A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

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A Modest Proposal Rhetorical Analysis Activity

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Excerpt From This Document

This activity gives students an opportunity to practice examining and analyzing rhetorical appeals. Effective appeals address all aspects of the rhetorical situation in any text or speech: the speaker, the audience, and the message. With this rhetorical situation in mind, Aristotle sought a means to most effectively convey ideas. He identified three general persuasive strategies, known as appeals, that address the three elements of the rhetorical situation: ethos, the appeal to the speaker’s authority; pathos, the appeal to the audience’s emotions; and logos, the appeal to the message’s logic. In completing this activity, students will be able to examine and analyze Aristotle’s three rhetorical appeals in order to evaluate works of rhetoric and the techniques they employ.

When the Anglo-Irish essayist Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) decided to address the famine ravaging Ireland in 1729, he published “A Modest Proposal.” Swift’s proposal was for the Irish to eat their own children in order to ward off hunger. This solution was, of course, satirical, meant to criticize the many daft schemes set forth by the Irish politicians and clergymen of the day. Though Swift’s argument is essentially a joke, his broader purpose is serious and his rhetorical methods are rigorous. He employs the rhetorical appeals of ethos, pathos, and logos to craft a sharp, stirring, and well-reasoned essay, despite the undercurrent of irony.

Skills: analysis, close reading, drawing inferences from a text, examining the impact of diction on audience

Learning Objectives:
In completing this activity, students will

  • examine appeals in a text;
  • classify appeals in a text as ethospathos, or logos;
  • distinguish the methods that make the appeal effective;
  • evaluate how the appeal contributes to the overall message.

About this Document

Our eNotes Classroom Activities give students opportunities to practice developing a variety of skills. Whether analyzing literary devices or interpreting connotative language, students will work directly with the text. The main components of our classroom activities include the following:

  • A handout defining the literary elements under discussion, complete with examples
  • A step-by-step guide to activity procedure
  • An answer key or selected examples for reference, depending on the activity

In completing these classroom activities, students will be able to classify and analyze different literary elements, thereby developing close-reading skills and drawing deeper inferences from the text.