Satire, Humor, and Shock Value in Swifts' A Modest Proposal Essay

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Satire, Humor, and Shock Value in Swifts' A Modest Proposal

Swift's message to the English government in "A Modest Proposal" deals with the disgusting state of the English-Irish common people. Swift, as the narrator expresses pity for the poor and oppressed, while maintaining his social status far above them. The poor and oppressed that he refers to are Catholics, peasants, and the poor homeless men, women, and children of the kingdom. This is what Swift is trying to make the English government, in particular the Parliament aware of; the great socioeconomic distance between the increasing number of peasants and the aristocracy, and the effects thereof. Swift conveys his message in a brilliant essay, in which he uses …show more content…

This refers to the Catholic doctrine prohibiting birth control.

Swift estimates that there are 120,000 children of poor parents born annually. These children are a burden on society because " . . .we can neither employ them in handicraft or agriculture "(2183), they have no practical skills or uses. To deal with this problem, Swift makes his "modest proposal," using a device that is timeless in its effectiveness-shock value:

[A] 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. (2182)

Indeed the proposal to eat the poor is a shocking statement, but what adds to the shock value is the delivery. For example, take the last statement regarding a fricassee. This statement is not necessary for the point, but it certainly adds to the appalling nature of the quote. The sarcastic nature puts Swift so far above the poor subjects that it evokes an extremely humorous response. Swift digresses and uses sarcasm numerous times in the essay, to emphasize truisms in a manner that tries to be less than direct, but has the ultimate effect of clarity. For example Swift proposes that some one of the uses for the children would be to

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