In today’s lesson we were introduced to the concept of satire in literature and the main techniques employed for a piece to be considered as satire through studying Jonathan Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’. The major characteristics of satire are the inclusion of humorous, comic images, grotesque images, irony, a play with language and exaggeration.
Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’ is a typical piece of satire writing, written with the intention of jolting English and Irish politicians into realising their responsibilities and do something about the extreme poverty and famine that was killing thousands of people in Ireland 300 years ago.
The piece is laced with examples of grotesque imagery, “the skin of a child’s carcass will make admirable gloves”, designed to shock the reader into realising the sheer ridiculousness of Swift’s proposal and, furthermore, how horrifically desperate the situation is for those living in poverty. Swift also uses the language of dead animals such as “carcass” and “slaughterhouse” which suggests that the inhumane conditions that these people are being forced to live in are so inhumane that they are effectively being treated as animals.
It begins with the ironic statement that, “It is an unpleasant sight… to see crowds of female beggars”. This is ironic in that whilst it is of course unpleasant for people visiting the country to see people in such distress begging on the streets but the real unpleasantness is that this exists. The use of irony here is what highlights to the reader that they should be focusing on questioning why it is that people are in this situation in the first place and looking to change this rather than the fact that it is unpleasant for them to witness it.
When Swift talks about finding a solution to the vast number of children who are suffering from this poverty he includes a list of three adjectives, “cheap, fair and easy”. “Fair” being incongruous with the other two adjectives causes it to stand out to the reader and make them realise that “fair” is the antithesis of what the situation these people are in is.