A satire written with a pen of fool's gold

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A Research essay on A Modest Proposal by Johnaathan Swift - how the work highlights the flaws of Swift's attitude

Submitted: July 11, 2011

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Submitted: July 11, 2011




Jonathan Swift: A Satire Written with a Pen of Fool’s Gold

Where can the line be drawn between a noble patron and a belligerent fool? To cry foul of a wrong and not experience the wrong itself is to be an oddity in, if nothing else, an emotionless world. However, to walk among those that suffers and claim to know the struggle that is being endured is to become one of the greatest evils known to decent human beings in the form of hypocrisy. Although, with proper maneuvering and well written scriptures and paragraphs, it seems easy enough to be remembered as one of the greatest figures in written history that span two millennium. With the most egotistical of the work that is provided as a shining example of what is to be considered the proper way to do things; is nothing more than a farce and its premise no more than a vain attempt at ensnaring the attention of the reader, whilst chastising the people that hold no responsibility, and to force a new way of thinking and acting onto those very readers. This exemplified writer, Jonathan Swift, spun a web of words in this most heralded satire, so cunningly; that anyone can be charmed by Swift’s supposed greatest work. “A Modest Proposal can be used as a guide to Jonathan Swift’s faulty personality, which is of a borderline anarchist with a warped view of the world and how satirical work could possibly shape it.


Although Swift’s intentions were good, the privileged outlook of the world by the Swift family stops Swift the satirist and Swift the man from truly being able to truly understand the problem, but to truly dissect the problem Swift suffered from, “A Modest Proposal” must be examined and criticized as if the story was meant in the literal sense. “I can think of no one objection that will possibly be raised against this proposal” (Swift 629). Which if examined in the literal sense as an extension of Swift’s psyche, what is shown is a terribly contrasted perspective into the persona Swift used to write about the horrors of Ireland and the persona that was in use throughout Swift’s life in day to day outings? This begs the question of what if such a solution as in “A Modest Proposal,” or something to the nature of it had actually had meet the approval of Britain’s parliament, and it was decided that such a thing was the only means of solving the over-population problem? Moreover, Swift’s argument itself can only be considered as a secondary complaint as to the fact that despite being born in Ireland, Swift had amenities that would cause most to rethink the morals and values of nature and how they were raised. Jonathan Swift was born November 30, 1667 in Dublin Ireland, son to a wealthy British landowner that had moved Ireland, but had died the same year Swift was born:


“Receiving financial aid from relatives, Swift attended a good school for his basic education and graduated from Trinity College in Dublin 1686. He lived off and on in England, became an Anglican clergyman and eventually was appointed dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, although he lobbied for a position in England. His writings - especially his satires, made him one of the most prominent citizens in Great Britain, where he worked for a time on behalf of Tory causes” (Cummings).


This passage provides significant evidence to the contrary of how Swift apparently cared about and understood the suffering of the Irish. As although he was born in Dublin itself, Swift as a clergyman wanted appointment to an English church at first, showing that Swift was more comfortable living in England. However, despite being regulated to his home city, it can be assumed that Swift did not want for anything as the dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Also add the factors that being a very prominent in Britain itself along with working for the Tory party, which was formed under the ideals of promoting monarchism and a unitary political system that would most likely continue to suppress the Irish, just shows how much of a hypocrite Swift was in both the writings and real-situations of the day.


 Along with being hypocritical in nature, Swift’s writings, especially “A Modest Proposal,” the views and issues undertaken and discussed can be considered anarchistic by even today’s standards, let alone those of the seventeenth century. Swift’s own personal way of writing is considered highly unique, but it is done in a way that allows the opinions of an Anglican clergyman seep into the context. “It would greatly lessen the number of papists… hoping to take their absence of so many good protestants” (Swift 628). Again, the story must be reviewed in the literal sense. It is unfortunate that Swift is allowed to bully people that think different from the way that Swift believes is contemporary and modern thinking and that the persecution of an entire people would be allowed, even if such practices were not frowned upon in that day and age.


Swift also, in a limited capacity, dresses down the reader of “A Modest Proposal” in an act of forcing guilt on to those that would allow the Irish situation to go unchecked, which itself was a very serious problem, but Swift went about it in the wrong way in hoping that this dressing down would inspire those of power to take action, when the exact opposite could occur if great care was not taken. “Thus, as Swift’s projector was recommending his own unique manner of dressing

Ireland’s children to perfection, Swift was simultaneously dressing down his reader, chastising his inhumanity while cloaking his remarks, as always behind mask of feigned sincerity” (Bengals).  Swift basically insults the readers of “Modest Proposal” in one of the worst ways possible; as if they are not mentally capable of handling remarks or the bluntness they would possess and hiding the true purpose behind a comforting visage.


Swift’s over-enthusiastic use of attention-grabbing imagery and using Justinian satire to provoke the readers are generous forms of satire that can have lasting effects, but Swift is belligerent in its use and does not know the profound nature of which is being instigated. As evidence of this inability, Swift’s ability to see through to the real problem possessing the Irish people becomes extremely disheartening, despite Swift saying otherwise. In “A Modest Proposal,” Swift states the case for using the plans mentioned within the essay, but then states something that seems to be condescending in and of itself,

“Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients” (Swift 628). In a literal sense, Swift is rejecting any other sensible help that could be provided bother intellectuals who are worried over the same topic, only to want to go about solving the problem in perhaps a more sensible way, but Swift denies even this to occur, effectively making out “A Modest Proposal’s solution to be the only presented one, making it seem as if Swift was not confident in its ability to hold up under scrutiny and perhaps even better ideas of solving Ireland’s problems of over-population and starving citizens.


A literary critic also saw the problem in this: “This essay is also a warning against modernity’s potential for genocide that may have been seen to foreshadow a host of events… It may not be too much of a leap to see the modest proposal as hinting at the eugenics movements, murderous purges, five-year plan, final solution, great leap forward, and killing fields of modern times” (Bromberg).


 This person also saw the flaw of “A Modest Proposal” in a worst case scenario; of which that someone or some group would take inspiration in a demented way of how “A Modest Proposal” is written and that the satire would serve to bear the blame of the next century’s greatest genocides, if such things were to come to pass again. That dealing with a domestic problem like over-population and poverty, which can be solved through hard work, would suddenly be thrown completely out of context and adopted by those who would use its story and conflicts and relate it to their own and thus cause mass destruction and chaos because that they, like the Irish people in “A Modest Proposal,” are cruelly treated by governing power that they think cares nothing for their wellbeing. Radicals would then use a radical proposal, like the one used by Swift in the satire, and try to take revenge on those that they feel have slighted the oppressed people of the world in whatever fashion they deem enough to satisfy their thirst for revenge.


Jonathan Swift unsuccessfully tries to use “A Modest Proposal” to try and help others to understand and identify the problems facing the Irish commoners and then tries to bring attention to it, but all it succeeds in doing is to show that Swift gained a confused view of Ireland’s problems because of Swift’s English heritage. While Swift’s political loyalties betrayed the man to show what the man really was. This was nothing more than a whistle blowing hypocrite with no sense beyond the English Anglican Church or the Tory political party. Despite this, Swift is still remembered as the greatest of modern English satirists to have ever lived and as a great advocate for the improvement of the lives of the people of Ireland. Many people do not see past this though, which is exactly what Swift wanted; to be recognized for the contributions Swift made to humanity throughout the satirical writings to distract history from what were seedier or less successful segments of Swift’s life. The web of words was spun wonderfully and cleverly, solidifying Swift’s place in history. So where can the line be drawn between a noble patron and a belligerent fool?

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