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Historical Content Of A Modest Proposal

1843 words - 7 pages

‘If you ignore the historical content of A Modest Proposal you will misunderstand it.’ Discuss.

When A Modest Proposal was published, or to give it’s full name "A Modest Proposal for preventing the children of poor people in Ireland, from being a burden on their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the public." England dominated the whole of Ireland. English landlords owned much of Ireland’s property, Charging ridiculous amounts for rent to poor tenants who could barely afford to pay. England imposed extremely high taxes on Ireland and the English laws which restricted Irish trade made it impossible for the country to ever prosper. In general, the English had, at this time, a negative attitude towards Irish people, and Roman Catholics which most Irish people were. This knowledge is important when reading and understanding this piece. Without knowing a little about the political and social state at this time, it may be difficult to pick up on Swift’s use of satire. However the piece itself, even the full title does educate the reader to an extent, talking about different social classes and focusing particularly on the poor in Ireland. This essay purports to be neither decisive nor conclusive, but merely attempts to assess the importance on the historical content of “A Modest Proposal” in order to see if it is a required element when trying to understand the piece.
Over time, England progressively gained full authority over Ireland. In 1541 the parliament in Dublin recognised a Protestant Englishman Henry VIII as the king of Ireland, despite the fact that the majority of the population were Roman Catholics. Many uprisings took place in Ireland over the centuries with little affect. The country of Ireland in the era of around 1710 – 1745 was one in which Roman Catholics made up over 70% of the population which was around 2 million, however they only had control over 5% of the land, which is a good representation of England’s hold on the country. In addition, the rights of Irish people, under the English, were severely lowered. Laws were put in place which prevented the Irish from taking part in politics, purchasing land, even getting an education, leaving them unable to move forwards in any way, leaving them stuck under English rule. Those who choose not to flee Ireland, as many did unsurprisingly, particularly to America if they survived the gruesome lower class journey overseas, and live under the tyranny of England faced poverty, disease, starvation, prejudice and death. It is this Ireland that Jonathan Swift focuses on in “A Modest Proposal” and wanted to make known to the rich English who took the Proposal as entertainment not caring about its true meaning.
"A Modest Proposal" is a satire, which, in the oxford dictionary means
“the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices.”
This can be seen throughout the whole text and adds to its wittiness and...

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