A Modest Proposal – A brilliant Satire

‘A Modest Proposal’ is a satirical essay written by Anglo-Irish essayist Jonathan Swift in 1729. During this time thousands of people in Ireland were dying due to poverty with only a fraction of the population being wealthy enough to survive. ‘A modest proposal’ was written to criticise the cruel exploitation of Irishmen by the politicians of Ireland and England and shock them into realising their responsibilities. Swift uses many conventions of satire to achieve this response;

The main technique Swift uses to create satire is the grotesque, exaggerated yet plausible images;

A young healthy child at a year old is the most delicious, nourishing and wholesome food”

This image is used to shock the reader, yet it also creates humour which causes the reader to realise the ridiculousness of the proposal that then reflects the ridiculousness in Swift’s society.

Another technique Swift uses is that of irony. Irony plays a vital part in any satirical piece of literature as it sets the entire tone for the piece and alongside the images, reveals the ridiculousness that evokes realisation from the reader. This is evident in the sentence; “It is an unpleasant sight to people travelling in this country to see crowds of female beggars…” This statement seemingly shifts the blame onto those who are in poverty and suggests that they can actually do something about their poverty rather than blaming the wealthy for ignoring them. This seems quite ridiculous, however the irony is that this was in fact the attitude adopted by the wealthy in Swift’s time.

The manipulation of word order, although a minor aspect that could be so easily overlooked is essential to creating the satire in this essay. The word order in the sentence; “Cheap, fair and easy way of making these children useful members…” actually contributes vastly to the meaning of the it. As the word “fair”is sandwiched between the words “cheap” – the first word you read – and “easy” – The last word –connotes that it is considered of less importance than the two words it is buried between in the triplet. However Swift cleverly uses this to his advantage as by placing the incongruous word in the middle it makes it stand out, emphasising it for the reader, making them realise that fairness is in fact more important than saving money or ease.

Similarly, in his 1953 novel Catch-22, Joseph Heller uses Satire to express his anti-war view and bring to light the horror of the Second World War. Similarly to Jonathan Swift, in the opening chapter of the novel he uses many satirical devices to achieve this;

Much like Swift, Heller uses a lot of irony within his novel, notably in the fact that Yossarian actually enjoys being in hospital and wants to stay there;

Yossarian had everything he wanted in hospital” this is ironic because hospitals are supposed to be a sombre place; however it is presented as being a place of recreation and enjoyment for Yossarian. This shows how soldiers would rather be in hospital than on the battlefield. This makes the reader realise to what extent the horror of war actually is.

The blunt descriptions of unsettling subjects also adds to the satirical nature of the novel such as the description; “discovered he was dead.” Heller is straight to the point with this description, he does not use euphemisms to hide the fact that the soldier had just dropped dead. This adds to the shock of the novel, again making the reader aware of Heller’s point of view.

Following on from this, the very fact that the soldier is just so casually found dead is an example of satirical caricatures. It is not realistic as you would expect the nurses to have realised earlier that the man was dead, had this been in real life.

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