A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

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What are three examples of irony in A Modest Proposal?

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Irony is continually present in A Modest Proposal, not least in the title since, if intended seriously, Swift’s proposal would be far from modest but very radical indeed. He writes that his idea would prevent “that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children ... which would move tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast.”

Though the practice he describes is, in fact, horrid, the irony lies in his solution being even more appalling. This is a common feature of the essay, since there is no doubt that the real situation Swift describes is very dire and could be made the subject of a great deal of pathos without the monstrous solution he proposes.

Later in the essay, Swift say that some people “of a desponding spirit” are overly concerned about the poor “who are aged, diseased or maimed” and therefore unfit for human consumption. For this difficulty, he offers some ironic comfort, saying that no solution is necessary:

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.

Finally, Swift ironically pretends that his solution is so attractive that he may be suspected of having some children to sell himself and protests that he personally will not profit from the scheme:

I profess in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the public good of my country, by advancing our trade, providing for infants, relieving the poor, and giving some pleasure to the rich. I have no children, by which I can propose to get a single penny; the youngest being nine years old, and my wife past child-bearing.

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Irony in literature refers to stating the opposite of what thinks or knows to be true for satirical effect. One example of irony in "A Modest Proposal" is Swift's statement that "These Mothers instead of being able to work for their honest livelyhood [livelihood], are forced to employ all their time in Stroling, to beg Sustenance for their helpless Infants." The mothers Swift refers to are starving and are far from enjoying their lives while strolling. In fact, they are reduced to begging in order to survive, so Swift's reference to their leisured strolling is ironic in nature. 

Swift goes on to write that whoever can figure out how to make poor children in Ireland productive members of the country in a cheap and efficient manner "would deserve so well of the publick, as to have his Statue set up for a preserver of the Nation." This is also an...

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