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Humor As An Argument: A Modest Proposal

950 words - 4 pages

Humor can come in many different forms. Many people are aware of the blatant humor of slapstick, but it takes a keener mind to notice the subtle detail in sarcasm or satire. In A Modest Proposal, Jonathan Swift was able to create a piece of literature addressing the faults of the Irish culture while embedding in a humorous essay. Swift’s satire allows for the gravity of the Irish standings to be exploited under the disguise of a proposal for economic benefit.
The essay, A Modest Proposal, is a proposal to end the economic dilemma in Ireland by selling the poor’s children, at the age of one, for food. The narrator states, “I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their mothers, and frequently of their father, is in the present deplorable state of the kingdom a very great additional grievance” (Swift). According to this proposal, by selling the children for food to the wealthy in Ireland many problems will be resolved. The poor mothers will earn money to live on and will not have to raise children, the wealthy will have a new meat source and “an increase in his own popularity among his tenants” (Sparknotes), and the economy will improve because of all of the market action. In the narrator’s eyes, this proposal equals an all around win for the people of Ireland and he cannot see any objection to his plan.
This essay will have no value unless the reader understands that Swift has written this essay as a satire, humor that shows the weakness or bad qualities of a person, government, or society (Satire). Even the title A Modest Proposal is satirical. Swift proposes using children simply as a source of meat, and outrageous thought, but calls his proposal modest. Matt Mortensen, a writer, expressed in his essay that,
“In using the word “modest” to describe his proposal, Swift introduces an exaggeration of epic proportions. The utilization of such an unassuming word to describe a suggestion as horrific and appalling as that which is described in the proposal is utterly ludicrous in principle, and this is precisely why it is so effective in its application. A well-employed paradox is an excellent way to grab the attention of an audience, and Swift is a master of this practice. One needs only read several lines into the text of A Modest Proposal before it becomes indubitably clear that the proposal is anything but modest.”
Mortensen agrees that by simply adding the word modest to the title of the essay, Swift is able to set the tome of his purpose from the beginning. Swift has no intention of selling babies to be eating, but what he does intend is for this audacious idea to expose the many flaws in the Irish culture. This is an exact interpretation of satire. The absurdity of eating children is laughable, but in a closer look the greed of the wealthy, lack of motivation of the...

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