What particular elements of satire are present in Swft's assertion that England will not mind if Ireland eats babies?"A Modest Proposal" by Jonathan Swift

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the wiliest writers of his age and a master of vitriolic satire, Jonathan Swift was both a defender and a critic of the Irish.  In his "A Modest Proposal," Swift defends the Irish economic interest against the English.

When he suggests that the Irish babies be eaten rather than let them starve, Swift implies that England is already figuratively "eating" the Irish through economic starvation, so why not just go ahead and eat the Irish literally?  This "modest proposal" is, perhaps, the best of the imaginative excess of his satire.  It is, indeed, a savage mockery of the economic policies of England and the English politics.

Yet, satire is always intensely moral in its purpose, and Swift's is clearly that.  While he criticizes England, Swift also satirizes the wealth Irish landowners of his time.  Listing a number of alternative solutions to Ireland's problems, such as taxing absentees, leniency on the part of landlords, and, most of all, Ireland's refusing to buy anything other than "native goods," Swift also points to the indifference and neglect with which these social ills have been regarded in Ireland.

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