A Modest Proposal Questions and Answers
by Jonathan Swift

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What literary devices does Jonathan Swift use in "A Modest Proposal"?

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While Swift's 1729 piece is a social satire, it also employs dark humor to help him get his point across:

A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends, and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt, will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter.

Swift uses the two cultural taboos of infanticide and cannibalism to present a darkly humorous and absurd solution to a complex social problem.

The technique of reductio ad absurdum, or to argue one's position by reducing an opposing argument to absurdity, is also used. For example,

I think it is agreed by all parties, that this prodigious number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their mothers, and frequently of their fathers, is in the present deplorable state of the kingdom … cheap and easy method of making these children sound and useful members of the common-wealth, would deserve so well of the publick,...

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