Jonathan Swift's Changing Tone in "A Modest Proposal"
Quinn Kenworthy, English 171 Brown University, Autumn 2003
In a clear tone change Jonathan Swift writes more earnestly in this passage, abandoning the sardonic qualities of the rest of the piece while offering the reader further insight into the authorÕs life in Ireland. Swift explains,
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 'twas indeed one principal design in offering it to the world. I desire the reader will observe, that I calculate my remedy for this one individual Kingdom of Ireland, and for no other that ever was, is, or, I think, ever can be upon Earth. Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: Of taxing our absentees at five shillings a pound: Of using neither cloaths, nor houshold 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 was taken: Of being a little cautious not to sell our country and consciences for nothing: Of teaching landlords to have at least one degree of mercy towards their tenants. Lastly, of putting a spirit of honesty, industry, and skill into our shop-keepers, who, if a resolution could now be taken to buy only our native goods, would immediately unite to cheat and exact upon us in the price, the measure, and the goodness, nor could ever yet be brought to make one fair proposal of just dealing, though often and earnestly invited to it.
1. What is at stake in changing tones as dramatically as Swift does in this passage of the text? Does SwiftÕs more earnest tone disregard the rest of the piece -- in other words, what is gained and what is lost in this passage in relation to the rest of the piece?
2. How do the historical details (his proposal ideas) in this passage work — do we as the reader believe what he says or is the transition to these facts too abrupt?
3. Is SwiftÕs voice clearer in this passage? Does the reader trust this voice more than the ironic voice?
Last modified 7 September 2003