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A Modest Proposal

by Jonathan Swift

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Jonathan Swift's use of satire, literary devices, and rhetorical strategies in "A Modest Proposal" to criticize social and political issues in Ireland

Summary:

In "A Modest Proposal," Jonathan Swift uses satire, irony, and hyperbole to criticize social and political issues in Ireland. By suggesting the inhumane idea of eating children to solve poverty, Swift highlights the British government's neglect and the exploitation of the Irish people. His rhetorical strategies expose the absurdity of the proposed solution, drawing attention to the need for genuine social reform.

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How does Jonathan Swift use satire in "A Modest Proposal" through his social engineering plan for Ireland?

Swift is trying to draw a British public's attention to the plight of the Irish during the famous famine in which so many died. Also, he was satirically trying to point out that they were doing nothing about the situation that was killing so many. So, he proposes his idea satirically, to show the British public and government how inhuman and monstrous they were being by doing nothing by making himself out to be a worse monster.

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How does Jonathan Swift use satire in "A Modest Proposal" through his social engineering plan for Ireland?

Swift felt that the British were figuratively "eating up" the Irish by giving jobs only to the British in Ireland and other punitive measures such as taxation; so, why not just consume the Irish early on to prevent abortions and murdering of children as well as the starving of the children made to beg in the streets, he asks.

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How does Jonathan Swift use satire in "A Modest Proposal" through his social engineering plan for Ireland?

This piece was written to call attention to the deplorable conditions in Ireland.  Of course, he never meant for anyone to actually EAT babies, or that poor mothers don't love their children as much a wealthier mothers do, but he DID mean to be outrageous enough to get people's attention.  Otherwise, nothing would be done to remedy the poverty situation in the country.  He never meant that Papists (Catholics) should be murdered, either.  He was pointing out issues of concern such as spouse abuse, abortions, evictions of people who are financially unstable, etc. 

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What are the elements of Jonathan Swift's satiric technique in A Modest Proposal?

Jonathan Swift is known for being the foremost satirist in the English language. He uses lots of satirical techniques in his writing, such as exaggeration, irony, and a serious tone. For instance, consider his satirical essay A Modest Proposal. Swift uses irony in this essay, which occurs when the outcome of a situation is different than what is expected. The narrator explains that the poor are suffering in Ireland and then explains that the solution is eating babies. This is not a solution that the reader expects to hear, and it is definitely not a “modest” suggestion, as the title of the essay suggests it will be. Swift’s use of irony here helps him critique the government’s response to poverty and show that they are not practical.

Swift also uses a matter-of-fact tone in A Modest Proposal, making the narrator come across as completely serious about his idea. Swift’s use of this tone satirizes the indifferent attitudes of those who were actually in charge of designing responses to poverty.

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What is Jonathan Swift's true purpose in writing "A Modest Proposal?"

First, we can never entirely be sure of the motivations of historical figures as we lack access to their inner thoughts. Also, even when people do claim a certain "true purpose", human motivations are often mixed, blending the conscious with the unconscious and the noble with the pragmatic. What we can determine is the main points he was arguing and how they fit within the system of beliefs and commitments we find in both the text itself and other elements of his writing and biography.

Swift was born in Dublin in 1667 to an English (Protestant) family, part of the English elite that ruled Ireland and controlled much of the wealth and land of the country as colonial conquerors ruling over a country that was Roman Catholic in religion and Celtic in language. Irish Catholics lived under many oppressive rules and were barred from formal education and holding most important civic positions. Many lived in extreme poverty. 

Swift's own career included education at English Protestant schools in Ireland, a period employed by the retired English diplomat, Sir William Temple, and then a career combining writing, politics, and priesthood in the Church of England, culminating in a position as Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin beginning in 1713. Between this period and the composition of "A Modest Proposal" in 1729, Swift wrote several patriotic Irish works, urging better treatment of Ireland and the Protestant Irish clergy (who were part of the Church of England) by the English government. Given this personal history, and Swift's explicit concern in other works about the condition of the Irish poor, we can be relatively certain that the purpose of the satire was to draw attention to the plight of the Irish poor and to urge reform in the way that the Irish poor, especially women and children, were treated.

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What is Jonathan Swift's true purpose in writing "A Modest Proposal?"

Jonathan Swift is renowned for his satirical texts. Satires use humor, irony, exaggeration, and ridicule to illuminate and criticize a person's or group's ignorance or vices. In regards to Swift's "A Modest Proposal," Swift had no intent to really offer up the children of Ireland for dinner. In fact, Swift is only wishing to draw attention to the deplorable state of this beloved country. 

Given the state of the country and its youth, Swift proposes that the youth of the country be offered up as sustenance for Irish adults. Swift, by no means, wishes to be taken seriously. Instead, he only wishes to shock the Irish into action. In essence, Swift's true purpose is to provide a call to action, nothing more. 

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What literary devices are used in "A Modest Proposal"?

Jonathan Swift enlivens his essay “A Modest Proposal” with some highly creative and interesting literary devices. First and foremost, he employs satire to present his extremely exaggerated and shocking proposal that the poor people of Ireland sell their children to the wealthy for food. As he sets forth this proposition in all its detail (and he includes plenty of details!), Swift also exposes the oppression faced by the Irish people who cannot provide for their families nor pay exorbitant rents, as well as the corruption of the wealthier ruling classes who demand high rents and refuse to participate in any real solutions to the problem of poverty. Swift extends his forceful satire throughout the entire work and in so doing reveals both the horror and the ridiculousness of the situation.

Swift also employs vivid imagery in his essay. In the very first paragraph, he graphically sets forth the circumstances of the poor as he depicts mothers and their children, dressed in rags, begging alongside streets and in doorways, trying to find enough to eat. Later in the piece, after presenting his proposal, he illustrates it with vivid language that becomes even rather graphic. A “young healthy child well nursed” at about a year old can make “a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled.” Such a child would “equally service in a fricasee, or a ragoust,” he continues. Of course this language is shocking, and that's the whole point. Swift wants readers to be so shocked by his ideas that they examine the problem in earnest and commit to better solutions.

