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Satire, Humor, and Shock Value in Swifts' A Modest Proposal Essay

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Satire, Humor, and Shock Value in Swifts' A Modest Proposal


Swift's message to the English government in "A Modest Proposal" deals with the disgusting state of the English-Irish common people. Swift, as the narrator expresses pity for the poor and oppressed, while maintaining his social status far above them. The poor and oppressed that he refers to are Catholics, peasants, and the poor homeless men, women, and children of the kingdom. This is what Swift is trying to make the English government, in particular the Parliament aware of; the great socioeconomic distance between the increasing number of peasants and the aristocracy, and the effects thereof. Swift conveys his message in a brilliant essay, in which he uses satire, humor and shock value.

Swift pursues his main point in the first paragraph:
It is a melancholy object to those who walk through [Dublin]
. . .when they see . . .beggars of the female sex, followed by
three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every
passenger for an alms. These mothers instead of being able
to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all
their time in strolling to beg sustenance for their helpless
infants, who, as they grow up, either turn thieves for want of
work or fight for the Pretender in Spain. (2181)

The last statement regarding the Pretender in Spain is a stab at Catholicism, the Pretender, being the Catholic James II, claimant to the English crown. In fact, Catholics are the butt of many sardonic jokes in the essay. ...


... middle of paper ...


...and hammering the "condemning social statement" into the reader.

Swift goes beyond just describing the socioeconomic distance between the aristocracy and the poor. He goes beyond showing the deplorable state of the country. Swift clearly shows the ludicrous nature of the society in which he lived, the feudal system, religious conflicts, the lack of social mobility, the aristocracy, and overpopulation. In condemning Catholics, he is condemning the Irish. In making the Irish out to be a problem that can be solved by this proposal, he shows his disapproval of English involvement in Irish affairs, and furthermore, the expanding British Empire. Thus "A Modest Proposal" does not present an answer to the societal problems of its day, but ultimately raises more questions. Not questions of fact, but questions of a profound socio-philosophical nature.


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