Swift’s Ridiculousness to Reality through a Historical Viewpoint
The Pope has decided to follow Swift`s advice to help out with Ireland`s economy.
Through the beginning of the 18th century, English and Irish relations were in pitiful standings. Some would say that their relations truly did not improve until the late 20th century. Ireland was England`s first true colony, therefore the English mindset was forced onto the Irish through imperialistic ideals. Jonathon Swift did not see to kindly to this treatment of his homeland; therefore, he wrote a very moderate proposal to spur on the Irish economy to let them free of the English Imperialists. This proposal could even be applied to societal problems 100 years later.
Swift himself was a true blood Irishman and was born in Dublin in 1667. Swift`s childhood proved to be a tough one but was typical for irish children during this time period. His father passed away before he was born, and his mother could not support him. He was given to his uncle, a successful attorney, who sent him to a rigorous private school. Once finished with his private school, he advanced to Trinity college where he obtained his bachelors and attempted to obtain his masters. During this time, Ireland began to fill the effects of the revolution that was occurring throughout England. Swift made the decision to pursue his future career in England to establish himself a better life. Swift began his career under Sir William Temple as a secretary and learned the ins and outs of the political system in England. Swift also polished his skills as a writer for important matters, which proved to be an important attribute in his future. He soon returned to Ireland and became a prominent leader in politics.
Swift wrote many political essays concerning the events happening in this time period; however, not many of his essays were appraised by the English or the Irish. This made Swift take a different approach to these political situations. Jonathon Swift is known in the literature world as the master of satire. His most known literature is Gulliver’s Travels, where he constantly uses satire to isolate the problems in the world. Another prominent essay written by the satirical master is A Moderate Proposal. Swift prominently writes about the relationship between England and Ireland. England was a imperialistic empire during this time, and made Ireland one of it colonies through economic restrictions. Through England`s imperialistic ideals, it created a hybrid mindset of Anglo-Irish ideals. In Maxwell Uphaus’ An “Unworkable Compound”: Ireland and Empire in “Eveline,” he states that “Irish authors and intellectuals should address the practical question ‘Who and what are we?'” (28) Uphaus makes this statement in accordance to an event almost 150 years later than Swift`s proposal. Swift`s proposal was “for preventing the children of poor people in Ireland from being a burden to their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the public.” (2431) This one statement occurs right before the actual essay, outlining what he was going to propose. One could infer that England had a weak grip on the Irish, and therefore could not control their economy. The English figured the Irish were more of a nuisance then an asset to their empire.
Maxwell Uphaus suggests that these Anglo-Irish ideals has caused the Irish natives to lose their sense of self. They do not know who they are because “the Irish had made a habit of hating England while emulating it.” (30) Once again, Uphaus is talking about events that took place 150 years after Swift`s proposal. Swift alludes to this sense of self when he gives the opinions of an “American” (2432) besides a fellow Irishman. He assures the readers that this American knows the true value and taste of a “young healthy child well nursed.” (2432) Swift gains the attention of many irishmen by giving the opinions of an American. If Uphaus` theory is correct about the loss of self of the Irish, then an Irishman would be led to believe that an Americans opinion is fact.
During the time of this satirical essay, Ireland was in bad shape economically. While England was prospering through expansion and commerce, Ireland was digressing economically. Ireland as a whole could not keep up with the English powerhouse and the trade over seas. The land in Ireland were mainly used for farms and textiles, which was the main source of income for many of the people in Ireland. This source of income was in the decline because of the strict restrictions the English had placed on the trade of Irish wool. Swift saw this injustice and decided to act on it. In his proposal, he wanted to utilize poor children as a source of income. He “believed” that Ireland had a great source to increase their economic status and rival England. He listed the advantages of utilizing these children from serving them as food to as far as wearing their skin as shoes. Swift implies that the number of poor children in his home country could be an adequate source to help Ireland out of this plight. He is obviously using satire to drive his point across. The effects of satire can be very effective when it is used as strategically as Swift uses it.
Jonathan Swift blew the simplicities of life out of proportion to gather attention for important issues. His use of satire helped gain attention for Ireland, but sadly did not change the state of relations between England and Ireland for a very long time. Some could say that this is the reason we still read his literature today, but in reality we still read it because it still applies to today`s society. Satire is still utilized today through literature and media, like South Park and The Colbert Report. It is still an outrageous concept that numerous people can not comprehend, but when it is utilized as well as Swift it can be a true attention grabber. Swift was merely the godfather of satire, and we have him to thank for bringing ridiculousness to reality.
Batura, Jordan. Caption Contest. Web. <http://amputd.com/stories/view/627>
Cody, David. “A Modest Proposal”: An Introduction. The Victorian Web. np. Web. July 2000. <http://www.victorianweb.org/previctorian/swift/proposal1.html>
“Irish History Timeline.” Irish History LInks. np. nd. Web. <http://www.irishhistorylinks.net/Irish_History_Timeline.html#Irish_History_Timeline>
“Jonathan Swift.” Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2014. Web. 29 Sep. 2014. <http://www.biography.com/people/jonathan-swift-9500342#later-years>
Swift, Jonathan. “A Modest Proposal.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature, volume 1C, fourth ed. New York: Longman 1999. 2430-2436. Print.
Uphaus, Maxwell. “An ‘Unworkable Compound’: Ireland and Empire in ‘Eveline.’ MFS Modern Fiction Studies, 60.1 (2014): 28-51. Web. <http://0-muse.jhu.edu.library.uark.edu/journals/modern_fiction_studies/v060/60.1.uphaus.html>
This is some useful information. When reading politically-motivated works, it is important to know the historical context in detail. It is good to have some specific examples of the tense relations between England and Ireland, as well as the poor shape of Ireland’s economy. The examples of trade issues in the fifth paragraph make the problems of Swift’s time more real. Some might simply say, “Ireland was struggling economically,” before launching into a discussion of the text, and this post is a reminder that an in-depth understanding of the context can greatly increase understanding.
The sentence, “He assures the readers that this American knows the true value and taste of a ‘young healthy child well nursed.’ (2432)” also points out how impoverished they were, that even a younger country was living more prosperously then they were. The context is telling of why this piece would seem controversial to the people when it was published, and why we can now look back at its satirical nature and understand the need Swift felt to introduce a shock factor to his work to provoke thought in the people of his time.