Additionally, Swift uses wordplay and hyperbole in “A Modest Proposal.” He acknowledges that “this food will be somewhat dear,” and in so doing, he plays off a double meaning in the word “dear,” which can mean both precious and expensive. Indeed, these children are precious, and that is Swift's whole point. They are too precious to be treated like a commodity, which is all that many wealthy people see them as. Swift continues that the landlords “have already devoured most of the parents,” so they might as well eat the children also. Swift uses hyperbole here, for he means that the landlords have so oppressed their tenants and driven them to the extremes of poverty that they may as well have eaten them.

Notice, too, Swift's use of irony in this essay. The very title is ironic. He says that his proposal is “modest,” but of course it is anything but modest. Also, ironically, the tavern keepers who now turn the poor away from their doors would be happy enough to profit off of their children. The same may be said of other shopkeepers and manufacturers.

Finally, Swift employs a technique called paralipsis in which he argues a point primarily by denying it. “Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients,” he proclaims, for his plan is the best. However, he then goes on to list those other expedients, the real solutions to the problem of Irish poverty.

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

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, as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation.

There are effective inclusions of imagery throughout the essay, such as Swift's proposal that the skin of children not go to waste; it could be treated to "make admirable gloves for ladies, and summer boots for fine gentlemen." This image could also be seen as a lampoon of the behavior of the wealthy, who presumably have no qualms about the source of their finery.

Swift employs understatement when he acknowledges that there are those who object to his proposal, acknowledging that it could be thought of as "as a little bordering upon cruelty."

To organize the specifics of his proposal, Swift makes use of ordinal numbers, beginning with "for first" and ending with "sixthly."

To describe the burdensome nature of the poor, Swift utilizes synecdoche, the technique of using a part of something to represent it as a whole. He refers to the poor as "a hundred thousand useless mouths and backs."

Swift ends the essay with a refutation to anyone who might think that he would personally benefit from his proposal. He asserts that

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

Swift uses imagery, which is to convey a picture using the five senses. In the opening paragraphs, the narrator paints a pathetic scene meant to arouse our emotions in sympathy for poor, starving Irish mothers, with their starving children hanging on to the ends of the mothers' ragged clothing. Rousing our emotions is called pathos, and by describing the urgent condition of the poor so that we feel their plight with our hearts, the narrator makes us anxious to hear his "modest proposal" to solve the problem.

The essay is a famous example of irony, or saying the opposite of what you actually mean. Swift wants us to react with horror to the proposal to kill and eat babies to solve the problems of the poor. The proposal is anything but modest, and Swift hoped to use the shock value of this proposal to galvanize people to adopt a more humane solution.

Swift also has his clueless narrator adopt a deadpan style. The rational style of writing in the second part is an antithesis to the horrfying content. For example, the narrator very matter-of-factly describes how tasty a baby might be served to the table fresh from the end of a knife (this too is use of imagery). A normal person recoils from the juxtaposition of such a cold-blooded style of writing with the subject at hand.

Finally, the essay use hyperbole. By offering such an exaggerated solution to poverty as cannibalism, Swift motivates his readers to think about reasonable alternatives.

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

First, Swift employs dramatic irony: this is when the audience or reader knows something that a character does not.  Swift does not actually want anyone to eat babies; however, the speaker—a character or persona—does. The speaker thinks it's a great idea, but we are not supposed to agree (and hopefully we do not agree). We know this is a terrible idea while he does not, and so dramatic irony is created.

Further, the speaker says, "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." In this line, to call the food—babies—"somewhat dear," or sort of valuable, is an understatement; people generally think of their children as a great deal more important to them than only "somewhat dear." Moreover, he says that the landlords have "devoured" the parents, employing a metaphor. English landlords haven't physically ingested their Irish tenants, but they might as well have. The English seemed to get richer and fatter while the Irish got poorer and leaner. He implies that the English are consuming the Irish in such a manner that they might as well be physically eating them up.

Swift also uses paralipsis when the speaker says,

Many other advantages [of this proposal] might be enumerated. For instance, the addition of some thousand carcasses in our exportation of barrel'd beef: the propagation of swine's flesh, and improvement in the art of making good bacon, so much wanted among us by the great destruction of pigs, too frequent at our tables; which are no way comparable in taste or magnificence to a well grown, fat yearly child, which roasted whole will make a considerable figure at a Lord Mayor's feast, or any other publick entertainment. But this, and many others, I omit, being studious of brevity. [emphasis mine]

Paralipsis is when the speaker says they are not going to say something, and then they do say it. It generally makes the speaker look like they lack self-awareness and are, perhaps, a bit silly. They might ramble on and on, all while thinking that they are being brief and pithy. The speaker says at the end of the above paragraph that he "omit[s]" many of the advantages of his scheme, but he has just listed a great many and goes on to list quite a few more.

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What are some rhetorical devices in "A Modest Proposal"?

Rhetorical devices are persuasive devices. To understand the rhetorical devices Swift is using, it is therefore helpful to understand what Swift is trying to persuade his readers to do.

As a high ranking clergyman in Ireland, Swift was concerned with the plight of the poor and increasingly frustrated that year after year reasonable, mild, and doable solutions to the problem of acute poverty were brushed aside by the people with the power to make changes. Swift wanted to see starving mothers and children fed, tax burdens on the poor decreased, rents lowered, and decent job opportunities created. However, perceiving that sensible, rationale arguments were going nowhere, Swift determined to try a new approach.

Central to this approach is hyperbole or exaggeration. Swift hoped that by creating a morally clueless narrator with a completely outrageous solution for the problem of poverty in Ireland, he would shock people and gain their attention. Ultimately, he hoped that the essay would encourage people to see and adopt some of the moderate and humane ideas for alleviating suffering that he slips into the narrative.

The main instance of hyperbole Swift lights on is the idea, stated with tongue-in-cheek or ironic seriousness, of encouraging parents of the poor to fatten up their infants and sell them at a year old as a dinner delicacy to be served at the tables of the wealthy. Swift buttresses his hyperbole with graphic imagery, such as the vision of a plump baby served steaming at the end of a knife, and a "logic" that entirely misses the point that human lives are in question, not simply pins or some item made to turn a profit.

Swift's strategy worked to the extent that people paid attention and were deeply shocked by his narrator's suggestion, but rather than lead to positive reforms, it lead instead to Swift being castigated as a warped misanthropist, because people mistook the essay's narrator for Swift himself. Early readers missed the irony and hyperbole and took Swift as making a serious suggestion that they found repugnant.

