The purpose of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal is to rail against the English for their brutal treatment of the Irish. Swift uses political satire to show readers exactly what the Irish faced in this particular time period. He portrays the landlords as insatiable beast intent on devouring Irish tenants; this affects the pose of a reasonable man anxious to find a solution to the problem.
The obvious irony in A Modest Proposal is that, by most moral standards, Swift’s proposal is far from modest. The most impressive thing about Swift is his ability to convincingly defend such a disingenuous opinion. In A Modest Proposal, Swift not only exhibits his rhetorical capability, but he also raises legitimate questions about the social climate of Ireland.
Swift continues the central concern of his essay in a calculated and deceptively rational tone by using phrases like “agreed by all parties” and explaining that he has “maturely weighed the several schemes of Ireland’s projectors.” Swift presents his objective, truthful assessment of Ireland’s problem without so much as hinting at his extreme and highly questionable means to its solution. By the time Swift introduces his plan of action, he has already developed within the reader the idea that he is going somewhere logical.
Swift wanted readers to view him as a empathetic, logical man with genuine interests in solving problems for the Irish. By Swift doing this, he set himself up as a man that would never make the outrageous proposal to come , which in return, makes his words more effective.
Political satire is the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s lack of knowledge or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues. In this instance, Swift used political satire as way way to express his concern of poverty in Ireland and taunt the wealthy’s perspective towards the poor during the famine. Swift is not saying eating children is a logical answer to the problem, instead he is demonstrating the lack of emotion and brutal attitude of the wealthy, while addressing the issues he sees with the Irish government.
Today, we see many different forms of political satire. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is bizarre, mystical, and allegorical. Bulgakov’s satire on Stalinist tyranny, written inside the Soviet Union, remained unpublished for thirty years after his passing. Featuring a all star cast of Jesus Christ, Satan, Pontius Pilate, and the elite of literary Moscow, the unethical, cruel, grasping nomenklatura of Stalin’s regime lurk from beneath the barest of veils. The Master and Margarita and A Modest Proposal contain irony, a increase of tension in the speaker’s tone, and sarcasm. Swift states, “The skin of which artificially dressed, will make admirable gloves for ladies, and summer boots for gentlemen”(…).
Swift uses lofty wording in A Modest Proposal, for example, “maturely weigh[s] the several schemes of other projectors… grossly mistaken in their projections”(…). Swift’s word choice or diction contributes to the irony of his work, starting with his title. His choice of the word “modest” automatically creates irony when the reader finds out later in the proposal that it is anything but modest. These strategies are what keep the reader captivated throughout the proposal.
Swift’s tone is unemotional and unbiased, de-emphasized and unconcerned. This is crucial to the irony that unfolds in the proposal. He speaks dispassionately on a issue that is actually tender and compassionate.