Who was Jonathan Swift's audience in A Modest Proposal?  

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The elevated style of A Modest Proposal—a parody of scientific papers presented to the Royal Society—indicates that Swift's audience consists of men much like himself: learned, intelligent, politically conscious. In order for a parody to work it has to be possible to identify what exactly is being parodied. And...

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The elevated style of A Modest Proposal—a parody of scientific papers presented to the Royal Society—indicates that Swift's audience consists of men much like himself: learned, intelligent, politically conscious. In order for a parody to work it has to be possible to identify what exactly is being parodied. And so Swift's intended audience will have had some familiarity with the kind of scientific proposals which A Modest Proposal satirizes.

They would also have needed to have a fairly good knowledge of contemporary Irish politics, in particular the exploitative relationship between Ireland and her British colonial overlords. In writing the Proposal, Swift wanted to draw attention, in his own unique way, to the general contempt that the British political establishment had for Ireland and its people, especially the Catholic majority, who labored under numerous civil disabilities.

Most of Ireland's Catholic population lived in conditions of quite unimaginable squalor, and Swift and others like him attributed such conditions mainly, but not exclusively, to the exploitation of the Irish economy for the interests of the British.

With satirical exaggeration, Swift is using the Proposal to argue that British colonialists care so little about the Irish that they'd rather advocate their children being bred for food than to take active measures to ensure greater prosperity in Ireland and to alleviate poverty.

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Swift, an Anglican dean, a high-ranking clergyman living in Ireland, had tried for years to get the powerful English overlords in Ireland, as well the prosperous Irish themselves, to take some reasonable steps to help ameliorate the sufferings of the Irish poor. He outlines some of these in A Modest Proposal:

Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: Of taxing our absentees at five shillings a pound: Of using neither clothes, nor household furniture, except what is of our own growth and manufacture: Of utterly rejecting the materials and instruments that promote foreign luxury: Of curing the expensiveness of pride, vanity, idleness, and gaming in our women: Of introducing a vein of parsimony, prudence and temperance: Of learning to love our country

It is the powerful and wealthy English and Irish who are the intended audience for this essay. They are profiting from the sufferings of the poor, whom they have exploited mercilessly. Swift is hoping that through creating a clueless narrator lacking in basic humanity who proposes selling and eating the babies of the Irish poor, he will shock the wealthy to adopt a plan for the poor less barbaric than cannibalism. However, the initial reaction to the essay was to confuse Swift with his narrator and decide he was misanthropic and possibly a lunatic.

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Pope's audience is the reading public of England in general, as well as men of influence in the clergy and English parliament in particular. He is using his satirical tract to draw their attention—and hopefully their assistance—to the pressing political and economic problems of Ireland.

Why would Pope in Ireland address English public opinion? Although the Irish pale around Dublin had been at least nominally under English control since the time of Henry II, under the Tudors, Ireland was substantially brought under English, royal authority. That is why Ireland's problems are now England's problems.

Swift cleverly uses the rational language of a practical and enlightened utilitarian political economist to lay the basis for his satirical surprise. This was the language that educated men of the Augustan age (from the restoration of Charles II in the 1680s through the 1740s) would have been familiar with. It struck just the right note with its humorous and savage moral critique of a strictly utilitarian, counting house economist's worldview— which, at its worst, could seemingly provide rational arguments for ignoring appalling human suffering. Swift hoped his tract's satiric sting would spur his enlightened audience to political action.

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Swift's pamphlet addressed a few intended audiences: both the English who were buying up all the land in Ireland, and the Irish themselves.  By the time he wrote "A Modest Proposal," the wealthy English had purchased around 90% of the land in Ireland, raising the rents, making it more difficult for poor Irish farmers to both pay the rent for the land they worked and feed and clothe their families.  Irish families were also characteristically large, making the challenge of caring for them even greater; so the number of beggars increased.  English Parliament had even passed laws that limited the rights of the Irish in their own country.  Swift certainly means to attack the practices by which the English figuratively "devoured" the Irish by suggesting that they might as well go ahead and literally devour them too.

However, Swift also addressed the Irish who allowed such a situation to transpire without taking adequate steps to preserve themselves.  He thought they hadn't done enough to stand up to the English before it became too late.  In other words, he also blames the Irish for their seeming complicity with their own subjugation.

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