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What are some rhetorical devices in "A Modest Proposal"?

"A Modest Proposal" is a Juvenalian satirical essay whose title drips with irony. The proposal the author makes is anything but "modest." Since the British have had such a heartless attitude toward the Irish in general, Swift employs biting irony and hyperbole to suggest that the rich British gentlemen and ladies may just as well eat the poor Irish children: figuratively speaking, they have already been "eating" Ireland.

In another example of irony, Swift adopts the tone of a financial adviser while discussing the "breeders," how many children will be produced, the season in which many Irish Catholic children are born, and the reduction of "papists" that will occur if the "proposal" is accepted. Moreover, he has calculated the profit for the landlord if the Irish baby is made into "four dishes." With a polite and deferential tone for such a barbaric message, the satirical effect is enhanced. 

Later in the essay, Swift makes a logical appeal (logos) that is also ironic. He writes,

Some persons of a desponding spirit are in great concern about that vast number of poor people, who are aged, diseased, or maimed,. . . 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. 

The use of the word reasonably suggests a logical appeal, but it is ironic because it assumes that the readers of the essay reasonably expect the poor class to die by hideous means. This appeal should evoke an emotional response of horror. Further, Swift's speaker makes other logical appeals by using statistics on appalling topics. Finally, he concludes with an ethical appeal to demonstrate that he is fair, trustworthy, and devoid of an ulterior motive. This conclusion is ironic, also.

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What are some rhetorical devices in "A Modest Proposal"?

The speaker uses logos, or appeals to his readers' logic, in his arguments for eating babies. He offers his calculations that of 120,000 children, it would be appropriate to reserve 20,000 "for breed," a quarter of which should be male (just as is done with livestock, which makes it all the more logical to him). Then he reasons that a "plump" child will "make two dishes at an entertainment for friends," and if one's family dines alone, there will be leftovers for lunch the next day. All of these calculations are meant to convince us to understand the supposed logic and reasonableness of this proposal. The speaker employs logos again when he discusses the other benefit of his plan: that it will lessen "the number of Papists among [them]." He tries to appeal to readers' logic in order to convince them of his point.

The narrator uses litotes, when one denies the opposite of the thing one means, when he says that "butchers we may be assured will not be wanting." He means that butchers will have lots of new business as a result of this new meat source, but he has suggested this by saying that they will not want for business. He employs litotes again when he says that, if certain young women who are of no benefit to the community had been disposed of in a similar way, "the kingdom would not be the worse." He means, of course, that the kingdom would be much better off without them.

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Find five different rhetorical devices used by Jonathan Swift in "A Modest Proposal."

Jonathan Swift in A Modest Proposal utilizes a number of rhetorical strategies and devices in order to convince the English and the Irish that they can take action to reduce the abject poverty many were experiencing in Ireland in the eighteenth century.

To begin, the title of his work is itself an understatement. The pamphlet’s full title is

A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burthen to their Parents, or the Country, and for Making them Beneficial to the Publick.

The title establishes the problem that will be discussed in the actual pamphlet, the fact that the children of poor people are a burden to their parents and to the country. To call a proposal that solves this rather large and complicated problem "modest" is an understatement. Swift likely uses the understatement to get the reader’s attention and to let the reader know the forthcoming proposal will be satirical.

Then, as Swift begins to offer the context for his argument, the reader immediately learns the speaker is not Swift himself but an economic "prospector" who has studied the problem of poverty and is ready to provide solutions. This use of a persona serves two purposes. It gives Swift the ability to deliver his message through a credible source, one who understands the economy and is studied in the current problem. It also, and perhaps more importantly, gives Swift some distance from the actual proposals he will make, which as the speaker himself notes, will be found offensive by many.

As the prospector begins to describe the problem of poverty in Ireland, he calls it a “melancholy object” and describes the conditions of the women and children as they beg for alms on the street. This is a direct appeal to emotion and pity in his reader. Satirically, though, he goes from this emotional appeal directly to hyperbole, suggesting that the children who pose the biggest burden to their parents and the state are those who are too young to steal, implying that they all steal when they get past their early childhood. Once the prospector delivers his central claim, the reason for the competing understatements and overstatements becomes more clear - he has set the stage for the suggestion that parents should sell their babies as food when they are one year old. This outlandish statement will not be taken seriously because of the preceding juxtaposition between overstatement and understatement, and the reader will look past the initial outrage at the thought of selling babies as a commodity to the underlying meaning of the argument.

As he develops the argument, the prospector lists a number of problems he believes have contributed to the miseries of the poor in Ireland, blaming everyone from the English absentee landlords to the careless Irish themselves. The prospector eventually suggests that the English shouldn’t be troubled by eating the Irish babies since they have already "devoured" their parents. This harsh instance of irony relates to the idea that the unfair practices of the English landlords are hurting the Irish and keeping them from being productive.

After a thorough mix of appeals to logic and to emotion, the prospector ends his proposal with an appeal to ethics as he states he has nothing to gain from the proposal itself since he has no children to sell. Swift, in his brilliant satire, effectively manipulates rhetorical strategies and devices in order to show that the ironic solution is not nearly as inhumane as the poverty itself.

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List five rhetorical devices used by Jonathan Swift in "A Modest Proposal"

Jonathan Swift's essay "A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burthen (Burden) to their Parents, or the Country, and for Making them Beneficial to the Publick (Public)" uses principally the devices of satire, sarcasm, and irony.

Swift proposed that the poor of Ireland be made less of a burden to the English public by selling and eating 100,000 out of 120,000 Irish children born each year. He obviously was not serious. He was criticizing those English who described the Irish poor in dehumanizing terms as parasites, who blamed the victims rather than those who made them poor, English exploiters, especially absentee landlords who exported food for profit rather than feed those in need.

The irony of Swift's proposal was of course that, without most of an Irish work force, those who profited from exploiting the Irish would no longer be able to. A second irony was that Swift only proposed doing by cannibalism what was already being done by predatory capitalism, living off the misery of others.

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Who is Jonathan Swift criticizing in "A Modest Proposal"?

In “A Modest Proposal,” Jonathan Swift presents his satirical “plan” to improve life in Ireland by selling off the children of poor Irish people for food. Along the way, Swift subtly but quite severely criticizes several groups of people.

