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

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There are several forms of irony, but the kind most frequently employed by Jonathan Swift in this work is verbal irony. Verbal irony is when someone says something which is the opposite of what they mean or which is obviously sarcastic.

Swift uses this type of irony right from...

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There are several forms of irony, but the kind most frequently employed by Jonathan Swift in this work is verbal irony. Verbal irony is when someone says something which is the opposite of what they mean or which is obviously sarcastic.

Swift uses this type of irony right from the opening of this piece of work, which is a classic piece of ironic writing. His title, "A Modest Proposal," is openly ironic: what he is proposing is in fact an outrageous and extreme scheme, and the narrator's suggestion that it is "modest" is a clear example of irony.

There are other examples of irony throughout the piece. For example, Swift refers to begging as a "lawful occupation," which it clearly is not—he is here highlighting the fact that the state of poverty of mothers in Ireland had become so extreme that begging had become viewed as something normal and commonplace. Later, Swift notes that an American has told him that a young child is a delicious "wholesome food," however it might be prepared. The type of irony here is one of outright contrariness: the reader knows that no such thing has been said to the narrator, as the idea of eating children is preposterous, but the piece depends upon our suspending our disbelief on this matter. We have to accept as a truth the idea that eating children is a plausible option. This is the fundamental irony of the essay.

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One of the main ironies of this essay is that the clueless narrator keeps insisting that his outrageous proposal is reasonable and humane. Of course, fattening, killing, and eating year-old human babies is anything but kind.

The narrator says, for example, that

It would increase the care and tenderness of mothers towards their children, when they were sure of a settlement for life to the poor babes ...

Ironically, this "settlement for life" is to be killed at one year. And showing care for a baby as a commodity to be sold for slaughter is not a true gesture of tenderness.

The narrator also states:

Men would become as fond of their wives, during the time of their pregnancy, as they are now of their mares in foal, their cows in calf, or sow when they are ready to farrow; nor offer to beat or kick them (as is too frequent a practice) for fear of a miscarriage.

While the narrator is right that it would be better for men not to beat their wives, his scheme is not a humane way to achieve that goal, and the cessation of wife beating is probably not an adequate justification for his proposal.

The narrator also explains a friend's scheme to have the rich pay to hunt poor children for sport when the children are in their early teens, but says that:

And besides, it is not improbable that some scrupulous people might be apt to censure such a practice, (although indeed very unjustly) as a little bordering upon cruelty, which, I confess, hath always been with me the strongest objection against any project, how well soever intended.

It is ironic that the narrator, offering the cruelest of schemes to deal with poverty in Ireland, would say that cruelty is, for him "the strongest objection" to any scheme. It is also ironic that he would find it unjust that this cruel scheme be criticized for cruelty.

Overall, Swift uses irony to expose the harsh conditions in Ireland, and to expose the "bean counter" mentality in which turning a profit becomes more important than human life. ("Bean counting" refers to single-minded obsession with maintaining a budget.) He hoped to shock his audience into considering some more humane way to deal with Ireland's poverty.

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One example of irony is in the title: "A Modest Proposal."  The narrator goes on to propose that the Irish sell their babies to the English as a food source so that the Irish can make a profit, help to support their families, and keep those families from growing too large to support.  Such a proposal is hardly a modest one: "modest," in part, means not being bold, and this proposal is quite bold.  Further, the narrator is hardly modest in making this proposal; he is clearly very proud of his idea and believes that he should be honored for it.  Since irony exists when there is a discrepancy between expectation and reality, calling such a proposal a modest one is certainly ironic.

The narrator says, "whoever could find out a fair, cheap and easy method of making these [impoverished Irish] Children sound and useful Members of the common-wealth would deserve so well of the publick, as to have his Statue set up for a preserver of the Nation."  It is ironic to call his method for dealing with these children -- that they be sold for food, even to use their skin for gloves and boots -- "fair, cheap and easy."  It is not fair that the Irish are in the terrible economic and political position they are in, nor to suggest that they part with their babies and agree to allow them to be eaten.  Further, it would hardly be an easy thing to do: to sell one's child for food.  The discrepancy between the reality of the proposal and the adjectives the speaker uses to describe it creates irony.

Moreover, the speaker also says, "There is likewise another great Advantage in my Scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary Abortions, and that horrid practice of Women murdering their Bastard Children, alas! too frequent among us, Sacrificing the poor innocent Babes, I doubt, more to avoid the Expence, than the Shame, which would move Tears and Pity in the most Savage and inhuman breast."  The speaker prides himself on the fact that his proposal will prevent the "murdering [of] poor innocent Babes" without acknowledgement (or awareness, apparently) that what he's proposing is still murder!  It's just murder for a different reason: not for the purpose of disposing of the child but for making the child "useful" (as he says in the quotation in the paragraph above).  The narrator's willingness to speak out against murder when his proposal relies on murder is certainly ironic.

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