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A Modest Proposal

by Jonathan Swift

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Examples of literary devices in "A Modest Proposal"

Summary:

Examples of literary devices in "A Modest Proposal" include satire, irony, and hyperbole. Swift uses satire to criticize British policy towards the Irish, irony to highlight the absurdity of treating people as commodities, and hyperbole to exaggerate the proposal of eating children to solve economic problems, thereby emphasizing the inhumanity of the suggested solution.

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What are 3 examples of sarcasm, hyperbole, or understatement in "A Modest Proposal"?

The question asks for three examples of either sarcasm, hyperbole or understatement in "A Modest Proposal." I have chosen three examples of sarcasm. Sarcasm means saying the opposite of what you mean. A common example of sarcasm is to say "graceful" or "great job" after somebody stumbles and falls. This is sarcasm because the speaker obviously intends to communicate the opposite of the literal meaning of the words.

Swift, filled with anger over the hard heartedness of the British toward the Irish poor, has created a narrator so clueless and without a moral compass that almost every "compassionate" statement he makes is actually meant by Swift to show the cruelty of treating the Irish as no more than objects that are only useful if they turn a profit.

Three examples of sarcasm are the following: 

"Thus the Squire will learn to be a good Landlord, and grow popular among his Tenants." This statement is in praise of a landlord buying and eating the year-old children of his tenants, something that would, in reality, be considered horrible and cruel to do. 

"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."

The narrator makes the above statement about selling 12-year-olds as food for the rich. This statement also includes understatement, as it is far more than bordering upon cruelty to eat a child, but the end of it, in which the narrator says cruelty has always been his strongest objection against any project, is clearly meant by Swift to be sarcastic, for all of the narrator's projects are unspeakably cruel.

Some Persons of a desponding Spirit are in great concern about that vast Number of poor People, who are aged, diseased, or maimed, and I have been desired to imploy my thoughts what Course may be taken, to ease the Nation of so grievous an Incumbrance. But 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. And as to the younger Labourers they are now in almost as hopeful a Condition. They cannot get Work, and consequently pine away from want of Nourishment, to a degree, that if at any time they are accidentally hired to common Labour, they have not strength to perform it, and thus the Country and themselves are happily delivered from the Evils to come.

Swift is being sarcastic in having his narrator praise as "hopeful" the fact that the poor, old and young, are dying off in horrible conditions as quickly as possible.

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What are 3 examples of sarcasm, hyperbole, or understatement in "A Modest Proposal"?

The narrator of this pamphlet, having made his proposal that the poor Irish sell their one-year-old babies as a food source to the rich English, states, "I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children." The first part of this statement constitutes an understatement: he says the food (meat from the carcasses of dead babies) will be "somewhat dear," meaning it will be somewhat valuable. I would venture to say the living baby would be considered very dear to its parents. Swift suggests that the child's only value lies in its cost as a sellable commodity when, in fact, we (and Swift) can all agree, I hope, that a child's life has a great deal more value than this.

The second part of the statement, that landlords "have already devoured" the parents of the children who would be sold in such a manner, constitutes hyperbole. The narrator doesn't mean that the landlords have literally eaten up these poor Irish parents; instead, Swift uses this crafty word choice as a way to point out that this proposal is only making literal what the English have already figuratively done. They have consumed Ireland by buying up all the land and taking food from the mouths of the Irish. The Irish get thinner as the English get fatter. It's an exaggeration, to be sure, to say that the English devour the Irish, but not much of one.

Toward the end of the essay, the narrator says, "let no man talk to me of [other] expedients, 'till he hath at least some glympse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice." This line comes after he has already listed a great number of other ways the Irish could acquire more money, the government could run more efficiently, and the English could show some mercy and compassion. His insistence that there is no hope that any of these ideas had been or would be honestly tried constitutes sarcasm on Swift's part. He is blaming the Irish, in part, for their own troubles, and he blames the English for exploiting the Irish into the grave for their own personal gain. No one escapes Swift's scorn.

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What are three examples of irony in A Modest Proposal?

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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What are three examples of irony in A Modest Proposal?

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 ironic statement, as Swift's proposal to solve the problem of poor children is to eat them. This type of efficient and callous proposal does not deserve the recognition of the public. Instead, such a proposal is inhumane and deserves condemnation. 

Before Swift proposes his idea of eating poor children, he states that "I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be lyable [liable] to the least Objection." In other words, he says that his ideas are so commonsensical and good that no one could object to them. However, his ideas are provocatively horrible and of course merit total rejection. 

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What are three examples of irony in A Modest Proposal?