First, Swift is highly critical of the rich. These people have been figuratively devouring the poor for years, Swift suggests, caring little for their suffering and actually often oppressing them. Landlords have been especially guilty of this, for they charge exorbitant rents that their tenants struggle to pay, and they refuse to provide for those reduced to begging. Yet, Swift says, these fine ladies and gentlemen will certainly appreciate the delicacy of a plump year-old child that will provide “two dishes at an entertainment for friends” and perhaps even four days worth of meals for a family alone. Perhaps with this incentive, Swift continues, the landlords will treat their tenants much better if they can enjoy such gastronomic delights off of them, and the tenants will even be able to pay their rent.

Swift also implicitly criticizes people who complain about the “vast number of poor people” yet do nothing useful to help them. The poor die of starvation and cold, yet no one lifts a finger to feed or clothe them. People merely speak of what a burden they are to society. Further, Swift presents a full paragraph of other possible solutions to the problems faced by the poor (including stopping importation of goods that could be made at home and curbing the luxury and dishonesty among wealthy citizens and shopkeepers). He declares, however, that no one should even speak to him of such solutions unless there is an effort to put them into practice. He thereby criticizes the government officials and citizens who stand in the way of real solutions to the problem of poverty.

Finally, Swift criticizes England when he says that his proposal “can incur no danger of disobliging England” (i.e., the English rulers of Ireland), for this commodity cannot be exported. Yet, he continues “perhaps I could name a country, which would be glad to eat up our whole nation without it.” He means, of course, England and is referring to the long English oppression of Ireland.

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How does Swift use satire and irony in "A Modest Proposal"?

Swift employs dramatic irony——irony created when the reader knows more or understands something that the character does not ——to masterful effect when he creates his narrator. Think of the narrator as a character, as it is certainly not Swift who seriously suggests that the Irish sell their babies to the English as a new food source for their colonizers and revenue stream for themselves.

One way that Swift creates this irony, alerting readers that the text is satirical and not meant to be taken at face value, is by making the narrator ridiculous. The narrator believes that his proposal is so thoughtful and well-researched that the country will want to erect a statue in his honor. However, some of the most basic premises of his argument are wrong. He says that a newborn child will weigh around twelve pounds. Such a child would be considered quite large now, in the 21st century, to a mother who is well-nourished and receives proper medical care during her pregnancy. There is nearly zero chance that a starving woman in 1729 would produce such a large baby. Further, he argues that this child, raised on its impoverished mother's milk alone for one year, will weigh twenty-eight pounds by year end. Again, no. The narrator's blatant ignorance and factual inaccuracies at even the most basic level of his argument help readers to understand the dramatic irony at work, that Swift is creating satire, and that we are not supposed to place much faith in the ideas proposed by such an ill-informed narrator.

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How does Swift use satire and irony in "A Modest Proposal"?

"A Modest Proposal" is one of the greatest works of satire ever published; the concept of civilized man raising children to eat is so abominable and rediculous that it is easily dismissed, and yet Swift, writing as some ultra-utilitarian economist, makes extremely logical points in favor of the idea. Irony is present in the essay from the title onwards; the proposal is anything but "modest," and is in fact horrifying to consider. Swift leans heavily on the emotional argument, explaining:

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.
(Swift, "A Modest Proposal," gutenberg.org)

Of course, the correlation is silly at best; adding cannibalism to what was a terrible crime during that era doesn't exactly add moral value. Swift's use of language is key; while he writes in the first-person narrative common at the time, he also cites facts and figures to back up his points. This allows the essay to satirize not only what Swift saw as the inhumane treatment of the Irish by the English, but also the common view that "Papists," followers of the Roman Catholic Church rather than the Church of England, were somehow less-than-human.

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How does Swift use satire and irony in "A Modest Proposal"?

In “A Modest Proposal,” Jonathan Swift uses irony on several levels. First, his entire proposal is ironic in that it is a shocking satire. It is not a serious proposal, of course, and it is most certainly anything but modest (notice the verbal irony). Swift is not truly advocating that anyone eat children. What he wants to do is to raise people's awareness about the horrible conditions of the Irish poor, whose rents are so high, thanks to greedy landlords, that they are often reduced to begging.

As Swift ironically notes, these landlords “have already devoured most of the parents,” so perhaps they “have the best title” to eat the children as well. Notice the biting irony here. Swift does not literally mean the landlords have been or should be eating people, but they have consumed all the resources their poor tenants own and sent them into the lowest levels of misery. They might as well have eaten them, Swift implies; perhaps it would have been kinder in the long run.

Swift includes several other ironic statements in this essay. When he provides the example of a fifteen-year-old girl who was eaten after she tried to poison an emperor, he wryly notes that “if the same use were made of several plump young girls in this town,” girls who are lazy and vain and greedy, “the kingdom would not be the worse.” Of course, he is not serious. He says one thing but means another, namely, that those young ladies should improve their characters and their behavior. Later in the essay, Swift says that he “can think of no one objection” possible to “be raised against the this proposal.” He actually can think of very many, of course, but he continues to play his ironic role perfectly.

Finally, Swift uses a special type of irony called paralipsis when he tells his audience that he does not want to hear anything about any other solutions, and then proceeds to list those solutions in detail. Of course Swift wants to hear about them, and he wants his audience to hear about them too, for they are what will truly help the poor people of Ireland.

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How does Swift use satire and irony in "A Modest Proposal"?

Irony exists when there is a discrepancy between what we expect to happen and what actually happens.  In "A Modest Proposal," it is certainly ironic that, though the speaker purports to have been working on and researching his plan for a long time, his "statistics" regarding babies are wrong.  He says that "a child just born will weigh 12 pounds, and in a solar year, if tolerably nursed, increases to 28 pounds."  Even in this day and age, when mothers are in so much better health than they were during Swift's time, most newborn babies do not weigh twelve pounds.  Furthermore, the speaker says that most of these babies are born to mothers who are forced to beg in order to support themselves (and so probably do not have enough to eat), which makes the likelihood that they have giant, twelve-pound babies that much less.  Similarly, most one-year-old children do not weigh anywhere near twenty-eight pounds.  We would expect someone who claimed to have done his research on a problem to at least have his facts straight.

