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Jonathan Swift’s essay “A Modest Proposal” is widely regarded as one of the most effective pieces of satire ever written. Among the elements that help make the essay effective are its appeals to logic and emotion as well as its use of parallelism. Examples of these three methods include the following:
Appeal to Emotion
- The very opening sentence of the essay is a superb example of Swift’s appeals to emotion:
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 cabbin-doors crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags, and importuning every passenger for an alms.
This sentence immediately makes us lament the fates of these poor mothers and children and immediately makes us assume that the speaker will try to offer some compassionate and sympathetic solution to the problem he describes. Instead, of course, he ironically suggests that the children should be sold and eaten!
- Another example of Swift’s appeal to emotion appears when the speaker mentions
those voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas! too frequent among us, sacrificing the poor innocent babes . . .
Such phrasing makes us sympathize with the babies and perhaps even with the mothers, although the speaker’s ironic solution is to treat the babies as potential meals.
Appeal to Logic
- Swift’s speaker makes himself seem very logical when, for instance, he very carefully calculates, mathematically, the number of children who will be available for his scheme. His use of logic seems flawless, but it is logic (as Swift knows) in support of a horrendous project. The paragraph beginning “The number of souls in this kingdom being usually reckoned one million and a half” is a perfect example of this kind of impeccable but disgusting logic.
- In general, whenever the speaker mentions numbers and statistics, he is displaying a kind of perverse logic.
- Early in the essay, the speaker refers to a
prodigious number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their mothers, and frequently of their fathers ... [emphasis added]
Here the parallel phrasing helps emphasize the omnipresence of this children, who can be seen almost everywhere. The phrasing also emphasizes that these children are both literal and figurative burdens to their parents. It is partly for this reason that the speaker proposes a
fair, cheap and easy method of making these children sound and useful members of the common-wealth . . . [emphasis added]
Here the parallel uses of these very simple words helps emphasize how simple is the (shocking) solution the speaker proposes.
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