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Concerns Jonathon Swift's Use Of Satire In "A Modest Proposal." Describes How In This Story Caustic Wit Becomes The Means To Critique Society To A More Receptive And Entertained Audience.

1425 words - 6 pages

The use of satire or sustained irony is a rhetorical strategy which an essayist may use to disconcert a blasé reader into questioning areas which seem to reveal a certain degree of "human vice, folly or sheer stupidity." (Webster's II, 981) Whether intended for a scholar such as "Of Cannibals" by Montaigne or intended for the general populace as in "A Modest Proposal" by Jonathon Swift, caustic wit becomes the means to critique society to a more receptive and entertained audience.During the Renaissance, new lands were discovered and society began to realize that there existed a radically different world outside the limits of Christendom. (Brians 1) Yet as often occurs with the unfamiliar, society was hesitant to regard these new cultures as other than primitive or barbaric. Montaigne states that "each man calls barbarism whatever is not his own practice; for indeed it seems we have no other test of truth and reason than the example and pattern of the opinions and customs of the country we live in." (Montaigne 152) Montaigne preyed upon this collective malaise in his essay "Of Cannibals" and attempted to shock his well-read equals through the use of a personal narrative which compared a primitive civilization practicing cannibalism as being greatly superior to his own. His essay is intended for a cultured reader. This is revealed through his use of classical quotations such as those by Juvenal and Virgil. Satirically, he insults his intended audience by uttering that someone deemed simple is fit to recount what they observe however, clever people interpret what they observe, thereby altering history. (Montaigne 152) Montaigne contrasts his contemporary society and his fictitious primitive culture many times which leads the reader to assume that his essay is a critique of his own society. The most obvious example is one which deals with the primitive culture's cannibalistic practises. These practises must have seemed completely barbaric to scholars having studied the Odyssey which discusses the theme of hospitality versus inhospitality. Within the Odyssey, the nastiest form of inhospitality is described as cannibalism. Montaigne sardonically addresses cannibalism by stating:I am not sorry that we notice the barbarous horror of such acts, but I am heartily sorry that, judging their faults rightly, we should be so blind to our own. I think there is more barbarity in eating a man alive than in eating him dead; and in tearing by tortures and the rack a body still full of feeling, in roasting a man bit by bit, in having him bitten and mangled by dogs and swine (as we have not only read but seen within fresh memory, not among ancient memories, but among neighbours and fellow citizens, and what is worse, on the pretext of piety and religion), than in roasting and eating him after he is dead. (Montaigne 155)Within this passage, Montaigne discloses his dissatisfaction with religion and portrays that cannibalism or the consumption of the dead is less...

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