In "A Modest Proposal," how does Swift use pathos to enhance his argument? 

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Swift’s central argument in A Modest Proposal is that children should not eternally remain the financial burden of their parents, and that the people and government of Ireland should take steps to ensure that children do not become beggars, but rather productive members of society. It is a satirical piece...

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Swift’s central argument in A Modest Proposal is that children should not eternally remain the financial burden of their parents, and that the people and government of Ireland should take steps to ensure that children do not become beggars, but rather productive members of society. It is a satirical piece because Swift sardonically suggests that the vast majority of Irish children should be used to make stews and ragu and their skin should be used to produce clothing.

The use of pathos in his work is conveyed whenever he attempts to convince his reader of this argument not by reference to logic or facts, but rather through the passion and emotionality of his writing itself. For example, early in the essay, he says,

whoever could find out a fair, cheap and easy method of making these children sound and 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.

The use of the words “deserve” and the imagery he evokes of heroism—the fulfillment of his wishes honored with the erection of a statue—are examples of the use of pathos in his writing.

One of the sharpest barbs in Swift’s essay comes toward the end, when he rejects any possible exceptions to his proposal for reducing the population. Eating children is obviously reprehensible, but Swift playfully promotes it as Ireland’s last resort. He goes on to say that one should not bother him with alternative, reasonable solutions to Ireland’s population problem, such as

Of utterly rejecting the materials and instruments that promote foreign luxury: Of curing the expensiveness of pride, vanity, idleness, and gaming in our women: Of introducing a vein of parsimony, prudence and temperance ...

Swift goes on to say that, though these solutions are prudent, the Irish people have never had enough conviction to put them into practice. As he says,

Therefore, I repeat, let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients, 'till he hath at least some glimpse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice.

The irony here that Swift is pointing out is that by this point in history, his almost seems to be a more likely scenario (the eating of children and turning them into leather) to be used to control the population than these other, more reasonable—and obviously preferable—methods. Because Ireland has never been willing to implement the moderate and healthy, the only option left is the extreme and macabre. Swift’s utter rejection of Ireland’s ability to engage in population reform via civilized means is a form of sardonic pathos. Obviously, he does not really believe that wealthy Irish families should start eating the children of peasants. He is using emotive language and extreme imagery to point out Ireland’s failure to intelligently deal with a serious social issue.

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In the first paragraph, the speaker uses words like "melancholy," "rags," "beggars," and "helpless." These all paint a fairly pathetic picture of what is happening in Ireland, as Irish peasants of all ages beg anyone and everyone for a penny. He wants to raise sympathy for these individuals so that his proposal will become more acceptable because it would, in his view, provide a means by which these individuals can improve their lives (as well as provide a valuable food source that will increase customers for the owners of taverns and so forth). The speaker's use of pathos is actually ironic because he appears to be quite compassionate and sympathetic toward these individuals, but he is about to suggest that the peasants have babies and raise them until their first birthdays and then sell them as a food source to the rich English. This is hardly a proposal that we would expect from a person who is actually sympathetic. This irony ought to help readers to understand that this text is satirical, though some of Swift's contemporaries missed the point and thought he was serious!

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Pathos is emotional appeal, and Swift's narrator spends the opening paragraphs of "A Modest Proposal" painting a heart-rending picture of the plight of the Irish poor. The narrator appears quite moved by their situation, describing "the streets, the roads and cabbin-doors crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags," followed by noting that some of the people are so desperate they sell themselves into slavery or commit infanticide because they can't support their children The narrator invites us into compassion with the poor and talks in reasonable terms about being sure everyone wants a solution to the problem of poverty. Having drawn a vivid portrait of a country overrun with ragged, begging women and children, the narrator's "proposal" then shocks all the more in its hard-hearted rationalism. Our feelings of compassion and pity having been aroused for the poor, it is all the more repulsive to us to contemplate eating their one-year-old babies.

Later in the essay, Swift use pathos to describe the plight of the older poor in a way they raises our pity:

Some persons of a desponding spirit are in great concern about that vast number of poor people, who are aged, diseased, or maimed; and I have been desired to employ my thoughts what course may be taken, to ease the nation of so grievous an incumbrance. But I am not in the least pain upon that matter, because it is very well known, that they are every day dying, and rotting, by cold and famine, and filth, and vermin, as fast as can be reasonably expected. And as to the young labourers, they are now in almost as hopeful a condition. They cannot get work, and consequently pine away from want of nourishment, to a degree, that if at any time they are accidentally hired to common labour, they have not strength to perform it, and thus the country and themselves are happily delivered from the evils to come.

However, the narrator, having painted such a picture of suffering, dismisses it: these people are already dying quickly, he says, so not to worry. Again, the juxtaposition of pathetic descriptions of the dying poor and the narrator's cold-hearted contention that their death solves our problems jars and upsets us. 

Needless to say, Swift used pathos on purpose to heighten the effect of his essay. 

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