Over the centuries, England gradually gained a foothold in Ireland. In 1541, the parliament in Dublin recognized England’s Henry VIII, a Protestant, as King of Ireland. In spite of repeated uprisings by Irish Catholics, English Protestants acquired more and more estates in Ireland. By 1703, they owned all but ten percent of the land. Meanwhile, legislation was enacted that severely limited the rights of the Irish to hold government office, purchase real estate, get an education, and advance themselves in other ways. As a result, many Irish fled to foreign lands, including America. Most of those who remained in Ireland lived in poverty, facing disease, starvation, and prejudice. It was this Ireland, an Ireland of the tyrannized and the downtrodden, that Jonathan Swift attempted to focus attention on in A Modest Proposal in 1720.
PDF is here —> Jonathan Swift – A Modest Proposal – 1729
The audio of “A Modest Proposal” (read by a voice actor) can be streamed here –> http://www.stuffyoushouldread.com/episode-33a-a-modest-proposal-by-jonathan-swift/. Respond to the following for discussion.
- “A Modest Proposal” has been called “simultaneously playful and shocking”. What is meant by this? Find examples in the text that could support this claim.
- At what point do you as the reader realize the true nature of the work?
- Characterize the speaker.
- What is the social issue at the heart of “A Modest Proposal”. What current issue could lend itself in a similar way to satire?
- At this point when Swift mentions real reforms that could help Ireland, has the satire become overpowering in the piece or does it strengthen this moment?
- Highlight/annotate things things that Swift does with language…
- The use of specific language and imagery to affect the reader
- Swift’s characterization of the Irish
- The use of pure logic and mathematics
Barbadoes (Barbados): Easternmost West Indies island, settled by the British in 1627. When Swift published “A Modest Proposal” in 1729, the island’s plantation owners used slaves to produce sugar for European consumption.
Dublin: The Irish city mentioned in “A Modest Proposal.” It is the capital of Ireland.
Flay: Remove skin.
Formosa: Portuguese name for Taiwan, a Chinese-inhabited island off the southeast coast of China.
Mandarin: High-ranking Chinese official.
Papist: Roman Catholic.
Pretender: James Francis Edward Stuart (1688-1766), son of King James II, who ruled England, Ireland, and Scotland from 1685 to 1688. James II was a Catholic, as was his wife, Mary of Modena. After his accession to power, Protestant factions continually maneuvered against him in the background. When Mary became pregnant, these factions worried that the birth of her child would establish a line of Catholic kings. Consequently, they plotted to oust James II and replace him with Dutchman William of Orange, whose mother was the daughter of an English king, Charles I, and whose wife was one of James II’s own daughters. When William marched against England, many Protestants in James II’s army deserted to William, and James had no choice but to flee to France. After he died in 1701, the French king then proclaimed James II’s young son, James Francis Edward Stuart, to be the rightful king of England. The English Parliament then enacted laws designed to prevent seating another Catholic king. Nevertheless, in succeeding years, James Francis repeatedly attempted to regain the throne, and the British eventually nicknamed him the Old Pretender.
Psalmanazar, George: French forger and impostor who traveled widely under different personas. In one of his most famous schemes, he pretended to be from Formosa (present-day Taiwan), of which little was known in the Europe of his time. In London, he published a book about Formosa in which he wrote that Formosan law permitted a husband to eat a wife if she committed adultery. Psalmanazar had never visited Formosa; the whole book was made up. Nevertheless, many Englishmen believed what he had written.