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Arts Culture STEM Competition Tuesday 16th April 2024 Industry Opinion Local Nations

A Modest Proposal: Jonathan Swift's Satirical Essay


"A Modest Proposal," written by Jonathan Swift in 1729, is a Juvenalian satirical essay that suggests a shocking solution to ease the economic troubles of impoverished Irish people: selling their children as food to rich gentlemen and ladies. This hyperbolic proposal is a critique of heartless attitudes towards the poor, particularly the Irish Catholic population, and British policies towards the Irish.

Swift's essay is renowned for its sustained irony and shock value. It begins by vividly describing the plight of starving beggars in Ireland, leading readers to expect a serious proposal. However, the essay takes a surprising turn when Swift proposes that well-nursed, healthy children can be a delicious and nourishing food. He even provides detailed suggestions for preparing and cooking the children, as well as calculations to show the financial benefits of his suggestion.

The essay also critiques the can-do spirit of the times, which led to illogical schemes to solve social and economic issues. Swift mocks projects that proposed simplistic solutions to complex problems, such as the idea of running the poor through a joint-stock company.

In addition to criticizing these projects, Swift targets the calculating way people perceived the poor, viewing them as commodities. He uses statistical analysis ironically to show the absurdity of trying to justify cruelty with dispassionate statistics.

Swift's rhetorical style persuades readers to detest the speaker and pity the Irish. He creates sympathy for the Irish and disdain for the narrator, who shows emotion only for his own class. Swift also degrades the Irish by using language usually reserved for animals, highlighting the dehumanization of the poor.

Scholars have speculated about the influences on Swift's essay. It has been compared to Tertullian's Apology, which satirically attacked early Roman persecution of Christianity. Swift's work also responds to Daniel Defoe's essay on preventing murder and other abuses, as well as Bernard Mandeville's proposal for public bordellos.

Swift's essay was met with backlash in British society, with members of the aristocracy responding to it. Despite its controversial nature, "A Modest Proposal" is considered a masterpiece of satire and is studied in literature courses as an example of early modern western satire. It continues to be relevant today, serving as a critique of simplistic solutions to complex social and economic issues.

In conclusion, Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" remains a powerful and provocative work that challenges readers to confront their assumptions about poverty, society, and human nature.

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