A Modest Proposal By Jonathan Swift English Literature Essay

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Jonathan Swift's (1667-1745) essay is often seen as an allegory for England's oppression of Ireland. Being an Irishman, would seem to have pointed his wit against the foreign nation responsible for his city's ruin. Through the concept of New Historicism, one would re-examine the power structures at work in Swift's society. The main concepts which are going to be described within the New Historical point of view are the Rhetoric of Swift and the notion of Cannibalism.

His posthumous reputation in both literary and cultural matters is his unusual place in Irish political rhetoric. In the early nineteenth century, Irish Protestants made him a symbol of their own patriotism within the British union, but he was ignored by most Catholic writers. Later within New Historic area, the notion turned as the Young Ireland movement that emphasized Swift's anti British rhetoric with showing his Protestant way of attacking for contemporary Protestants. Although charges of hypocrisy and of an English cultural orientation survived as late as the 1930s, the construction of Swift as a patriot was sustained.

In addition, the satirical element of the essay is often only understood after the reader notices the allusions made by him to the attitudes of landlords, such as: "I grant this food may be somewhat dear and therefore very proper for Landlords, who as they have already devoured most of the Parents, seem to have the best Title to the Children." Swift uses the metaphor and says: "For this kind of commodity will not bear exportation, and flesh being of too tender a consistence, to admit a long continuance in salt, although perhaps I could name a country, which would be glad to eat up our whole nation without it."

Swift's rhetorical style persuades the reader to not like the speaker and pity the Irish society. Swift's way of describing the details of poverty and his easy approach within them create a new point of view through the text. He has his own way of diction which degrades the Irish government by using language that is usually reserved for animals. So his rhetoric can easily turn people into animals. Swift uses a serious tone to highlight the absurdity of the society and his proposal. The elegant irony in new way to read the book is substituted for the old one. The new one asked us to be aware of irony and paradox and ambiguity rather than to know or learn about historical background, and it thus asked a reader to make a set of connections among elements of the text.

In order to criticize the society, he ironically shows six benefit of the proposal: Firstly,it will reduce the total number of Catholics, the enemy of the Protestants. Secondly, the poor parents will get some money with which they can pay landlords rent. Thirdly, the money will be among the Irish and increases national income. Fourthly, the mothers will get rid of the charge of maintaining the children after the first year. Fifthly, the empty taverns will be full with a huge number of customers and finally it will be a great encouragement to marriage and increase the care of mother to their children. Through successful use of irony, ambiguity and symbolism he makes comments addressing such specific topics as universal concerns and the moral degeneration of man. 

One of the important elements in Swift's Proposal is related to Cannibalism, the discourse of ethnic defamation which arose from the Norman conquest of Ireland in the twelfth century. It was against the background of the reformation conflicts as well as the exploration of the New World that Michel de Montaigne in his On Cannibals (1580) pointed with the notion as a "metaphor" in his comparison between the Tupinamba practice of eating the dead bodies of their enemies and the live torture which was practiced by the Europeans.

More over Swift according to the paradoxical nature of the discourse of cannibalism that according to Maggie Kilgour "involves both the establishing of absolute difference, the opposites of eater and eaten, and the dissolution of that difference, through the act of incorporation which identifies them and makes the two one" (The Function of Cannibalism, p: 240). However, while reading Swift's through a postcolonial reading one could learn the historicizing the construction of Swift as an Irish patriot in Ireland since his lifetime until the twentieth century.

So this proposal was intended to make the upper class examine the conditions under which the lower class lived. In fact it was intended to help the lower class to gain more recognition from the upper class. If a reader does take the proposal seriously, then the use of irony and sarcasm in Swift's writing is exemplified and reader will get the true point of the story; the assistance that the lower class needs.

"I am assured by our merchants, that a boy or a girl before twelve years old is no salable commodity; and even when they come to this age they will not yield above three pounds, or three pounds and half-a-crown at most on the exchange; which cannot turn to account either to the parents or kingdom, the charge of nutriment and rags having been at least four times that value.

I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection."

And also with "humble proposal" like what the title suggests he attains more sustain as long as more witty knowledge within the audience.

In conclusion Swift was well aware that his audience was the upper class. Actually, the lower class could have revolted fearing that their children were in danger if they knew of the story. In fact it is a combination of both propaganda and humor aimed for the educated audience. Modest Proposal obscures a more serious purpose. Eating the one year old babies of poor Irish country may not be a serious proposal, but one of the reasons for that harsh recommendation is to alleviate the poverty in Ireland. According to his nationalist conflict for a homeland he could defend but not love it shows his feelings with the ambiguities that have marked the development of Irish identity more widely. And Swift's proposal shocks every reader even the cruel barbarian can not think of such a cannibalistic idea of eating man's flesh. Everyone with common sense can easily understand the situation under which Swift gives such suggestion. He sarcastically suggests the eating people's meat and with that he demands the attention of government.