A Swiftly Indecent Proposal
Every person with any cultural capital at all knows or has heard of great comedy satire/parody shows like The Colbert Report and Saturday Night Live, and those people most likely don’t think about where satire, specifically, came from or how and why they operate the way they do. Jonathan Swift not only inspired great satire and humor as an Enlightenment era writer, he also made monumental change in his home country, Ireland. Swift’s most notable works, Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal, are most notable for a reason. They were different and revolutionary at their time and are still today.
Satire is a specialty utilized by Jonathan Swift in his works, both big and small, and Swift, though these works, influenced satirists to come. Jane Austen uses strategies similar to Swift in her attacks on the hubris of man and their false pride. (McCarrin) In Gulliver’s Travels, Swift attacks science & technology, politics, and human equality (slavery). He, like no one else revolutionized the way of thinking about how to tackle controversial topics—by making fun of them! In Gulliver’s Travels, Swift attacks hypocrites by making the Yahoos out to be a stupid and uncultured people. He then proceeds to transform Gulliver into a Yahoo! Gulliver confesses, “I was an exact Yahoo in every part, only of a whiter color, less hairy, and with shorter claws.” (Damrosch, and Dettmar 2411) Jonathan Swift’s writing even sparked some controversy with another writer, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, (The Poetry Foundation) which just goes to show how well humor was received then and how not too much has changed in the modern day. Swift, alongside Alexander Pope, paved the way for future satirists like Mark Twain (Ethereal Chronicles) and gave a great story while poking fun at real problems.
In the Irish political group, Jonathan Swift helped push bug changes and was an influential political figure, not just a writer. In his earlier writings, he attacked all British government on more of a philosophical level using allegories, but A Modest Proposal was a little closer to home; he attacked Irish government specifically and its problem with Irish poverty. (Moneva) Still humorously, Swift suggests that children should be cooked and eaten to keep the population at a steady state. He even proposes they make their carcasses into clothing—gloves and boots. (Damrosch, and Dettmar 2433) Pointing out all of the ridiculous possible solutions for fixing the situation, Swift shows how pernicious Ireland is being by ignoring their problems. Making a joke out of something can often rattle up attention for a touchy subject. Swift set the precedent on satire and speaking out against government with your tongue in cheek.
Damrosch, David, and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal. 4th ed., Volume 1C. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education Inc., 2010. 2411-2433. Print.
Ethereal Chronicles. “History of Satire.” Helium. Helium, 10 Apr 2013. Web. 20 Sep 2013. <http://www.helium.com/items/137530-history-of-satire?page=3>.
McCarrin, Michael. “Concerning various connexions to be found between the thoughts of a most noble and rational equine and a certain lengthy tale of Jane Austen.” The Victorian Web. the Victorian Web, n.d. Web. 20 Sep 2013. <http://www.victorianweb.org/previctorian/swift/mccarrin1.html>.
Moneva, Maria-Angeles Ruiz. “A Modest Proposal in the Context of Swift’s Irish Tracts.” . Cambridge Scholars Publishing, n.d. Web. 20 Sep 2013. <http://www.c-s-p.org/flyers/978-1-4438-1662-5-sample.pdf>.
The Poetry Foundation, . “Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.” The Poetry Foundation. The Poetry Foundation, n.d. Web. 20 Sep 2013. <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/lady-mary-wortley-montagu>.