Likewise, the speaker describes his American friend, a person who originally conceived the germ of this idea, as a "very worthy person, a true lover of his country. . . whose virtues [the speaker] highly esteem[s]."  Again, we would not expect a "worthy" individual, full of wonderful virtues, who truly loves his countrymen and women to propose a scheme in which they sell and eat babies.  Cannibalism is not something we expect from a virtuous person.  

Finally, the speaker discusses the

Vast number of poor people, who are aged, diseased, or maimed; and [he has] been desired to employ [his] thoughts what course may be taken to ease the nation of so grievous an encumbrance.  But [he is] 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 young laborers, they are now in almost as hopeful a condition.  (emphasis mine) 

In other words, then, the speaker talks about the older, poor population, assuring readers that they do not present a long-term concern because they will die soon anyway.  He then says that the younger people among the poor are in "almost as hopeful a condition"—I would hardly describe the condition of "dying and rotting" as a "hopeful condition," would you?  Here, our expectations of how a compassionate and thoughtful person, which is how the narrator presents himself, would not lead us to believe that he would look on "dying and rotting" as a "hopeful condition"—such a comment betrays his true character.

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How would you explain the irony and satiric qualities in "A Modest Proposal"?

In this essay Swift uses verbal irony to get his point across. Verbal irony is a disparity between what is said or written and what is really meant - we use verbal irony all the time in our lives when we comment upon things, for example, "I can't wait to get back home so I can start on my homework", whereas, obviously that is anything but the truth.

To convey verbal irony when we speak we can rely on our tone of voice to alert our listeners to the verbal irony in our speech. Writers cannot depend on tone of voice, so include so many examples of verbal irony that the reader cannot miss the point.

This essay is a classic example of verbal irony stretched to its very limit, from the title, "A Modest Proposal", which is anything but modest, to its ridiculous suggestion of eating Irish babes and comments on the relationships between the Irish and their English overlords. This excerpt is one of my particular favourites:

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

Here, the humour is based on the multiple meanings of "devoured", which in one sense refers to how the Irish adults have been made poor by rents, but another sense refers to a metaphorical devouring that clearly establishes Swift's opinion of how the English are acting in Ireland. Eating infants, therefore, is the only logical conclusion to such a policy.

In addition, the irony is increased by a constant reasonable tone of modesty, combined with the assumption of a voice of a practical economic planner. The speaker pretends to be full of common sense and completely objective, and at times, even sensitive and kind. This disparity between tone and content gives the essay a real bite.

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How does Swift use satire and irony in "A Modest Proposal"?

Dramatic irony occurs when the audience or reader knows more than the character. Some might find it difficult to argue for the existence of dramatic irony in this essay, but if you were going to make a case for it, you could argue that the reader is certainly supposed to realize that the speaker presents an incredibly awful idea—despite the fact that the speaker thinks it is fantastic. 

Other kinds of irony are easier to find. Irony, generally speaking, occurs when there is some discrepancy between expectation and reality.  For example, when we read the title of this text—"A Modest Proposal"—we might expect, perhaps, a humble speaker presenting an uncontroversial idea: something suitably "modest."  The reality is that this speaker is hardly humble—he thinks highly of himself and his idea for ridding the country of beggars—and the idea he presents could hardly be more controversial!  He proposes that one-year-old children be sold as a source of food, so it would be difficult to imagine a proposal less modest than this one. 

Another example of irony is that the speaker believes that his solution would solve many problems for the country, not the least of which is "that it will prevent those voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas! too frequent among us."  He laments how common it is for women to kill their children, but his plan is tantamount to the same thing!  What is the difference between someone killing their child to preserve their reputation or selling their child to be someone's dinner?  After such a statement as the above, we would expect the speaker's plan to somehow preserve or help these children.  In reality, he just wants women to keep their children alive long enough so they can net the women a profit.

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How does Jonathan Swift use satire to expose issues in "A Modest Proposal"?

In “A Modest Proposal,” Jonathan Swift uses satire to highlight the extreme poverty in Ireland and to critique the response of authority figures. The narrator’s outrageous solution to the food shortage and indifferent tone creates satire that underlines the dehumanization of the poor.

The exaggeration in this essay is what really makes it a satire. The narrator suggests that 100,000 babies born each year in Ireland should be eaten. He explains that this is a practical solution because it would provide food to the hungry, and it would help the economy. This suggestion is of course outrageous, but through it Swift critiques the way the poor are exploited by the upper class.

Swift’s use of irony also makes this essay one of the most famous examples of satire. Irony is present in literature when the outcome of a situation or argument is different than what is expected. For example, in “A Modest Proposal,” the speaker explains that the poor are suffering in Ireland. Then he explains that the solution to this problem is eating children. This is not an expected solution, especially given that the title states the proposal is going to be “modest.”

The narrator also uses a simple, matter-of-fact tone to emphasize that his proposal is reasonable. This adds to the satire because it critiques the indifferent attitude of the people who are actually in charge of making decisions. The narrator also bases his proposal on logic and does not reflect on its morality. This argumentative approach helps Swift show that logic cannot work without moral principles.

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How does Jonathan Swift employ imagery in A Modest Proposal?

In A Modest Proposal, Jonathan Swift satirically advocates a seemingly unpalatable yet fiscally advantageous solution to alleviating poverty, overpopulation, and starvation—cannibalism. Anticipating objection to this morally dubious idea, he uses imagery to illustrate how masses of humanity will be replaced by culinary delights. By vividly contrasting images of destitution and luxury, he strategically presents his argument for murdering children and using them as food.

Swift illustrates current society by creating a graphic and pitiful picture of the current world:

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 alms.

Beggars are everywhere and inescapable. Swift piles on numerous (“three, four, or six”) ill-dressed progeny pleading for food. Offspring climb all over their mothers, who have a “prodigious number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels.” These details evoke not only the sight of overburdened women, but also the sounds of crying toddlers and smells of unwashed children in ragged clothes. By appealing to vision, hearing, and smell through visual, auditory, and olfactory imagery, Swift evokes both sympathy and disgust in his call to help the poor.

Swift also presents his idea as a way to prevent abortions and infanticide. His idea would preclude

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 expense than the shame, which would move tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast.

In other words, if a mother can sell her child as food, she would not have to worry about the expenses incurred by raising the child. All of those “poor innocent babes” would be saved; even a “savage and inhuman” person would feel pity and weep “tears.”

