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Satire and Colonialism in the Eighteenth Century: “A Modest Proposal” and “Gulliver’s Travels” Essay Sample

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Satire and Colonialism in the Eighteenth Century: “A Modest Proposal” and “Gulliver’s Travels” Essay Sample

Jonathan Swift was born in 1667 in Ireland, although he was a member of the English ruling class. When the Tories were in power he moved to London and became close associates of the two leading ministers Robert Harley and Henry St. John, however he hated Queen Anne and she hated him for writing the way he did about the monarchy. At the time that Swift was writing, Protestants were very much in power against the Catholics, ‘penal laws’ made it illegal for a Catholic person to buy land, obtain a mortgage on it and rent it at a reasonable profit. Therefore Swift and his writing was frowned upon by the Protestant population and criticised for his beliefs. Colonialism is defined as a system where one country rules over another country, at the time Britain was ruling over Ireland and was mostly responsible for the poverty and suffering in Ireland. Britain partly exploited the Irish people and took their land and money, this was an unfair system and the problems in Ireland probably wouldn’t have been so huge if they had been given control over their own country.

The piece of satire that Swift wrote that had the most impact was A Modest Proposal. In this writing, Swift puts forward a solution to help prevent the children of the poor being a burden to their parents. The main idea was that once children reach the age of one, they should plump to a size big enough to make fulfilling dinner. After first reading A Modest Proposal I was horrified that anyone would suggest such a thing and that surely poverty would never reach a point where the only way to stop it is to eat one year old children. After finishing reading it I did have doubts about whether it was true or not but at the beginning I believed every word that Swift said. I think that once Swift put forward the idea of using a babies skin to make woman’s gloves I started to think that the text might be satirical, ‘the skin of which artificially dressed will make admirable gloves for ladies’. I thought that the only reason Swift was suggesting this Modest Proposal was to solve poverty not to dress women in lavish clothing.

In A Modest Proposal, Swift uses a number of different satirical techniques; the first is he introduced the object he is satirising in a believable way; he does this by using historical facts like mentioning the ‘Pretender in Spain’ or the fact that some people have to ‘sell themselves in Barbados’. This makes the reader think that because he mentions true facts like this, they assume that the rest of the suggestions or things that are said in the article are also true.

Another satirical technique which Swift uses is putting unexpected words into the text; some of these include ‘savages’, ‘encumbrance’ and ‘prudent’. By using these he has livened up the quality of the text and also enticed the reader to read more because he has made it more interesting. Another effective technique used in this satirical writing is exaggeration. Exaggerating on facts or figures or just using unexpected words is always effective, for example just suggesting that babies of a certain age should be eaten is exaggeration over how bad the situation was. He also reverses what was expected by suggesting that eating a human being is the only solution, because when first reading this text you assume that his solution would have been sensible and maybe even successful but when reading on you see that it is all a joke and he has definitely not suggested the expected. Back then when the text was written some people did believe it and see it as an honest suggestion.

They honestly thought that this man was proposing that everybody should eat their children once they are a year old. They thought this because the poverty was so bad at that time that they would have probably considered any solution, even if it was as morbid as that. A Modest Proposal was obviously written to satirise somebody, and in this case it satirises that certain class of person at that time. Also the government and monarchy that were in charge, try to bring it to their attention that their country was in such a bad state, that they would try anything even something as bad as this, to solve the problem. ‘I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents…’ is suggesting that the landlords have taken over all of the workers that work for him so they probably have rights over their offspring as well. Another way Swift satirises the protestants is by saying that the catholic mothers aren’t able to work for an ‘honest livelihood’ and have to beg instead, unlike the protestants who own all land and have rights over everything.

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