Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1946/2387
The history of Ireland is a history of invasion and oppression, of famine and death, religious persecution and unjust laws. In spite of that, the Irish “soul” has survived; the nation is as Catholic today as it has been for centuries. The English colonist tried hard to suppress and destroy the Catholic religion there, but did not succeed.
Satire has existed for centuries and one of the great eras of satire was England in the eighteenth century. Satirist use laughter and irony to address situations they find unacceptable and even though their solution to the perceived problem can be unrealistic, it often brings to light unjust and unacceptable situations that might otherwise have been ignored.
Jonathan Swift is one of the best satirists of English literature. He is considered a national hero in Ireland, even though he was a devout Anglican and despised Catholicism. He did have sympathy for the Irish Catholics, in spite of his feelings about their faith because he was a man of principle, and had a strong sense of right and wrong. He saw the policies and practices of the English government and the Anglo-Irish landlords as being unjust and, indeed, disastrous to Ireland herself. He made several proposals to change the situation, to make Ireland and the Irish people prosper.
A Modest Proposal is considered to be the best satire ever written. It is a harsh satire, with a grotesque proposal, making the gravity and the hopelessness of the situation of the Irish people crystal clear to anyone who reads it. The famous metaphor, “The English are devouring the Irish”, meant that because of unfair trading practices, too high rent and absentee landlords, the Irish were being starved and slowly destroyed by the English. Swift plays with this metaphor in his essay. I will examine the Proposal in this discussion within the context of Irish history and Swift’s attempts to call attention to the Irish situation, demonstrating how effective satire can be as a tool to catch and hold the reader’s attention.