Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal And Wilfred Owen's Dulce Tt Decorum Est

2275 words - 9 pages

Literature can have many purposes including entertainment, education, or persuasion. Literature can also be written to challenge common beliefs. This idea is seen by studying “A Modest Proposal,” written by Jonathan Swift and “Dulce et Decorum Est,” by Wilfred Owen. While reading through the poems, it would be difficult to see any similarities due to the fact that one is a poem about war and the other is an economic proposal. While "A Modest Proposal" and “Dulce et Decorum Est" are two pieces of literature from two different time periods, they show a certain similarity in the way they relate to and question the views of their respective periods.
“A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick,” commonly referred to as “A Modest Proposal,” is an essay written by Jonathan Swift that was published in 1729 (Manlove). Swift wrote this proposal in response to Ireland’s population and economic trials during the time of its writing. The answer to the nation’s problems that is presented by the essay is for Ireland to turn to cannibalization; particularly, the sale and use of poor children as a food source. This idea is first obvious as Swift writes, “I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled, and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout” (40). Upon first read, it can almost seem as though this proposal is a serious one because of the intricate thought that has been put into it. Peter Schakel notes Swift’s attention to the preparation of children as food that was mentioned in the previous quote from the proposal as well as his “mathematical computation.” However, upon further study, “A Modest Proposal” is found to be a satirical piece of literature that challenges the popular outlook on poverty during this era. To understand the satire of this essay, it is first important to look at the historical context of the time period surrounding the essay.
The early eighteenth century saw a change in the traditional views of humanity that had been a cultural staple previously. Swift writes the essay based heavily on the common ideology that “people are the riches of a nation” (Landa). This means that the higher the population, the higher the national income will be. This essentially put a dollar value on the human life. According to Wittkowsky, the idea became a problem when it shifted from “people are the riches of a nation” to “only the portion of the population which was usefully employed was the national wealth.” This means that those who could not work were viewed as worthless in comparison. Wittkowsky then went on to describe the changing attitudes toward the poor, saying, “Moreover, throughout the eighteenth century the poor rates were going up,...

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