Gradually, Swift shifts to imagery comparing children to livestock for food. His description “a child just dropped from its dam” inspires an absurd yet believable picture of a child birthed by a cow or another animal like cattle for breeding. In fact, images of currency accompany the valuation of children:

I am assured by our merchants that a boy or a girl before twelve years old is no salable commodity; and even when they come to this age they will not yield above three pounds, or three pounds and half a crown at most on the Exchange.

Once the reader becomes used to the idea of children as cattle, Swift presents imagery appealing to smell, taste, and touch. He describes a well-nursed, healthy one-year-old toddler as

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 fricassee or a ragout.

The child becomes a juicy, appetizing, and even nutritious culinary creation.

Like cattle, children should be fattened up by mothers who allow them to

suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump and fat for a good table. 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 writes like a foodie with images of abundant succulent dishes that sound inhuman (“fore or hind quarter") in order to make the normally disgusting act of cannibalism seem innocent and appealing. Just add “a little pepper or salt” and forget you are eating another human being! Most importantly, this hot-cooked meal will keep people from starving and bring them comfort on a cold winter day.

Also, children can be used for clothing. Swift suggests skinning them for “admirable gloves for ladies, and summer boots for fine gentlemen.” With these images of superficial apparel, he captures the appeal of fashionable, soft gloves and boots for members of high society.

Eventually, Swift portrays children as preferable to—and more efficient—than animals. Instead of thousands of carcasses for “barreled beef” and “swine’s flesh” for food, people can enjoy fine dining by eating children. Swift graphically contrasts pork with humans:

the great destruction of pigs, too frequent at our tables, which are no way comparable in taste or magnificence to a well-grown, fat, yearling child, which roasted whole will make a considerable figure at a lord mayor’s feast or any other public entertainment.

The mass of pigs is nowhere near as delicious in taste or elegant in appearance as a single young and plump child prepared “whole” to “make a considerable figure” at a formal occasion.

Finally, Swift illustrates how food shortage will be replaced by food abundance with his proposal to repurpose children for “food and raiment for an hundred thousand useless mouths and backs.” The synecdoche “hundred thousand useless mouths and backs” replaces actual human beings; a population is reduced to hungry and “useless mouths” and unclothed “backs.”

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what ways does jonathan swift use satire in "a modest proposal?'

First, Swift is satirizing the many proposals written by numerous, well-meaning reformers putting forth various plans to help Ireland and its people, many of whom are English and do not even understand the cause of Ireland's desperate situation--incredible poverty, over population, resources stripped for the benefit of England.  And Swift, adopting the tone and logic of a typical "projector," provides yet another "modest" proposal to cure one of Ireland's most serious problems, over population.

Swift's elaborate, thorough, and logical discussion of the economics of his proposal, in which he thoughtfully includes ideas on the preparation of children for various meals, helps disguise the horror of his subject--that is, eating children as if they were meat.

The satire's real target, of course, is not the proposals he is imitating here but the English government, which has exploited the Irish people and land so completely that the Irish have only one marketable commodity left--children who must be raised and sold literally like cattle.

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What are examples of literary devices in Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal"?

Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” is an eighteenth-century satirical exposition that advocates for the eating and skinning of young children to alleviate Ireland’s poverty crisis. Throughout his essay, Swift employs a variety of literary devices and rhetorical strategies to persuade his audience of his solution.

An apostrophe is a literary device that occurs when the speaker addresses a third party, whether it be an absent person, an inanimate object, or an abstract concept or idea.  An example of an apostrophe in “A Modest Proposal” occurs at the end of the essay when Swift addresses the individuals who may propose a different route of action. He states, “But before something of that kind shall be advanced in Contradiction to my Scheme, and offering a better, I desire the Author, or Authors will be pleased maturely to consider two points.” This is an example of apostrophe because Swift stops addressing the reader and addresses the third party of authors crafting different proposals.

Antithesis is a figurative of speech that contrasts two ideas through a parallel structure. In “A Modest Proposal,” a rather lengthy antithesis occurs towards the end when Swift contrasts other solutions to Ireland’s poverty crisis with the repetition of “Of” at the beginning of each reason:

  • "Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: Of taxing our absentees at five shillings a pound: Of using neither cloaths, 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, wherein we differ even from Laplanders, and the inhabitants of Topinamboo: Of quitting our animosities and factions, nor acting any longer like the Jews, who were murdering one another at the very moment their city was taken: Of being a little cautious not to sell our country and consciences for nothing: Of teaching landlords to have at least one degree of mercy towards their tenants."

In this example of antithesis, each opposition retains the parallel structure of “Of + a gerund,” which contributes to the rhythmic cadence of this contrasting section.

Didactic works have the sole purpose of imparting morals or information, specifically in the fields of religion, philosophy, history and/or politics. While the argument can be made that Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” is a didactic work, for it raises awareness about Ireland’s poverty crisis and provides information about the current state of the nation, a much more contained example is found in his criticism of wealthy Protestants:

  • "For first, as I have already observed, it would greatly lessen the Number of Papists, with whom we are Yearly over-run, being the principal Breeders of the Nation, as well as our most dangerous Enemies, and who stay at home on purpose with a design to deliver the Kingdom to the Pretender, hoping to take their Advantage by the absence of so many good Protestants,  who have chosen rather to leave their Country, than stay at home, and pay Tythes against their Conscience, to an idolatrous Episcopal Curate."

In this example of didacticism, Swift provides information on the religious factions of Ireland while simultaneously criticizing the wealthy Protestants for not showing compassion to the Catholics, or Papists. This contributes to the work as a whole by offering religious and political information central to Swift’s message.

Figurative language is a rather broad term for literary devices that utilize words or expressions apart from their literal meaning to impart more impact and effect. Common examples include metaphors, similes, allusions, hyperbole, and symbols. Throughout “A Modest Proposal,” Swift uses animalistic language to metaphorically refer to the “breeding,” “butchering,” and “eating” of children. He states, “Men would become as fond of their Wives, during the Time of Pregnancy, as they are now of their Mares in Foal, their Cows in Calf, or Sows when they are ready to Farrow.” Here, Swift metaphorically compares pregnant women to “Mares in Foal,” and “Cows in Calf,” emphasizing the “agricultural” nature of his proposal. Another example is when he states, “I recommend buying the Children alive, and dressing them hot from Knife, as we do roasting Pigs.” In this rather grotesque simile, Swift compares children to “roasting Pigs.”

