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At what point in the essay "Modest Proposal" do you begin to suspect that Swift is...

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gudu | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) eNoter

Posted February 26, 2010 at 6:30 AM via web

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At what point in the essay "Modest Proposal" do you begin to suspect that Swift is using irony? What additonal evidence of irony can you find?

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Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted February 26, 2010 at 7:56 AM (Answer #1)

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Swift uses irony in the entirety of his essay, "A Modest Proposal."  Most readers probably realize that he is using irony and writing satire when he actually reveals his "modest" proposal.  Swift writes that he has been assured by a "very knowing American" that a child is "...a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food,..."  Then he announces his proposal:

I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration, that of the hundred and twenty thousand children, already computed, twenty thousand may be reserved for breed,...[and that] the remaining hundred thousand may at a year old be offered in sale to the persons of quality, and fortune, through the kingdom, always advising the mother to let them suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump, and fat for a good table.

It's possible that some readers may suspect sooner, but most will know once the lines above are read.  This is certainly the point at which readers recognize the title is ironic:  the speaker's proposal is anything but modest.

 

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