Jonathan Swift’s Essay A Modest Proposal, And Voltaire’s Novella, Candide

1158 words - 5 pages

There are two vastly differing works of literature that employ similar elements of satire, whether the story is long or short, essay or novella. In these two works, the authors bring light to ongoing social, political, and philosophical issues of their time and age. The two works I am referring to are Jonathan Swift’s satirical essay, A Modest Proposal, and Voltaire’s novella, Candide, or Optimism. In both A Modest Proposal and Candide, there is a portrayal of irony, cold logic and reasoning rather than emotion, and misguided philosophy. Exploring the issues within these texts can implement a better understanding of not only the literature itself, but also the historical context and the issues of the time. By delving even deeper into these works, one will begin to see the connection that can be made between these texts.
Jonathan Swift and Voltaire come from diverse geographical locations and have a thirty year span between the publications of their works; to be concise, it can be said that there is a noticeable difference between A Modest Proposal and Candide. Additionally, the factors of their daily lives and their countries’ politics will exhibit a difference in the context of these two pieces. While Swift’s essay addresses his country’s famine and financial turmoil, Voltaire addresses a vast number of issues in his novella, including the Leibniz theory and the hypocrisy of the Church. Despite these differences, the similarities persist in the methods used to educate and inform the public of these social, political, economical, and philosophical concerns.
Primarily used in satire is the literary device, irony, which is often displayed in both Swift’s essay and Voltaire’s novella; it is used to convey the duplicity of certain issues in both of these texts, as it will be displayed through further reading. Irony can be detected immediately in both works, beginning with the titles, A Modest Proposal and Candide, or Optimism. It may be hard to tell at first, but the titles of these stories do give one a notion that the story is not quite going to be as the title portrays it would. In A Modest Proposal, one will be able to see the irony of the title upon reaching the fourth paragraph, where the narrator states that “at one year old…I propose for them…contribute to the feeding, and partly to the cloathing of many thousands,” essentially proposing to breed children at a certain age, as if they were common livestock. Instantaneously, one realizes that this is anything but a modest proposal, but rather an inhumane, immoral, and certainly unconventional proclamation. Contrasting to this, one who has read Candide can say that this title is ironic, as well. This is because, though the title implies optimism and Candide is, indeed, optimistic for a time, the end of this tale concludes in not a tragic, but an undeniably less than satisfactory ending in which the title character, Candide, loses his optimism, his happiness, and, if one may be so bold to say,...

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