Aphorisms are statements of truth that are presented in a concise and witty manner. Swift concludes his essay with the aphorism of “Work having no other Motive than the publick Good of my Country.” This is an aphorism because it is a matter-of-fact, concise statement that offers truth in a witty manner—Swift proposes he is arguing for the good of the public.

  • Dialect is a form of language that is specific to a particular time, region, or social class. The following excerpt is an example of dialect:

"It is true a Child, just dropt from it's Dam, may be supported by her Milk, for a Solar year with little other Nourishment, at most not above the Value of two Shillings, which the Mother may certainly get, or the Value in Scraps, by her lawful Occupation of begging, and it is exactly at one year Old that I propose to provide for them, in such a manner, as, instead of being a Charge upon their Parents, or the Parish, or wanting Food and Raiment for the rest of their Lives, they shall, on the Contrary, contribute to the Feeding and partly to the Cloathing of many Thousands."

This excerpt showcases the eighteenth-century dialect of Swift. He refers to a newborn child as ”just dropt from [its] Dam,” and he uses time-specific diction, such as “Solar year,” “parish,” and “shillings.”  Also of note, Swift writes in an elaborate manner that is characteristic of eighteenth-century texts. He inflates his prose with verbose descriptions and arguments.

Finally, a rhetorical question is a question proposed without expecting an answer. An example of a rhetorical question is, “As things now stand, how will they be able to find Food and Raiment for a hundred thousand useless Mouths and Backs.” This is a rhetorical question because Swift knows the audience does not have an answer to this monstrous undertaking and uses this question to further support his own argument.

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What are the grotesque elements in Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal"?

In literature, the "grotesque" refers to that which invokes a feeling of uncomfortable bizarreness as well as sympathetic pity. It is used to describe anything that is strange, ugly, unpleasant, or disgusting. Swift's "A Modest Proposal" is full of the grotesque. 

He sets out to establish himself as a well-meaning, level-headed citizen interested in finding a solution to Ireland's poverty. In particular, he's about to suggest a way to deal with the children of the poor who tend to become beggars and thieves in the streets, in such a way that everyone would benefit. The way he sets himself up as a reasonable man only exaggerates the grotesqueness of what he actually suggests: 

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 fricassee or a ragout.

What he is suggesting is, in itself, strange, unpleasant, and even disgusting. Another element of the grotesque present here is the apparent calm, matter-of-fact way he goes about making his case. He suggests roasting an entire infant for company or simply a hindquarter with a little salt and pepper for a family--as though he is a chef suggesting what dish people in a fine restaurant might order. This is entirely incongruous with the subject matter, which makes it grotesque. 

Further, he suggests flaying the carcass to produce ladies' gloves--as if ladies would wear such a thing. 

His apparent assumption, throughout, is that simple economics and the tables of the rich and cleaning up the streets are far more important than the lives of the poor. The thing is...this is absolutely true, which is the heart of his masterpiece, the soul of his wit. He's simply using grotesque exaggeration to point out this sad fact. 

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Why is the title of Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" humorous?

Merriam-Webster defines the word modest as “placing a moderate estimate on one's abilities or worth,” “observing the proprieties of dress and behavior,” and “limited in size, amount, or scope.” In his essay “A Modest Proposal,” Jonathan Swift puts forth an idea for alleviating poverty and food shortages while eliminating starvation. This proposed plan, however, is decidedly NOT modest by any definition of the word. Swift uses the word modest ironically—his proposal is absurd and immoral. Most importantly, the word modest is what makes the essay’s title funny: the proposal is not humble, proper, or limited in scope.

First, the title makes Swift seems like he is just trying to help and merely offering his humble opinion. Initially, he appears sympathetic to the plight of mothers struggling with multiple unclothed offspring as well as children begging in the street. After dramatically describing the plight of overburdened women and “poor innocent babes,” he demurely states,

I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.

His tone, however, is falsely modest and condescending. Also, the plan he then details is neither humble nor unobjectionable.

Second, this plan flouts the rules of propriety or modesty; his suggestion of cannibalism is ludicrously distasteful and improper. In painstakingly hilarious detail, Swift calculates a cost-benefit analysis of using cannibalism to kill (literally) two birds with one stone. Overpopulation and ensuing masses of hungry mouths to feed would be eliminated by using poor children as food. He writes 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

Furthermore, this gruesome plan would benefit the wealthy class and suggests an undertone of luxury or immodesty:

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.

Third, the plan is not limited in scope but encompasses a large portion of the population, specifically the lower classes. He professes a wish to help

the children of professed beggars [and to]...a much greater extent...the whole number of infants at a certain age, who are born of parents in effect as little able to support them, as those who demand our charity in the streets

Swift’s supposedly modest plan is actually excessive in depth and breadth with the massive number of children needed for it to be successful and sustainable.

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.

The remaining one hundred thousand children would then be fattened up and sold as food.

Finally, Swift ends his essay with more faux modesty, portraying himself as if selfless humanitarian. He claims that

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.

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What rhetorical strategies does Swift use in lines 200-205 of "A Modest Proposal"?

Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” is a satiric exposition that proposes the people of Ireland eat their children as a way to end the country’s mass starvation.  Since the nature of his proposal is absurd, Swift employs several rhetorical strategies to effectively communicate the importance of the subject—Swift is not actually suggesting the people eat their children, but is trying to raise awareness of the nationwide epidemic.  Specifically in lines 200-205, Swift uses the rhetorical strategy of comparison and contrast to demonstrate the superiority of his proposal.  The excerpt is taken from a paragraph that offers other solutions to Ireland’s hunger issue.  Swift states, “Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients,” and he launches into examples of other solutions, such as raising taxes, reducing foreign imports, curing the rich of vanity, and eliminating social prejudice.  The segment ends with lines 200-205, where Swift lists the solutions of teaching landlords to have mercy towards their tenants and to imbue shopkeepers with a sense of honesty and pride.  These “other expedients” contrast Swift’s own proposal, but are adorned with an air of absurdity so that the reader perceives Swift’s proposal as sensible and the most logical action.  This juxtaposition serves to elevate the validity of Swift’s solution. 

