18Th Century Satire: A Modest Proposal
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During the 18th century and the Restoration, a new form of literature became very popular, satire. Satire, according to www.dictionary.com, is the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice or folly. Commonly, satire is used to give one’s opinions or commentary about public issues. As a writer it is important to be well educated on current events, politics and the interests of the general public. Writers, such a Jonathan Swift, have commonly used satire to discuss important issues about the follies of governments, persons and social issues. It has been said that “although it (satire) is usually subtle in nature, it is used to bring light to contemporary societal problems and provoke change within a culture” (Friedman). One of the world’s best known pieces of satire is Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal. This piece of work aimed to expose the flaws regarding poverty in Ireland and the overwhelming and suffocating influence of the British government and Irish land owners. Swift uses satire to explain his “modest proposal”; in other words, he aims to prevent the people of Ireland from viewing children as a burden. In his use of satire, Swift places the blame of the abundant poor Irish population upon the English and the landowners. He also exposes the misuse of Ireland and forced trade, as well as satirizes those who made suggestions to resolve the problem without regard for the human cost involved.
Satire is used "not just to remind us of our common often ridiculous humanity, but rather to expose those moral excesses, those corrigible sorts of behaviour which transgress what the writer sees as the limits of acceptable moral behaviour" (Johnston). Uses of satire, such as Swift’s A Modest...
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... extremes, but by doing so Swift evoked change and stayed true to the goals of satire: " the best satire does not seek to do harm or damage by its ridicule...but rather it seeks to create a shock of recognition and to make vice repulsive so that the vice will be expunged from the person or society intended to benefit by the attack...whenever possible, this shock of recognition is to be conveyed through laughter or wit..." (Friedman).
Through the use of satire the uninformed are educated, a following is created, followed by the demand for change.
Even though the power of satire has faded over the centuries it was an essential and effective tool in making an impact on the ways of society. Through the use of humor and in-your-face realism writers, such as Swift, are able to criticize their communities, nations, and friends without the intent to offend but to educate.
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