A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift is a satirical piece on how to deal with the poor’s problems.  Basically, “Swift suggests that impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies” (enotes topic, see first link).  As the Macgill Book Review notes, “the most powerfully ironic aspect of this essay is rather obvious. The modest proposal is of course anything but modest: It is savage, frightening, perhaps even insane” (Magill Book Reviews, see second link).

Consider the opening sentence, where the speaker pretends to be concerned about the poor.


It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for an palms. (para 1)

The irony is that the speaker seems to care, but in actuality his suggestion shows that he does not see the poor as humans and really does not care about their plight, or he would not suggest selling their children to be eaten by the rich.

Another irony is that the passage was intended to make people aware of the plight of the poor and their responsibility toward it, but it is told in Stephen Colbert-style satire, pretending to be in the poor’s best interest.

I also find it ironic that this lovely tongue-in-check essay seems to also get a jab at Americans in.  The passage manages to satirize Ireland, England and American at once.

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy Child well Nursed is at a year Old, a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome Food, whether StewedRoastedBaked, or Boyled, and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a Fricasie, or Ragoust. (para 9)

Apparently, Americans are heathens!  We eat our poor babies.

Read the full text here: http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Texts/modest.html

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What are three examples of irony in A Modest Proposal?

Verbal irony is a literary device used to draw attention to what a character thinks or feels by having them express the opposite. Verbal irony often takes the form of sarcasm, but it can also be delivered with the guise of sincerity, as it is in Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal.

Swift takes a serious approach to a serious subject, the exploitation of the Irish Catholic working class by the Protestant English gentry. He structures his proposal formally, opening with a grim picture of female beggars and their helpless infants, providing rudimentary calculations of the cost to sustain them, and arguing that contributions to their livelihood should be limited to one solar year. To an English landlord burdened by the pitiful creatures, Swift appears to be an ally. Beyond his scheme to limit the financial obligation of the upstanding British landlords to the hapless Irish breeders, he adds a moral component: fewer abortions would be necessary under his plan. The savagery and shame of “sacrificing the poor innocent babes” would no longer be on the national conscience.

Having summarized the grievances of the upper class, he proposes his own thoughts, which he hopes “will not be liable to the least objection.”

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust.

The proposal is to provide for the nourishment of infants until they are one year old, at which point they will be sold to “persons of quality and fortune” and eaten. The poor Irish will have a new source of revenue, and the British will have a new delicacy.

I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.

Swift’s actual target is not the ill-treated Irish, of course, but the British landlords who extort so much in exchange for their services that farmers and tenants cannot afford to feed themselves. Swift holds the attention of the upper class long enough to engage them in his scheme to do away with the wretched poor altogether. One can imagine that having come this far, the reader who finally encounters the objectionable thesis—eating babies—will read on in either anger (at being tricked) or horror (at the maniacal proposal).

Infant's flesh will be in season throughout the year, but more plentiful in March, and a little before and after; for we are told by a grave author, an eminent French physician, that fish being a prolifick dyet, there are more children born in Roman Catholick countries about nine months after Lent, the markets will be more glutted than usual, because the number of Popish infants, is at least three to one in this kingdom, and therefore it will have one other collateral advantage, by lessening the number of Papists among us.

The antipathy between the Irish and British is not limited to class distinctions. There are also religious tensions. Swift suggests in the above quote that over time, the number of Catholics will be better controlled.

I have already computed the charge of nursing a beggar's child (in which list I reckon all cottagers, labourers, and four-fifths of the farmers) to be about two shillings per annum, rags included; and I believe no gentleman would repine to give ten shillings for the carcass of a good fat child, which, as I have said, will make four dishes of excellent nutritive meat, when he hath only some particular friend, or his own family to dine with him. Thus the squire will learn to be a good landlord, and grow popular among his tenants, the mother will have eight shillings neat profit, and be fit for work till she produces another child.

Rather than writing an essay that simply tells landlords to treat their tenants better, which would probably get very little attention, Swift tells landlords how they could benefit from being better natured. With a bit of good humor, they stand to get more than “excellent nutritive meat.” With the extra money from selling their child, laborers will also be more fit for work between pregnancies.

Under no circumstances did Swift, a Protestant himself, believe that Irish children should be sold and eaten. He did not think women would happily hand over their babies, or that the best way to prevent the “savagery” of abortion was to kill the child after it was born. His use of verbal irony and hyperbole instead emphasized the heartlessness of reality. Families were starving. Poor people were being dehumanized. A Modest Proposal highlighted the need for genuine proposals to solve terrible problems.

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

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

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

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

Most readers would agree that Swift's satirical piece is hyperbolic in the sense that it is premised on showing a persona that is an exaggerated example of cruelty and hypocrisy. The speaker, under the guise of alleviating poverty, recommends cannibalism as the solution. But within this broad hyperbole we can find Swift using incidental extensions of "logic" that provide an underpinning of his overall satiric intent.

