What are 3 examples of irony in " A Modest Proposal"?

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift is a satirical piece on how to deal with the poor’s problems.  Basically, “Swift suggests that impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies” (enotes topic, see first link).  As the Macgill Book Review notes, “the most powerfully ironic aspect of this essay is rather obvious. The modest proposal is of course anything but modest: It is savage, frightening, perhaps even insane” (Magill Book Reviews, see second link).

Consider the opening sentence, where the speaker pretends to be concerned about the poor.

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 cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for an palms. (para 1)

The irony is that the speaker seems to care, but in actuality his suggestion shows that he does not see the poor as humans and really does not care about their plight, or he would not suggest selling their children to be eaten by the rich.

Another irony is that the passage was intended to make people aware of the plight of the poor and their responsibility toward it, but it is told in Stephen Colbert-style satire, pretending to be in the poor’s best interest.

I also find it ironic that this lovely tongue-in-check essay seems to also get a jab at Americans in.  The passage manages to satirize Ireland, England and American at once.

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 StewedRoastedBaked, or Boyled, and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a Fricasie, or Ragoust. (para 9)


Apparently, Americans are heathens!  We eat our poor babies.


Read the full text here: http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Texts/modest.html