In a discussion of "A Modest Proposal," it is hard to remain detached. Swift's style is of course worthy of reams of notes, but what makes the essay so timeless is that it makes ritual cannibalism funny and (pardon the pun) palatable.

I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, 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 fricasie, or a ragout...

A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends, and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt, will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter."

What I find intriguing in this selection is that in a quick two sentences, Swift moves through a whirlwind of rather standard rhetorical (though in this case, textually so) devices. Deadpan like that is what makes the piece so funny, but consider — in the first sentence, he begins by offering himself humbly to his readers, in a gesture of pure ethos. He appeals to Irish sensibilities by offering that his proposal comes by way of both London and the colonies, but with the same hand, offers rather a level of detail that is both rather sensual, but very utilitarian. He offers facts, figures, and helpful cooking suggestions, and only later does he move on to his loftier, political and economic theses.

Questions

1. With technique that is in its way, flawless, but with an aim that is obviously not serious, can we consider this an exampole of nonfiction? What do we call satire?

2. Does Swift ever invoke an authority outside of either the people's will or fictional constructs (the emperor of Formosa)?

3. What does his reliance on screwball logos suggest?


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Last modified 9 February 2005