Take, for instance, the description of "an American" friend who has provided the speaker with information about preparing humans for consumption. This gives us a general idea, though within a comical context, of the reputation "Americans" still had in the early eighteenth century for being uncivilized, veritable "savages." But it's hyperbolic. (Hopefully Swift knew that Americans were not really like this, even at that time.)

Another example of exaggeration is the speaker's obsessiveness. This is what Swift intends as a parody of science: the speaker is overly methodical about presenting details such as the numerical data regarding the situation in Ireland and the number of people affected by poverty. Swift uses hyperbole as a demonstration of the exactitude with which modern thinking reduces (in his view) human problems to statistics. To us it might be a bit surprising that 300 years ago, people (at least according to Swift) were using science to replace the less rigorous, and more traditional, ways of alleviating misfortune in the world.

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

Jonathan Swift's satirical essay "A Modest Proposal" is rife with hyperbole. The entire proposal itself is hyperbolic. A hyperbole is an extreme exaggeration that is used to emphasize an author's point. In the case of satires, like "A Modest Proposal," hyperboles are often used to create humor and draw the reader's attention to the ridiculous nature of an idea or situation.

In making his proposal, the speaker uses many statistics and numbers to make his argument sound convincing and well-researched. The numbers themselves are a bit absurd, though, and the way he reasons through them adds humor to the piece. For example, when the speaker is first setting the groundwork for his proposal and establishing the contextual "facts" that he feels should be recognized before making his suggestion, he reasons,

The number of Souls in this Kingdom being usually reckoned one Million and a half, Of these I calculate there may be about two hundred thousand Couple whose Wives are breeders, from which number I Subtract thirty Thousand Couples, who are able to maintain their own Children, although I apprehend there cannot be so many, under the present distresses of the Kingdom, but this being granted, there will remain an hundred and seventy thousand Breeders. I again Subtract fifty Thousand for those Women who miscarry, or whose Children dye by accident, or disease within the Year. There only remain an hundred and twenty thousand Children of poor Parents annually born: (paragraph 6)

This math is hyperbolic in the sense that the numbers are inflated and make the speaker seem a bit over-the-top even though he is trying to sound learned and logical. Further, the speaker is treating human lives like simple statistics, which emphasizes the inhumanity of his proposal.

The speaker's exaggerated diction continues as he inches closer to his actual proposal. He writes,

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy Child well Nursed is at a year Old, a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome Food, whether Stewed, Roasted, Baked, or Boyled, and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a Fricasie, or Ragoust. I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration, that of the hundred and twenty thousand Children, already computed, twenty thousand may be reserved for Breed, whereof only one fourth part to be Males, which is more than we allow to Sheep, black Cattle, or Swine, and my reason is, that these Children are seldom the Fruits of Marriage, a Circumstance not much regarded by our Savages, therefore, one Male will be sufficient to serve four Females. That the remaining hundred thousand may at a year Old be offered in Sale to the persons of Quality, and Fortune, through the Kingdom, always advising the Mother to let them Suck plentifully in the last Month, so as to render them Plump, and Fat for a good Table (9-10).

The speaker introduces the idea of selling children as food. He again includes figures that seem to indicate a well-researched plan, but the plan is so ridiculous that it makes the reader laugh (or feel horrified). The exaggerated yet casual way that the speaker talks about the styles in which the children could be cooked is quite humorous. Then, we have again the hyperbolic calculations of how many children can be sold for these purposes. He next goes on to say that a child could be eaten for two meals, so that's a great value.

The speaker makes another clever comment about why his proposal will be reasonable in pararaph 12:

I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for Landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the Parents, seem to have the best Title to the Children.

The choice of the word "devoured" here is an example of hyperbole and is obviously figurative but has a double meaning when we consider the speaker's proposal. The speaker means that the landlords have taken such advantage of their tenants as to basically have eaten them or sucked them dry. This word is an exaggeration of the reality, but it figuratively captures how disadvantaged the poor were at the hands of higher classes.

The proposal to raise and sell babies as food immediately strikes the reader as exaggerated and ridiculous. Within that larger frame, Swift also uses hyperbole to poke fun at the speaker's self-assured and seemingly reasonable ideas.

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Identify some examples of metaphors in "A Modest Proposal."

Your question had to be edited because it asked more than one question. Please remember in future that enotes only permits you to ask one question.

