Swift's "A Modeste Proposal"

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Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”


English 301

December 3, 20xx

In “A Modest Proposal” (1729), Jonathan Swift used satire for a double purpose: to attack those that he considered responsible for the financial situation of Ireland, and in the same time, to push those who were in a position of power to take rational measures against poverty in Ireland. In his poem, Swift made use of the image of the Projector; a character whose role is that o designing plans that would lead to some improvements being made in the society. Swift’s narrator in “A Modest Proposal” is an Economic Projector who imagines the entire plan from the point of view of a cold and objective individual. The
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He thus proposes to literally do that to children of poor families: if their families sold them and the rich bought them, in order to use their skin for clothing, and eat their flesh, the economy would flourish. His argument is not controversial in shape. It is controversial in nature.

In order to understand the poem as swift intended it to be understood, one must first distinguish between the author’s voice and the narrator’s voice. According to Robert Phiddian, “the interpretation of the proposal has always involved awareness that it is not a ‘straight’ piece of economic projection, and that swift is operating independently of the narrator, in a covert manner”(1996, p.608). This means that the readers must interpret the poem in two different ways, as an economic proposal and as a political pamphlet. In other words, the narrator’s reality is not the same with the author’s reality. The narrator is serious in his proposal, while the author is not.

The purpose of the poem is obviously rhetorical, and much criticism concerning the poem has focused around the rhetoric strategies used by the author. However, as David Nokes argued, “the key to the proposal is the proposer” (cited in Phiddian 608). The main strategy employed by the author is from this point of view that of giving a voice to a character that impersonates a man with no moral concerns whatsoever, a character who is able to act from pure economic level. This creates irony because

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