Name: Satire: “a modest Proposal,” by Jonathan Swift Satire

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Satire: “A Modest Proposal,” by Jonathan Swift


"Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own; which is the chief reason for that kind of reception it meets in the world, and that so very few are offended with it."—Swift, Jonathan

Considered to be the greatest satirist of England, Jonathan Swift channeled his disgust with the inhumanity into his satire. In simplest terms, satire ridicules its subject, exposing its weaknesses. It is social commentary, in the least, but often acts as social protest. There are two types of satire borrowed from the two great Roman satirists:

Horatian: subtly ridicules a subject worthy of criticism; often described as “soft” satire. Named for Horace (b. 65 B.C., d. 8 B.C.), who followed Lucilius in ridiculing folly and bad taste. He wrote the Sermones (30 B.C.), two books of discourses that were conversational in style, funny and genteel, and encompassing a variety of subjects. He was lauded for his facility "ridentem dicere verum" ("to tell the truth with a smile"), and his poems comment on the foibles of mankind, rather than undertaking malicious criticism.

Juvenalian: harshly ridicules a subject worthy of criticism; often described as “biting” satire. Named for Juvenal (b. A.D. 60-70), who published his sixteen satires in five books in the second and third decades of the 2nd century A.D., during the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian. Juvenal claimed Horace and Lucilius were his masters, but his poetry is anything but gentle. His satires are notable for their bitter and ironic, power of invective, grim epigram, sympathy with the poor, narrow-minded pessimism, attacking the rich, and condemning the female sex.

A Modest Proposal”

Swift’s “A Modest Proposal was written as a reaction to a particular social ill of his time: the Irish “problem.” It was common for politicians to write pamphlets about issues of the time and to distribute them in the streets of London. Swift, outraged by the lack of sympathy for the Irish by the English and their government, decided to write a pamphlet unlike any other, offering a solution to the “problem.”

In writing a pamphlet, it was necessary to clearly identify the problem and to offer a viable, logical solution. The solution must be supported with evidence. As you read the essay, identify and write down:

The problem:

The major solution:

Further solutions and evidence in bullet points:

Other Problems Solved: Evidence used to support it:

Other Problems Solved: Evidence used to support it:

Rhetorical Analysis

In making an argument, the Aristotle’s tradition of rhetoric suggests that the speaker offer a range of appeals in order to fully convince his or her audience in their persuasion. After having read the essay, find one of each in Swift’s writing. Be sure to cite page number.

The appeals are:

Ethos: ethical appeal. Establishes honesty, reliability, and credibility, which are achieved through unpretentious, clear, concise writing. This establishes the speaker as qualified and experienced, one who is abreast of facts.


Logos: logical appeal. Appeals to reason through deduction, establishing cause and effect, defining, comparing, and using evidence and testimony. This establishes that the speaker is a logical and credible person.


Pathos: emotional appeal. Appeals to emotion through diction, figurative language, and tone. This establishes that the speaker cares about his or her subject and is able to infect their hearer with the same concern.


Techniques in Satire

A writer of satire relies heavily on a particular set of skills in creating their satire. Several of them are defined below. Below each definition, find a piece of Swift’s writing that exemplifies the technique defined. Be sure to cite page numbers. They may not all be present.

Situational irony: expecting a situation to be different than it is


Euphemism: the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant


Verbal irony: stating something but intending a different meaning (often sarcasm)


Hyperbole: an extreme exaggeration


Understatement: understating the description or effect of something for ironic effect


Innuendo: an insinuation or intimation about a person or thing, especially of a disparaging or a derogatory nature


Written Response

Name what type of satire “A Modest Proposal” may be labeled. Prove your claim with three details (quotes with cites) from the essay, followed by appropriate elaboration and commentary. Attach your Response to this assignment.

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