While compare and contrast is the central rhetorical strategy, other devices can be found in this section.  Anaphora, the repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of each sentence, is found in the recurrence of “Of” at the start of each contrast.  This strategy not only emphasizes the tenets of the argument, but elicits a particular rhythm to Swift’s writing that makes the list more memorable.  In addition, lines 200-205 exhibit an example of deductive reasoning, a device used to draw a conclusion from a set of premises.  In this section, Swift draws the conclusion that any of these seemingly valid solutions will in fact backfire and cause greater problems, claiming that if shopkeepers are taught honesty, they “would immediately unite to cheat and exact upon us in the price, the measure, and the goodness.”  Swift’s deduction is that these solutions are ludicrous, and his original proposal is the only sure way to end hunger.  Finally, although it is a minor device, Swift uses alliteration in line 200: “Of being a little cautious not to sell our country and consciences for nothing.”  Similar to the function of the anaphora, the alliteration incites a rhythmic cadence to Swift’s argument, making it much more appealing for his audience. 

The rhetorical strategies employed in lines 200-205 contribute to the overall purpose of the essay because they appeal to Logos, one of the three categories of rhetorical strategies that use logic and reason to convince or persuade the targeted audience. Compare and contrast and deductive reasoning are both forms of logos.  The essay is highly ironic, and Swift’s ability to sway the people of Ireland stems from his capacity to reasonably argue the validity of eating children, and this is done by listing seemingly realistic alternatives and presenting them as illogical solutions.  In order to showcase the superiority of his proposal, Swift must eloquently address the opposing side and deductively demonstrate how “other expedients” will not work. 

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Is Jonathan Swift's rhetoric in "A Modest Proposal" effective?

Certainly this is a subjective question, but I argue that Swift's rhetorical method in "A Modest Proposal" is effective for the purpose of criticizing the English government and raising awareness of the plight of Irish farmers and the working poor.  In the essay, Swift uses satire to develop the absurd situation of people selling their children as food.  Swift develops this situation to criticize the negative stereotypes that were commonly held of Irish Catholic people in the early 1700s.  Swift attempts to show that people cannot be treated like animals which is how he sees the treatment of poor farmers under wealthy landlords who do nothing to help when drought hits Ireland.  So Swift's rhetoric is effective in making such criticism and making people aware of it.  It is possible that an ultimate goal is to have landlords change their attitude and policies regarding farmers; however, this change would not come as a direct result of the essay.  Much of Swift's political writing ended up being censored at the time of publication because its scathing critique angered government officials.

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What is one key satirical strategy used in "A Modest Proposal"?

First, it is important to understand satire.  Satire is when an author uses humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to criticize people’s stupidity or vices.  One of the most important satirical devices used by Swift is exaggeration.  When Swift says the following: “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 fricassee or a ragout,” he does not really mean he wants the people of his time to eat babies.  He is exaggerating his point in order to show people that children are starving in Ireland, and it would be a good thing to do something about it.  Yes, his proposal to use babies as food seems harsh and a little scary, but what he is really saying to his own government is:  “Look!  There are starving people in the streets, starving women and children.  What are you doing to do about it?” 

Swift is also the master of irony.  Statements like: “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,”  are excellent examples of irony.  Swift says this food will be somewhat dear, meaning expensive (obviously, if people are losing their children) and therefore good food for landlords who are already eating the parents alive.  Here, Swift makes fun of the outrageous rents and poor living conditions of his time.  By taking something as precious and innocent as a child and suggesting that it should be made into a meal, Swift is mocking the people who pass by women and children begging every day and do nothing about it.

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What is Swift's satirical method in "A Modest Proposal" and its message?

Swift's famous essay takes a contemporary issue--the Irish Famine--and the British government's response to it and then satirises the situation in his treatise by assuming the voice of a statistical planner. You might want to think about the number of times that statistics are referenced. Consider the following example:

I have reckoned upon a medium, that a child just born will weigh twelve pounds, and in a solar year if tolerably nursed increaseth to twenty-eight pounds.

Note how Swift makes every effort to present himself as a reasonable, logical man who has thought through his sums with great care, even trying to establish a "medium" of a baby's birth weight. We need to be aware of the wider implications of what Swift is satirising. He is not just trying to satirise the response of the British government--he is also protesting against a view of humanity where humans are treated as numbers and mothers to "breeders" and babies to a food source. Swift's satirical method is to make himself appear as the most chilling, cold-blooded monster possible so as to reveal similar attitudes in his audience.

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What are the logical, emotional, and ethical lines of reasoning used by Jonathan Swift in "The Modest Proposal"?

Jonathan Swift adopts a separate persona in narrating this letter whose views are distinct from those of the author. This narrator uses logic almost exclusively; the thoroughly worked out logical precision of each point of the proposal gives it the heavy satirical punch. The logic seems incontrovertible, so there would be no reason that a sensible person would object.

In addition to logic, the narrator does appeal to emotion and morality overall. A solution needs to be found to alleviate human suffering: the narrator aims to generate sympathy for the starving poor. The moral imperative is of the highest order: it is the duty of good people to help those less fortunate.

In the last argument, emotion and morality are also stressed in arguing for the positive on courting couples and newlyweds. Knowing they wouldn't have to worry, as couples do now, about how to provide for their children would help them to decide to marry. Removing that concern is a morally defensible course of action.

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What are the logical, emotional, and ethical lines of reasoning used by Jonathan Swift in "The Modest Proposal"?

Swift's basic idea when writing "A Modest Proposal" was to cause outrage within the country.  His ideas were so preposterous that he was sure it would cause a frenzy.  He was hoping this frenzy would help cause people to begin finding a solution for the country's hunger problems.  The logical aspect may be the straightforwardness of his "proposal".  He writes the proposal as if there is no other solution except for the one he is talking about.  The emotional aspect is shown through his ability to enrage the reader because of his terrible plan.  After reading his proposal, many students have said, "He wants to do what?!"  It is completely unbelievable and therefore causes us to react emotionally to the piece.  Finally, the entire proposal could be a lesson on ethics.  Who would actually want to eat innocent children?  It is a huge moral dilemma and even those who would normally consider themselves to be morally dubious would agree that Swift most have lost his mind.   

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