Jonathan Swift Writing Styles in A Modest Proposal

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Although Jonathan Swift is a protestant, his essay mostly attacks Protestants and supports Catholics. He not supporting Catholic religion however, but criticizing how the Protestants are oppressing the Catholics and seemingly blaming them for the nation's problems. He ironically states that Catholics are the Protestants worse enemy. He even suggests Catholics will take advantage of the Protestants' absence since they are away fighting the war to hand the country over to their enemies.

Swift's suggests that this is all propaganda, but the worse kind. As the poor in those times could neither read nor write, such an essay could only be read by the upper classes and here Swift represents them as ignorant and self-serving. The essay pokes fun at their ignorance, but at the same time making the very serious claim that those same are the only people with the power to change society.

In these terms Swift is stating that the Catholics have become pawns for the English and the people support the English. As the narrator says in the essay, the English would probably eat the Irish population if they had the chance. They will continue to complain about them being on the streets while never once admitting that they were the ones that not only put them there in the first place, but keep them there. Their hypocrisy is to sit in the comfort of their homes and think of ridiculous ideas as the essay's proposal that can only benefit themselves and keep the status quo intact.


The tone of the essay is ironic. In the beginning, Swift uses an authoritative tone, but as he juxtaposes his tone against ridiculous and self-serving statements, the reader slowly understands that it is a satirical essay. If the reader rereads the essay, he or she can see the irony was there from the start.

Initially, Swift sets up himself as an authoritative figure, printing his hypothesis at the beginning with his name as Dr. Jonathan Swift underneath. One is left in no doubt that this is a man we should be listening to. He keeps this up tone for a while, making interesting points about mothers and their children living on the streets. We know instantly that this is a serious problem and something need to be done.

The author uses this tone to throw statistics at us. Upon first reading the essay, it is difficult to make sense of these statistics, but at the same time, with his strong tone of voice, easy to presume they are important statistics for that time. Reading them more carefully however, the statistics don't make sense, coming across as something a politician would say to make his argument sound important. Obviously Swift is counting that the reader, concerning descriptions about the poor on the streets, will take theses numbers as fact.

It is only when the essay is over a quarter of the way through that we realize the author is proposing the Irish kills its poor children for meat. It would usually sound a ridiculous proposition, but he has used such an authoritative tone of voice that the reader feels compelled to read on.

As the essay becomes increasingly grotesque, the authoritative tone of voice begins to show itself as bitter irony. The reader now knows the ideas are far-fetched, but there is enough truth for it to work as satire against the narrator.

The reader now sees himself and people of his class as self-serving oppressors of the poor. The situation will only improve when they allow it to change.


In the beginning of the novel, the author uses a conventional essay format without giving away the main premise of the piece, which is to kill children for food.

It begins like an academic paper with the title of the essay and has a short hypothesis underneath. He adds his name Dr. Jonathan Swift at the bottom, lending an authoritative voice. Continuing in this vain, he outlines the principle problem in Ireland of too many beggar women weighed down by four to six children. It is a powerful start and grabs the reader's attention.

He then throws statistics at the reader in an attempt to present him as someone that knows exactly what he is talking about. Rereading what he says these statistics are empty and meaningless, but with the essay format, the reader scans over them, presuming that this information will be become more clear and used to back up what will be a solid argument. Hence it comes as a surprise when he proposes that society kills these children for food.

The author uses the essay format to make the reader listen to what is an ignorant, self-serving voice. The next third of the essay is used to show the narrator is as an ignorant person without any grasp of the situation. In fact none of his arguments can be called academic as he uses statements and stories told to him by friends, acquaintances, or friends of friends. Often the reader only has the author's word that the person's word is trustworthy.

The reader is slowly developing the idea that not only is it a satirical essay, but the author is satirizing the upper classes and how they seem incapable of dealing with the poverty in Ireland.

By the time the narrator begins the final and third part of the essay, listing the six advantages of killing children, the reader feels free to thoroughly dislike him and feel sorry for the Catholic people.

This section contains 919 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
A Modest Proposal from BookRags. (c)2017 BookRags, Inc. All rights reserved.
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