In A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift, the satiric writing approach can be viewed differently with two types of literary criticism theories. The two theories of literary criticism that best fit into the essay are reader-response and Marxism. The criticism theory of Marxism is present throughout the text and is shown through Irelands lower class struggle in society. The reader-response criticism explains that there can be several meanings to the work and how the reader comprehends the text in comparison to another reader. Therefore, both literary criticisms can be connected to the essay and further explain its significance.
The first literary criticism that best relates to the text is the Marxist theory. Having a Marxist approach underlines the poor economy and emphasizes people of the lower class. When Swifts suggests, It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four or six children, all in rags and importuning ever passenger for an alms (Swift 1). The text also gives examples on how the upper class used, The poorer tenants [who had] something valuable of their own which by law, [was] liable to distress and [to] help to pay their landlords rent, their corn and cattle being already seized, and money unknown (2). The Irish children were used as a commodity; in this case by selling their children to their landlords as food. This approach is still present in the world today and how dominant countries like the United States can buyout other countries for their own benefit. Given such evidence, the economic and social struggles of the lower class can undoubtedly be seen in most parts of the essay. Not only is the Marxist theory fundamental, the reader-response criticism is also essential to the text.
The reading-response criticism emphasizes on how the reader can understand the work and relate it further. The author uses a rhetorical question which makes the reader consider a previously specified solution and if such solution is ethical. When Swift states, How this number shall be reared and provided for, which as I have already said, under the present situation of affairs, is utterly impossible by all the methods hitherto proposed (1), he is allowing the reader to judge the solution and make an assumption on whether his solution can be used or not. Swift acquires the readers confidence and makes his idea seem realistic and practical. He shocks the reader by using infant cannibalism as a way to stop poverty and social issues in Ireland. He says, A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends, and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt, will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter (1). Swift places the concept in the readers mind that he has done this before and has experience with preparing children as food; which is convincing because it is hypothetically possible. Different reading strategies can help the reader understand the text further and give an indication to what the author is truly trying to explain. No doubt the criticism of reader-response was a well-meaning criticism towards this essay because it kept the reader always asking questions.
The Marxist and reader-response theories fit well into the text and truly help show the significance of the satiric essay. The Marxist literary theory exists in the essay as a way of showing economic downturn in the country of Ireland. The reader-response criticism was present in order to challenge the reader in finding concepts and opinions on the work. In final consideration, Swifts satirical solution on baby cannibalism is ridiculous; however he managed to get a point across that something needs to be done about the economy and social issues of Ireland.