Good Example Of The Power Of Satire: Essay

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Sociology, Poor, Ireland, Poverty, Satire, Family, Wellness, The Reader

Pages: 3

Words: 825

Published: 2020/10/21

A Critical Evaluation of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”

“A Modest Proposal” arrived to the Irish people when it was most needed. Jonathan Swift published this brilliant essay anonymously during a time of much distress and social unrest in Ireland. There was a growing gap between the rich and the poor, and the oppression by the English was only increasing (Baker). That being the case, Jonathan Swift published an outlandish and provocative proposal that drew much attention. Through his use of satire and hyperbole, he makes an extremely convincing argument that something needs to be done about the social issues plaguing Ireland, especially concerning the poor.
Swift’s argument succeeds in a multitude of ways. Perhaps the biggest strength in Swift’s argument is in approach. It is true that Swift proposes that the way to solve the social issues is to eat children born to poor families. However, he simply uses this approach to shock the readers into listening. Contrary to the traditional argument that makes claims and supports those claims, Swift presents a strange, morbid, unethical, and outlandish claim. Yet, he still employs the same rhetorical strategies of supporting those claims logically and with extensive support. The effect is both hilarious and profound. Through this backwards approach, he illuminates an issue that people were living with for years without opposition. Instead of blatantly calling out the government, an offense that could have gotten him killed, Swift uses satire and hyperbole to reveal the truth, and in a way that truly sinks in.
The approach has all the more impact because of the structure of his essay. Using appeals to logos and ethos, Swift outlines his proposal with tone and authority. He is diligent and thorough as he goes through the process. In the first few paragraphs, he explains why such a need exists. Next, he outlines his proposal, an absurd and brilliant appeal to pathos. The proposal, which states that eating infants would solve the social crisis between the rich and poor, is so absurd it grabs the reader’s attention, but as Swift presents it so matter-of-factly, the reader is also caught going along with it for a short time. His absolute seriousness in presenting his proposal is tantamount to its success. He does so in earnest, and his purpose is not to make a joke; rather he is using absurdity to reveal truth about a very serious social issue. Then, Swift appeals to logos once more as he outlines in very real terms the resources needed to carry out his proposal and the benefits that would result. These figures of “two shillings per annum” and “ten shillings per annum” (Swift) only heighten the absurdity and the effect. Following on from this, he outlines all of the advantages of his proposal and how exactly they will help resolve the social issues. Again he employs appeals to logos and ethos through excellent structure and an extremely professional tone. This carries the reader to the end of the essay.
Another huge success of Swift’s essay is his subtle biting remarks that are aimed at the rich and hidden within the text. For example, Swift writes, “I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.” This sentence reveals the greater truth behind the proposal, that the rich have already consumed the poor in a manner of speaking. The effect in cutting. Near the end of the proposal he states, “ask the parents of these mortals, whether they would not at this day think it a great happiness to have been sold for food, at a year old in the manner I prescribe, and thereby have avoided such a perpetual scene of misfortunes as they have since gone through by the oppression of landlords, the impossibility of paying rent without money or trade, the want of common sustenance, with neither house nor clothes to cover them from the inclemencies of the weather, and the most inevitable prospect of entailing the like or greater miseries upon their breed for ever” (Swift). This again reminds the readers of the truths and injustices that have already been done. He includes these statements naturally, which doesn’t detract from the satire driving the piece.
In the last paragraph Swift establishes common ground with his reader claiming that he has investment whatsoever in his proposal besides doing it for his country. This is a classic rhetorical device, but it is also amplifies his satire all the more. Overall, Swift succeeds tremendously throughout the essay and the impact is unforgettable. The essay is incredibly clever and came to the Irish people at a much needed time.

Works Cited

Baker, Lyman. “Conditions in Early Eighteenth-Century Ireland.” 1999. Web. 30 Jan. 2015.
Swift, Jonathan. “A Modest Proposal.” 1729. Print.

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