Satire and Authority Swift's "Modest Proposal"
Thuy Nguyen, English 171,Sages, Satirists, and New Journalists, Brown University, Autumn 2003
Jonathan Swift uses satire to underscore the problem of poverty in Ireland, proposing that the solution lies in the buying and selling of children's bodies. His "modest proposal" offers statistical data, political analysis, and even future projections to the improvements that will be made upon the country. Although seemingly absurd, he demands credibility by referring to people of authority and by emphasizing the numbers. Swift not only points out the numerous advantages of his proposal, but also challenges others to come up with their own-one that solves the problems of poverty and overpopulation in a manner that is more beneficial to their country:
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. But before something of that kind shall be advanced in contradiction to my scheme, and offering a better, I desire the author or authors will be pleased maturely to consider two points. First, As things now stand, how they will be able to find food and raiment for a hundred thousand useless mouths and backs. And secondly, There being a round million of creatures in humane figure throughout this kingdom, whose whole subsistence put into a common stock, would leave them in debt two million of pounds sterling, adding those who are beggars by profession, to the bulk of farmers, cottagers and labourers, with their wives and children, who are beggars in effect; I desire those politicians who dislike my overture, and may perhaps be so bold to attempt an answer, that they will first ask the parents of these mortals, whether they would not at this day think it a great happiness to have been sold for food at a year old, in the manner I prescribe, and thereby have avoided such a perpetual scene of misfortunes, as they have since gone through, by the oppression of landlords, the impossibility of paying rent without money or trade, the want of common sustenance, with neither house nor cloaths to cover them from the inclemencies of the weather, and the most inevitable prospect of intailing the like, or greater miseries, upon their breed for ever. [p. 6]
1. How does Swift use satire to gain authority or credibility in this paragraph?
2. Do you think it would have been more effective if Swift had stated and emphasized the reasons why his proposal would be the only solution rather than challenging the future authors to solve all the problems that his proposal apparently does?3. Who does Swift call on in this paragraph to give authority to his proposal?
Last modified 8 February 2005