To Get You Started...

If you want to know how different the world was in 1729, consider Jonathan Swift's case for cannibalism in A Modest Proposal. Okay, stop and take a moment to pick your collective jaws off the ground. The 18th century may have been a wild time, but Swift's proposal wasn't for real. A self-appointed shock jock, Swift was just satirizing the stingy British approach to dealing with their Irish subjects.

If you thought Swift was serious about boiling babies, you wouldn't be the first. By the time Swift published A Modest Proposal, he'd already had his work misinterpreted by the Queen of England and countless other humorless readers who didn't understand irony. Swift wasn't winning any popularity contests in England, that's for sure.

The feeling was mutual: Swift was no fan of the English rule, as he made abundantly clear in a series of political pamphlets. Although he spent plenty of time gallivanting around the London literary scene with buddies Joseph Addison, Alexander Pope, and John Gay, he was a reluctant Irishman who made his home in “wretched Dublin, in miserable Ireland.” Despite occasionally trashing his stomping grounds, Swift was equally critical of the British. In short, he was a crotchety guy who was often accused of hating on just about everybody.

(- that's from Shmoop)

In 1729, Ireland was suffering from religious, political, and social strife as well as a famine. The poor were extremely poor, often having to beg for food or money in the streets. Just what was Jonathan Swift’s “Modest Proposal” to fix this problem? Eat the children. Seriously. In this inflammatory, satirical essay, Swift proposes that the starving poor of Ireland sell their excess children to the rich as food. Swift assumes a hyperbolically heartless tone that mocks those with negative opinions of the Irish poor, namely the Irish rich, politicians, and British officials. His aim was not to solve the problems in Ireland but to expose the ridiculousness of quick-fix schemes proposed by politicians and officials to relieve all of the social problems in Ireland. Through his biting sarcasm, Swift mocks these people and persuades readers to pity the Irish and hate the speaker. Swift’s essay is an early example of Western satire that uses rhetorical devices, such as example-based argumentation, in order to criticize a social or political phenomenon. These tactics have been taken up by many authors after Swift and can even be seen as the basis for satirical news publications such as The Onion.

(- that's from Owl Eyes)


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