Self Representation And The Self Defeating Speaker In Jonathan Swift

1213 words - 5 pages

Satire is rhetorically effective in part because it is funny, but humour alone is not enough to change a person’s opinion; the author also has to give reason to believe that what he or she is saying is credible. Because this is the case, in the creation of a speaker in a satirical text, the author must somehow give indication of what he or she thinks regarding what the speaker is saying. In this way, the author’s self becomes inextricably entwined in the text in a way that is unique to satire. The more indestructible an author’s opinion can seem in satirical writing, the more persuasive the argument will be. I would suggest that the most effective way of building the infallible self required ...view middle of the document...

In “Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift, D.S.P.D.” and “A Modest Proposal”, Swift shows two different sides to a similar satirical strategy. In “A Modest Proposal”, the speaker is a persona created by Swift. In “Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift, D.S.P.D.”, the original speaker seemingly represents Swift himself, who then meta-satirically creates speakers who appear throughout the text. While I would take issue with some of the other ideas presented in the article, Gilbert Highet articulates a central truth about the speaker in satire in his article “Masks and Faces in Satire”: “The ideas expressed by the 'I' of monologue satire are not, or are not necessarily, the ideas of the author himself. They are merely the ideas appropriate to the unreal persona he has created to speak the monologue. One might imagine that at least the words belong to the author. But no: they are simply the words appropriate to the persona” (327). This is true even in the case of “Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift”; in spite of the fact that Swift seems to be his own speaker, one cannot assume that the words of the character Swift who appears in the text are the words of Jonathan Swift, the author.
In spite of this, it is still very relevant to Swift’s rhetorical approach to note that he writes himself as the speaker at the beginning of “Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift”. While the version of Swift presented in the poem is inevitably constructed by Swift, the fact that he is his own speaker in “Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift” and uses an imagined political opponent as his speaker in “A Modest Proposal” results in an inversion of logic behind Swift’s use of the self-defeating speaker in the two texts. When Swift is his own speaker, his self-defeating rhetoric is defensive; when a speaker aside from Swift is self-defeating, it is offensive against the person or people group he is satirizing.
“Verses on the Death of Dr. Swift” is meta-satirical in the sense that Swift exists as a character within his own text, introducing the poem and explicitly acknowledging as himself within the text as the text’s creator (2354). He is satirizing himself, who is satirizing his friends and reader’s within the text. The way that he depicts himself creating his friends’ dialogue within the poem illustrates the way that the the author functions within all of satiric writing; in satirical writing, the author gets to create his own opposition and counter-arguments. This is...

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