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Humor as an Argument: A Modest Proposal

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Humor can come in many different forms. Many people are aware of the blatant humor of slapstick, but it takes a keener mind to notice the subtle detail in sarcasm or satire. In A Modest Proposal, Jonathan Swift was able to create a piece of literature addressing the faults of the Irish culture while embedding in a humorous essay. Swift’s satire allows for the gravity of the Irish standings to be exploited under the disguise of a proposal for economic benefit.
The essay, A Modest Proposal, is a proposal to end the economic dilemma in Ireland by selling the poor’s children, at the age of one, for food. The narrator states, “I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their mothers, and frequently of their father, is in the present deplorable state of the kingdom a very great additional grievance” (Swift). According to this proposal, by selling the children for food to the wealthy in Ireland many problems will be resolved. The poor mothers will earn money to live on and will not have to raise children, the wealthy will have a new meat source and “an increase in his own popularity among his tenants” (Sparknotes), and the economy will improve because of all of the market action. In the narrator’s eyes, this proposal equals an all around win for the people of Ireland and he cannot see any objection to his plan.
This essay will have no value unless the reader understands that Swift has written this essay as a satire, humor that shows the weakness or bad qualities of a person, government, or society (Satire). Even the title A Modest Proposal is satirical. Swift proposes using children simply as a source of meat, and outrageous thought, but calls his propo...

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