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Irony in A Modest Proposal Essay


The Ironic Jonathan Swift

In A Modest Proposal, written by Jonathan Swift, the main objective is to pay attention to the misfortune of the Irish people. Swifts so called modest proposal begins by describing the very real poverty of people in Ireland. Swift presents this situation quite sympathetically, by portraying a surplus of children that cannot be fed, and therefore the children turn into beggars and thieves. Afterward, he creates a persona who is an extreme patriot and draws out a scheme: the possibility of selling poor children in order to improve the quality life of Irish people. His proposal, in effect, is to fatten up these undernourished children and feed them to Ireland's rich land-owners. Children of the poor could be sold into a meat market at the age of one, Swift argues, thus shrinking overpopulation and unemployment, and sparing families the expense of child-bearing while providing poor families with a small extra income. At the same time it also can improve the culinary experience of the wealthy, contribute to the economic well-being of the nation, and reduce the number of papists (216). Moreover, the proposal that Swift considers is not only good for Irish people but also good for ladies and gentlemen (214). Through his detailed scheme and statistics, Swifts persona is a concerned Englishman who is very bright and serious. The story itself is ironic since no one can take Swifts proposal seriously. Although, his scheme sounds ridiculous for readers, A Modest Proposal is an effective project due to Swifts use of irony throughout his article.

Due to the sarcasm of the dreary scene that Swift presents, Swift attempts to fool his readers at the beginning of his story. For example, Swift portrays a real and pathetic society of Ireland in the early eighteenth century. He mentions that it is a melancholy object (212) to see beggars and their children on the street and anywhere. The streets, the roadcrowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, for or six children (Swift 212) However, the sarcastic paradox in this point is whether it is a melancholy object (212) for Swift, who has to see homeless people every day. Further, he confesses that implementing his scheme can reduce voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas (213). Upon first reading this, one may be led to believe that Swift is a compassionate writer attempting to be aware of the pain of the beggars. On the other hand, as the story continues, a reader can look back and notice that he is using a sarcastic tone; in addition, the only sad sight that he sees is the fact that people of his status have to deal with commoners. In the article, The Irony of Swift, the author John Traugott has provided the point of Swifts use of irony: If one had to justify his irony according to the conventional notion of satire, then its satiric efficacy would be to make comfortable non-recognition, the unconsciousness of habit, impossible (36). Thus, Swift has been successful using the satiric tone at the beginning of his modest proposal and attracted the readers attention that makes the reader think twice about any other statements.

As the story continued, Swifts persona progressively draws out the modest proposal. I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or broiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout (213). Incredibly, he appears to be a dehumanized persona in that Swift gives a surprise to readers that immoral and disgusting proposal very calmly. As this extraordinary point that Swift has made here is called the general effect of Swifts irony (John Traugott 37). Moreover, Swift characterizes mothers as breeders, swine and cattle. The children are described as numbers and statistics. Swift does so shrewdly, because statistics are facts and the truth in peoples' minds. The real intention as to why Swift makes his ridiculous scheme detailed and clarified is for setting off the realty of Irishmans life. Similarly, John Traugott states that

As the criticism of vice, folly, or other aberration, by some kind of reference to positive standards. But even here, even in the argument, where Swifts ironic intensity undeniably directs itself to the defense of something that he is intensely concerned to defend, the effect is essentially negative (36).

Thus, in the essay, A Modest Proposal Swift intends to divert his real identity in order to denounce readers. One must take into account the environment in which the story was written. During this time period, the early eighteenth century, the beggars that Swift describes could not read. Indeed, they were uneducated because of limited conditions; also, much less afford to buy one of Swifts works. In other words, Swift was well aware that his audience was the well-to-do upper class. He could write a proposal like this knowing that there would be no repercussions since the upper class would treat this as a comedy. In effect, it is a combination of both propaganda and humor aimed for the educated audience.

Furthermore, the title of his story, A Modest Proposal is indeed ironic as well. The term of a modest proposal would be one which is simple, easy to achieve and unlikely to meet with objections. However, Swifts proposal itself is rather horrific and dehumanized. Swifts uses of sarcasm abuse the devilish of Englishmen who treat Ireland people as the animal. Therefore, as clear as one can consider that the modest proposal actually represents to the most ruthless proposal as accurate meaning. Lastly, Traugott clarifies how Swift uses the irony in his essays, what he [Swift] assumes in the argument is not so much a common acceptance of Christianity as that the reader will be ashamed to have to recognize how fundamentally unchristian his actual assumptions, motives and attitudes are(36). Hence, Swift use irony into the title in order to criticize Englishmen as unrecognizable information; indeed, his whole scheme is satiric as well.

In the article A Modest Proposal, one can spend many hours trying to analyze the words, sentences, and even entire paragraphs in order to find a deeper hidden meaning in this story. Traugott says in the article The Irony of Swift, a great writeryes; that account still imposes itself as fitting, though his greatness is no matter of moral grandeur or human centrality; our sense of it is merely a sense of great force (43) Thus far, A Modest Proposal should be viewed as a fictional work and as the best demonstration of irony. Anything beyond that would be purely hypothetical and distract from the purity of this story.

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