In "A Modest Proposal" by Jonathan Swift, what are the different types of persuasive techniques used? Provide concrete examples from the text.

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shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Any analysis of Jonathan Swift's “A Modest Proposal” must deal with the fact that the essay is first and foremost a satirical piece. Swift is using the essay to create a farcical situation in which the speaker (who is not intended to represent Swift himself) seems to be advocating the eating of children as a means to alleviate suffering, over-crowding, and a bothersome lower class.

Because Swift does not really mean what he is saying, the primary technique used in the essay is irony. Irony is something surprising or unexpected, often the last thing a reader would expect to encounter. When Swift opens the essay with a description of the problems associated with urban poverty, the reader is expecting some sort of logical proposal to improve the situation. That is not what he gets. 

The speaker takes his time to build his case, using other persuasive techniques such as 

  • Statistics—in paragraph six the speaker calculates the number of children born annually to poor parents.
  • Bandwagon—in paragraph two the speaker starts off with “I think it is agreed by all parties” and then goes on to state that there are too many poor children and a solution to the problem needs to be found.
  • Logical Appeal—in paragraph four the speaker claims to have a solution that will not only save poor parents the expense of raising children, but will actually bring them money.

It is not until paragraph nine that the speaker finally unveils his grand idea:

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust.

From this point forward, everything becomes intensely ironic, as the speaker builds his case for this preposterous idea. Swift's intent is to use his speaker to highlight the dispassionate cruelty of the ruling British and the practical coldness of the scientific elite of the Enlightenment period.


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