Shocking the Sensibilities in A Modest Proposal

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Shocking the Sensibilities in A Modest Proposal        


Two Works Cited    Three years after Gulliver's Travels was published, Jonathan  Swift wrote "A Modest Proposal," a work grounded in thoughtful satire. Swift describes the destitution that characterized the life of Ireland's poor in the 18th century then renders a brazenly inhumane solution to their problems. He shocks the sensibilities of the readers then leads them to consider the inhumanity of the destitution in the first place.

Although he was born in Ireland, Swift considered himself an Englishman first, and the English were his intended audience. Swift used the good reputation afforded him by
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By the 18th century, Irish Catholics were denied suffrage, education, and the opportunity to serve in the military.


After the introduction to the problem, Swift describes his solution, with the first paragraphs indicative of the faux panacea he crafts it to be. He proposes that the children of Ireland's poor should be utilized as a food supply and a source of leather products. The body of the essay is devoted to an unflinchingly positive portrayal of this proposal and its benefits. Swift also addresses problems that would arise if his proposal was enacted. He acknowledges that it would slow population growth in Ireland, then disregards that argument: "I can think of no one objection that will possibly be raised against this proposal, unless it should be urged that the number of people will be thereby much lessened in the kingdom. This I freely own, and it was indeed one principal design in offering it to the world" (116).


A good satirist often disguises the key point of an essay and Swift is no exception. After outlining aspects of his proposal, he makes an effective appeal to reason: "After all, I am not so violently bent upon my own opinion as to reject any offer proposed by wise men, which shall be found equally innocent, cheap, easy, and effectual" (116). Using the tone of high-minded satire to the very end, Swift concludes with a short paragraph recusing himself from personal gain were his proposal to be enacted.


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