A very important metpahor actually comes in the third paragraph of this great satirical essay, when the speaker refers to the mother of an Irish child as a "dam." What is important about this descriptive detail is the way in which dam is a word normally used to indicate the mother but only of animals. Thus it is that this metaphor prepares us for the "modest proposal" of the speaker by implicitly comparing Irish children and their mothers to animals. Of course, if we consider the Irish to be little better than animals, than we will have no qualms about treating them like animals, to be reared and used for food to feed us. Thus this metaphor is a very important one to focus on in the way that it foreshadows what is to come in the rest of the treatise. Of course, throughout the entire essay, the real satire lies in the way that Swift is not representing his own views at all, but mimicing the views of his contemporaries, and taking them to their logical and terrifying conclusion.

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Find three examples of irony, two metaphors, and one parallelism in "A Modest Proposal".

Concerning Swift's "A Modest Proposal," I'll help you understand the essay a little better and help you with the sarcasm or irony, and let you find the rest or let other editors help you.

The first irony used is in the title itself.  The speaker's proposal is anything but modest.  Opposition, or opposites, is the essence of irony, and the title is the opposite of the truth.  The proposal is outrageous, not modest.

When the speaker says that he hopes his proposal "...will not be liable to the least objection," he is again being ironic.  The objections to his proposal will be endless.

Later, when he says that the landlords might as well eat their renters' children, because they've already devoured the renters themselves anyway, he is being sarcastic.  By the way, he's also speaking metaphorically, if you want to use that for metaphor.

Basically, Swift had tried conventional means in an attempt to help the Irish poor, but to no avail.  This essay is an attempt to shame the English and wealthy Irish into changing policies that were detrimental to the Irish.

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Where does Swift use irony in "A Modest Proposal"?

"A Modest Proposal" is ironic from start to finish in that it expresses meaning through words that suggest the precise opposite. The "Proposal" is written in the form of a work of serious scholarship, the kind of academic paper normally addressed to the learned members of the Royal Society, Britain's world-famous scientific academy. Yet in actual fact it's a biting satire on British rule in Ireland.

But if it's specific examples of irony you're looking for in "A Modest Proposal," then look no further than the opening line:

It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for an palms.

The irony here is that the speaker appears to care very deeply about the plight of the Irish poor, yet in actual fact advocates a "solution" to the problem of poverty that doesn't begin to address the root causes of poverty, but simply dehumanizes the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.

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Where does Swift use irony in "A Modest Proposal"?

"A Modest Proposal" is one of Jonathan Swift's most brilliant satirical works, and the essay deftly uses irony in hilarious (and shocking) ways. As a reminder, irony is a reversal of our expectations, and it often involves the occurrence of something that was not expected. Swift uses irony brilliantly in the ninth paragraph of "Proposal," as found in the eText on eNotes: 

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust.

This statement comes out of nowhere and is completely unexpected. Prior to this statement, Swift began his essay by soberly discussing the many problems faced by Ireland, especially the impoverished status of much of the island's population. The tone is academic and intelligent, and so we get the sense that the solution that Swift will offer will be logical, well-informed, and completely reasonable. What we get instead is an increasingly insane discourse on the benefits of eating children and the suggestion that doing so will provide an enhanced food supply and economic relief (as there will be fewer mouths to feed). This turn of events is ironic because it runs completely contrary to our expectations. The above paragraph provides one of the essay's best examples of irony. It's one of the earliest moments that Swift proposes to eat Ireland's children, and so it is his most surprising use of irony.  

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Where does irony exist in Swift's essay, "A Modest Proposal"?

Swift's opening epigraph is the first instance of irony and lays the foundation for all irony that is upcoming:

For preventing the children of poor people in Ireland, from being a burden ..., and for making them beneficial to the publick.

Children are generally not thought of in terms of benefit to society. They are, instead, usually thought of in terms of how they may themselves be benefited (e.g., education, health care) or, in less fortunate cases, how they may add to the benefit of their families. Hence, Swift starts his political pamphlet with the biting irony that will occur, indeed, with heightening effect, throughout the essay.

Aside from the generally ironical tone ("would deserve so well of the publick, as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation"), the first sign of explicit irony is when he speaks of Irish children as one-year-olds. While up to the age of one, babies may exist on mother's milk, or be supplemented with "other nourishment: at most not above the value of two shillings," Swift ironically suggests that at one year old, babies may perform a public function, for "they shall, ... contribute to the feeding, and partly to the cloathing of many thousands" of other people.

After this obscure pronouncement, Swift carries on through an artfully placed ironic digression from his point while he ironically discusses the "expence" of abortion and statistics relevant to the age at which children may become thieves. Swift then makes his first significant--and ironic--point, casting dispersion on Americans while doing so, that babies might be sold at one year of age as an additional dietary source:

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust.

There are many instances of irony, either subtle (like the statue) or significant (like the nutritional value of babies). To find more, as a detailed examination is not possible in this format, look for "incongruity between what might be expected and what actually" is suggested by Swift (American Heritage Dictionary).

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