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Techniques used in “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift

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Swift uses logical appeal to support his suggestion about what to do regarding the poverty. He calculates the number of babies “the number of souls in Ireland being usually reckoned one million and a half, of these I calculate there may be about two hundred thousand couples whose wives are breeders from which number I subtract thirty thousand couples, who are able to maintain their own children….there will remain an hundred and seventy thousand breeders. I again subtract fifty thousand for those who miscarry, or whose children die by accident, or disease within the year.

There only remain an hundred and twenty thousand children of poor parents annually born.” Swift performs all the calculations which make you think how many people are born and how many stay alive and even with all those subtractions there is still large number of babies who are alive and are in need of necessities to survive, and Irish people being poor and hard to find jobs that pay enough to feel their babies, one should wonder how hard it would be to raise their children with such financial problems. This is effective because you see that poverty increases and instead of doing something about it, Irish people were being exploited and making their work harder.

We see the use of ethical appeal when he says “I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection”. He is talking as if his proposal is good and logical when its not. He also uses an ethical appeal at the end when he says “I profess in the sincerity of my heart that I have not the least personal interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the public good of my country, by advancing our trade, providing for infants, relieving the poor, and giving some pleasure to rich.” He makes himself sound trustworthy and that he isn’t doing this for himself but for others to show how fair he is and humble when he isn’t because he gave such an inhuman idea. If this was taken literally I think people would think he is just cruel because his proposal is outrageous and readers would arouse disgust towards the author.

Swift uses emotional appeal when he equates human beings (babies in particular) with animals. He says “it is true a child, just dropped from its dam”. This is usually said about animals, not humans. He again talks about babies like they are animals when he says “…that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled, and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or ragout”. That’s how you talk about animal meat not human meat. He then compares the babies again with pigs when he says “…and dressing them hot from the knife, as we do roasting pigs” These are very effective satirically because the way he compares makes us actually think about the situation. If this is taken literally I think it will have a huge effect because this is just inhuman and cruel and will get a lot of attention if done.


Odell, Beers. Elements of Literature;Sixth Course.

U.S: Holt, Renart and Winston, 1998

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