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Modest Proposal Essay Research Paper Criticisms in

Modest Proposal Essay, Research Paper

Criticisms in Jonathan Swift?s ?A Modest Proposal? A satire is a literary

work in which human foolishness and vice are criticized. Satire employs humor

and wit to ridicule human institutions or humanity itself, in order that they

might be remodeled or improved (Random House). A Modest Proposal, by Jonathan

Swift is a prime example of a satire. Throughout the piece it is difficult to

know exactly whom and what Swift is criticizing. This is because Swift

criticizes three groups of people and uses metaphors to make the satire work.

Swift ridicules the English for economically oppressing the Irish, the Irish for

being passive and allowing the English to oppress them, and the reader of the

piece for representing all the wrong doings in society. Many of the images that

Swift paints for the reader are images that he witnessed firsthand while he was

in Ireland. He was able to feel what the people were going through and he put

that feeling into his work. The main group of people that Jonathan Swift indicts

is the English. Swift blames the English for creating the environment that the

Irish are living in. He witnessed the Irish people living in poverty while their

absentee landlords were acquiring great wealth. ?The poor tenants will have

something valuable of their own, which by law may be made liable to distress and

help to pay their landlord?s rent, their corn and cattle being already seized,

and money a thing unknown? (Swift). Swift illustrates how the British

politicians were making laws, to govern the Irish, from afar. Rather than

directly accusing the English of economically oppressing the Irish, Swift

implies it. He uses metaphors to convey his thoughts. The entire and

significantly horrible idea of cannibalism is a metaphor that Swift uses. The

British felt that the laws that they were passing were good and just laws, when

in actuality all they were doing was making the landlords gain more wealth. ?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? (Swift). This is an example of the distancing effect

that Swift puts on the metaphor. He distances the reader from the actual

feelings that he should be experiencing. The vocabulary that Swift employees,

forces the reader to focus on economic opportunities rather than the necessities

of the poor. In the same way that Swift felt the English had been doing all

along. Using the word ?devoured? is very powerful and it goes beyond the

ordinary language associated with economics. It demands that the reader

interpret the text in the manner that Swift has decided he should. The cruelty

of the text continues on throughout the quote. This reader is shocked by the

violence that is created by the economic situation. It makes the landlords

appear as if they are actually devouring their tenants rather than protecting

them. By using language Swift is able to go a step further and create double

meanings out of the words. For example in the last quote from the proposal, the

word ?dear? can be taken two ways. The first meaning, as it appears, a

precious thing. The second meaning of the word dear can be taken as a key to the

value of money, something the English keep taking from the Irish. By selling the

children, economic gains can be made to profit the English and Irish alike.

Swift choose his word carefully in order to convey what he witnessed in Ireland.

The English were devouring the Irish and sending them into devastating depths of

poverty. The second party that Swift criticizes is the Irish. By saying that the

Irish can sell their children on the market for money implies two things: One

that the English have oppressed them beyond a limit of rationality and two that

the Irish are letting the English take advantage of them. Swift paints the Irish

as a group of pushovers that would sell their children for money rather than

stand up for their rights. Swift makes the point that the Irish have been so

harmed by the laws that they take more care in their livestock than their

families. Swift indicts the Irish when he says that if the children were put to

market, men would treat wives with more respect and child would have better

care. ?We should see an honest emulation among the married women, which of

them could bring the fattest child to the market. Men would become as fond of

their wives during the time of their pregnancy as they are now of their mares in

foal, their cows in calf, their sows when they are ready to farrow; nor offer to

beat or kick them (as is too frequent a practice) for fear of a miscarriage?

(Swift). This example shows how the Irish were passively allowing the English to

oppress them. By taking more care of their livestock then their families, the

Irish played the game that the English wanted them to. If a man were to put more

effort into his wife and children than his animals, he would not be able to make

enough money to satisfy the government. Swift wanted the people to see what was

going on. He wanted them to wake up. Swift was making the point that the Irish

did not stand up to the government, thus allowing the English to continue doing

what they were doing. The third party that Swift indicts is the reader. As the

piece begins the reader will soon become aware of the problem that the Irish

face, poverty. The readers are forced to make a moral decision on the matter.

Swift highlights that a changes need to be made in order for the problems to be

taken care of. ?I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious

number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their

mothers, and frequently of their fathers, is in the present deplorable state of

the kingdom a very great additional grievance; and, therefore, whoever could

find out a fair, cheap, and easy method of making these children sound, useful

members of the commonwealth, would deserve so well of the public as to have his

statue set up for a preserver of the nation? (Swift). This demonstrates a

central theme in any satire. The way that Swift connects the reader to the

problem puts the reader in a state of unease. It bothers the reader for example

when they get to the long list of advantages that come from Swift?s proposal.

The list continues on long after the reader has accepted the fact that it should

never have began. ?For first, as I have already observed, it would lessen the

number of papists? Secondly, The poorer tenants will have something valuable

of their own?Thirdly?the nation?s stock will be thereby increased fifty

thousand pounds per annum?Fourthly?constant breeders?will be rid of the

charge of maintaining them after the first year?Fifthly, This food would bring

great custom to taverns?Sixthly, this would be a great inducement to

marriage?? (Swift). The state of unease that Swift puts the reader into is

the result of pure guilt. The reader begins to understand that they are somewhat

accountable for the problems that the Irish face. The reader understands that he

has quietly sat back and let the English establish laws that oppress the Irish.

Swift says it is inhumane to let fellow humans be treated in the manner that the

English treated the Irish. Jonathan Swift has a knack for making others feel

uncomfortable. In much of his work he was able to make the readers uneasy. Using

his wittiness and creativeness, Swift makes his readers face their ?moral

inadequacies? (Norton). ?He actually compels us to enjoy the process of

being brought to such awareness? (Norton). The literary gifts that Swift has

make him an effective satirical writer. He has a way of making the most extreme

statements appear disguised in the abstraction of metaphor. Using his ability he

is able to indict the English for economically oppressing the Irish, the Irish

for allowing the English to oppress them, and the readers for letting members of

their race be taken advantage of in A Modest Proposal.

1. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, vol. 2. (New York: W.W. Norton

& Company, 1995) 427-430, 483-489. 2. Swift, Jonathan, A Modest Proposal,

published in The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces, vol.2 (New York: W.W.

Norton & Company, 1995) 483-489. 3. Webster?s College Dictionary, 3rd ed.

(New York: Random House, 1995) 1193

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