatest, smartest and unbeatable. The king rules and although he is not the smartest, everyone listens to him. Maybe Swift was expressing his thoughts about the English aristocracy and he is again satirising the queen of England

When Gulliver starts to explain to the king of Brobdignag what England is like, the king is shocked by all the violence, crime, religion problems and corruption in the government. By saying that in the novel, Swift is once again satirising the English ruling society by showing how many problems they have that and that the country needs a lot of improvements: ” a free licence is given to all acts of inhumanity and lust, the earth reeking with blood of its inhabitants : and this execrable crew of butchers employed in so pious an expedition, is a modern colony”. This shows that Swift is saying exactly the opposite about England and their government. He is also satirising the ruling class that he is a member of.

In the novel Gulliver gives a very detailed explanation to the king of Brobdignag about the English Parliament, the Church, the Justice system and the economy. At the end he leaves a very negative view of England and the king is not very happy with it. All that Swift wrote about England’s government and the Queen caused great offence and Swift never felt able to work in England again. Once again he is satirising his own country.

After his adventures in Brobdignag, Gulliver travels to the island of Laputa. In this section Swift is representing the people of the island as the English ruling society. The people that live on the island never know where they are flying to and they always have something to think about. Swift is actually comparing the people of Laputa with the English society and especially the government. When they start to bomb the island below them where the wife of the king lives, Swift is showing how England was treating the Irish Catholics at that time. “If any should engage in rebellion or mutiny, fall into violent factions, or refuse to pay the usual tribute, the King hath two methods of reducing them to obedience.” This is showing how one group of people can hurt another. In Ireland it was more to do with money and laws. Swift is almost saying that it compares to violence.

In the final section of the novel Gulliver travels to the island of the Yahoos. There he meets with talking horses and the strange human race of the Yahoos.

Swift represents the Yahoos as half people half animals. Even the horses are more clever then them and the animals are actually in charge of the island. By giving the reader a description of what the Yahoos are and how they behave, Swift is actually saying how savage the whole human race is. The writer is satirising the humans and their way of life, their behaviour and I think that Swift is actually representing the Yahoos as the English society to satirise them.

At the end of the novel Swift is saying how great England is because of the other countries they have colonised, but he is actually saying exactly the opposite of what he thinks.

I think that Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’ and ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ are perfectly satirising the English ruling society and government. I personally like it and think it is very true. I think that some of the ideas in both of the text are still relevant today and they don’t only refer to English people, but to almost all of the other countries especially the idea about the way that the Ruling Society treats the lower class people like the Irish Catholics.

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Satire and Colonialism in the eighteenth century: 'A Modest Proposal' and 'Gulliver's Travels'. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

Satire and Colonialism in the eighteenth century: 'A Modest Proposal' and 'Gulliver's Travels'

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