tablesetting complete with forks, knives, and spoons, and a baby on the plate in the center above the words "A Modest Proposal"

A Modest Proposal

by Jonathan Swift

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Student Question

Who is the "expert" in Swift's "A Modest Proposal"?

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Throughout this excellent satirical essay, Jonathan Swift appeals to the expert advice of a number of individuals to support his argument and give what he is saying an illusion of credibility. It is important to realise that Swift deliberately uses this to heighten the element of satire in this clearly ludicrous proposal: throughout the essay he strikes a reasonable, carefully calculating tone, to which the appeal to experts adds weight. Note how he does this in the following example:

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 ragout.

Here, the overt appeal for credibility, achieved through reference to a "very knowing American" is completely undercut through the understanding that the label "American" in the time of Swift would automatically be associated with a barbaric person. So, whilst the "expert" he refers to goes unnamed, it is important to identify how Swift's appeal to expert advice is used by him to heighten the element of satire in this provocative and challenging essay.

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