al Swift Modest Proposal EssaysSarcasm and Irony inA Modest Proposal
InA Modest Proposal, by Jonathan Swift, the main objective was to draw attention to the plight of the Irish people and motivate readers to find a workable solution. Swift shows the readers his proposal mainly through irony. Irony can be defined as expressing the opposite of what is meant. This is a great technique of the sense of humor used in the proposal and in Swift.
One of the voices that are present throughout the story is that of irony. The story itself is ironic since no one can take Swifts proposal seriously. This irony is clearly demonstrated at the end of the story; Swift makes it clear that this proposal would not affect him since his children were grown and his wife unable to have any more children. It would be rather absurd to think that a rational man would want to both propose this and partake in the eating of another human being. Therefore, before an canalization can continue, one has to make the assumption that this is strictly a fictional work and Swift had no intention of pursuing his proposal any further.
One of the other voices that are present throughout the entire story is that of sarcasm. Right from the first paragraph Swift attempts to fool his readers by the sarcasm of the dreary scene that Swift presents. For example, he mentions that it is a melancholy sight to see beggars and their children on the street. The sarcastic paradox in this statement is whether it is a melancholy object for him, having to see homeless people every day, or for the beggars lifestyle? Upon first reading this one may be led to believe that Swift is a compassionate writer attempting to feel the pain of the beggars. But as the story continues, a reader can look back and note that he is using a sarcastic tone and the only sad sight that he sees is the fact that people of his status have to deal with commoners. It is a good combination that makes the reader think twice about any other statements, and the voice used, after the first paragraph.
Also, one could argue that the whole context of the story must be taken into account. First of all, one must take into account the environment in which the story was written. During this time period, the beggars that Swift describes could not read, much less afford to buy one of Swifts works. Swift was well aware that his audience was the well-to-do upper class. He could write proposal like this knowing that there would be no repercussions since the upper class would treat this as a comedy. Actually, the lower class could have revolted fearing that their children were in danger if they knew of the story. In effect, it is a combination of both propaganda and humor aimed for the educated audience. Secondly, if Swift did want to help the lower class, he would not have created an exemption for himself in the last paragraph. If he wanted to initiate this plan to help the lower class, then he should have been the one to start it all. Also, why would he propose such a heinous plan that involves both the sacrifice of another human as well as cannibalism and expect to be taken seriously?
A reader has to conclude that a work of this nature, from such a dynamic author must be read with both some literary awe and criticism. One can spend many hours trying to analyze the words, the sentences and even entire paragraphs to find a deeper hidden meaning in this story. Yet, this story should be viewed as a fictional work and as one of the best demonstrations of sarcasm and irony combined. Anything beyond that would be purely hypothetical and would distract from the purity of this story.