Satire and the Deployment of Irony in A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

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Satire and the Deployment of Irony in A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: of taxing our absentees at 5s. a pound: of using neither clothes, 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
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Swift expertly wields irony as a tool to satirize the many butts of his essay. Although he seems to be taking a swipe at the practices of many people, from the English oppressors and the Americans to the Irish landlords and the poor, oppressed Irish, it may be argued that the main butt of his essay in the above passage are actually the Irish. The above passage can be read ironically or non-ironically but it is possible to view the ironic message in it as the true message that Swift might be trying to convey in his satire of the Irish people.

Before examining the deployment of irony and satire in "A Modest Proposal", it is first necessary to understand the brief historical background of colonial oppression in Ireland and to establish the context of the above passage to the rest of the essay. At the time "A Modest Proposal" was written, Northern Ireland was colonized by England and there was deep-rooted animosity between the oppressed Irish Papists, and their oppressors, the English and their descendants in Ireland, who were mainly Protestants and were by-and-large the land-owners in Ireland. During that period of political and religious strife, Ireland was also overpopulated and in the throes of poverty. As stated in its subtitle, "A Modest Proposal" is presented as a legitimate proposal for 'preventing the children of the poor people in Ireland from being a burden to their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the public"

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