Juvenelian Satire in A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

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Effectively ushering change in society or pointing out faults that have existed and gone unnoticed can be a daunting task for any social commentator. Often, blandly protesting grievances or concerns can fall upon deaf ears and change can be slow or non-existent. However, Jonathan Swift in his pamphlet A Modest Proposal, uses clever, targeted, and ironic criticism to bring the social state of Ireland to the attention of indolent aristocrats. He accomplishes such criticism through satire, specifically Juvenalian satire. Swift’s A Modest Proposal stands as an example of the type of satire that plays upon the audience’s emotion by creating anger concerning the indifference of the voice created. He complements such criticism with sophisticated, clever language which may be mistaken for the more docile Horatian satire. Yet, this urbane voice, coupled with irony and the substance of the proposals accentuates Swift’s motive to use anger as a force for action. Through his absurd/humorous proposals, stinging irony, and use of voice, Swift effectively portrays A Modest Proposal as a Juvenalian satire designed to stir emotions concerning the social state of Ireland.

The first and perhaps most vivid example of strong, emotionally charged Juvenalian satire rests in the heart of the proposal itself. Up until his proposal, Swift convinces the audience that he is an empathetic individual, gently pointing out social plights. The statement “These mothers instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in strolling to beg for their helpless infants” exemplifies what one might think an example of the urbane style of satire a Horatian satirist would utilize, since it seems gentle critiques may be prev...

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... Proposal as a Horatian satire. The tone is only good humored to an extent and is laden with sarcasm such as “therefore let no man talk to me of expedients: of taxing our absentees”, as well as absurd, morally distasteful logic. Furthermore, as construed above, the use of the urbane voice of the proposer is not a supplement to a sophisticated argument, but one cleverly used in unison with irony and sarcasm. This use of clever diction helps to promote effective discussion among aristocrats and peasants alike in the hope of deciphering the real meaning of Swift’s proposal. The point of the essay was to uniquely grab the attention of observes who have been indifferent to the plight of the lower class. Through the aforementioned reasoning, Swift does this through the clever implementation of Juvenelian satire in way that the straight forward Horatian satire could not.

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