Jonathan Swift Gulliver’s Travels & Modest Proposal
Jonathan Swift • Generally thought to be the greatest prose writer of the 18th century • One of the world’s finest satirists • Considered a misanthrope by many because he was deeply critical of humanity
Jonathan Swift • Born in Dublin, Ireland in 1667 to English parents • Difficult childhood • Father died before he was born • Mother forced to send him to live with uncle because she was too poor to raise him
Jonathan Swift • Became an Anglican priest • In 1713, became the dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a post he held for more than 30 years until his death • Died at 78
Swift as a Misanthrope? • “What Swift detested was the nonsensical belief that men as a whole were rational— their behavior showed that this was not true. At the utmost, they were capable of reason; then why don’t they act on it more? . . . The evidences of men’s refusal to use what reason they have got were all round him, especially in Ireland, and Swift was right to highlight the evidences of their idiocy . . . how otherwise can, or will, the fools learn?’’ —A. L. Rowse
The Works of Jonathan Swift • A Tale of Tub – ridiculed the extravagances of religion, literature, and academia • The Battle of the Books – mock debate b/w ancient and modern authors • The Tatler – popular English periodical to which Swift contributed essays
The Works of Jonathan Swift • Gulliver’s Travels – Swift’s satirical masterpiece written while living in Ireland • Modest Proposal – published in 1729 and criticizes the English treatment of the Irish
Gulliver’s Travels • Narrator is Lemuel Gulliver, a doctor on a merchant ship • After a shipwreck, he washes up on the shores of Lilliput • In his “travelogue,” he describes his experiences in several fictional countries: Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa, Hoouyhnhnms, and others • When he returns to England, he is painfully aware of his country’s flaws.
Parody • A parodyis a humorous imitation of a literary work that aims to point out the work’s shortcomings. • Parodies usually imitate some defining characteristic of the work’s style. • Gulliver’sTravels is in part a parody of early-eighteenth-century travel books, which delighted in describing exotic places and people.
A Modest Proposal • In the early 1700s, Ireland was ruled by England. • Ireland could buy some products only from England and at high prices. • English landlords, who owned much of Ireland’s best land, charged exorbitant rates.
Hard Times in Ireland • Economic and natural hardships plagued Ireland in the mid-1700s. • Low prices caused a bank failure in 1733, and famine struck in 1740, causing bread riots in Dublin. • The next year brought dysentery, and 400,000 died in the “year of the slaughter” (bliadhain an áir in Irish). • Famine returned in 1744, leaving the poor with no choice but to eat grass.
“Advantages” of A Modest Proposal • Reducing the number of Catholics (Papists) • Landlords can seize the Irish children in payment for rents • Giving the poor a valuable commodity • Stimulating the economy • Freeing the poor of the cost of child rearing • Profiting taverns • Encouraging marriage
Actual Solutions • Taxing absentee landowners • Buying domestic products • Practicing thrift • Unifying and determining to work toward a better society • The speaker lists and rejects these solutions, which is ironic because these alternative solutions are morally sound and economically practical as opposed to the ridiculous “solutions” the speaker suggests.
Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward A casual ward, or workhouse, provided the poor and the elderly with scanty food and shelter in exchange for hours of sometimes toilsome labor. What do the people in the painting have in common with the people described in A Modest Proposal?
Irish Emigrants Laws enacted in 1695 stripped Irish Catholics of rights to money and property, causing many to leave—and some to be forcibly shipped out—of the country.
Satire • Satireaims to expose the vices, follies, or flaws of a person or group of people by making them seem ridiculous. Satirists’ main weapon is humor, which they create through devices such as exaggeration and its opposite, understatement.
Satire • In A Modest Proposal, for example, Swift exaggerates the economists’ indifference toward the Irish and understates the impact of his proposal by his use of the word modest. By creating a narrator who supports a position opposite to his own, Swift also employs irony, another common satiric device.
Satire • What other examples of exaggeration and understatement can you find in A Modest Proposal? Whom or what do these statements ridicule? • Exaggeration: Irish children learn to steal by age six. • Understatement: making gloves from human skin would be an example of thrift. • The statements ridicule the Irish and English.
Irony • What is ironic about the title A Modest Proposal? • His proposal is extreme and violent – anything but modest. • What is ironic about the conclusion of A Modest Proposal? • The speaker will be unaffected by his plan, since he has no children of the right age and his wife is too old to bear more children.