Swift Response

In paragraphs 1-20, how does Swift use language in order to develop the speaker’s attitude toward his subject?

In his outlandish “Modest Proposal” Jonathan Swift balances misery with hope in order to establish his speaker’s determination to fight the famine and deprivation he witnesses in the Irish streets. To establish the misery his speaker is so determined to fight, Swift first uses imagery to provide the audience with a detailed view of the struggles of everyday Irish citizens. He laments that, “It is a melancholy object to…see the streets, the roads and cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags….” Here, Swift draws the audience’s attention to the abject misery and severity of the problem his speaker sets out to solve. The speaker’s desire to propose a solution in light of his firsthand experience with such depravity clearly demonstrates his determination to solve his countrymen’s problems. Indeed, it is the stark contrast between the unimaginable poverty and the confidence of the speaker to move past it that allows the audience insight into how Swift develops his speaker’s audacity. After all, men who are willing to fight in the face of almost certain failure always garner our admiration. In this way, the audience is persuaded to join the cause of a charismatic problem solver. And the solution quickly follows in paragraph 9, when Swift imbues his speaker with the hopeful assertion that, “I have been assured…that a young, healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing and wholesome food…” The shift in the speaker’s word choice from paragraph one to paragraph nine provides the very contrast that gives the audience a clear portrayal of his determination. In the early portions of his proposal he speaks of rags, beggars, and alms, while only eight paragraphs later he speaks of nourishment and wholesome food. And, while this wholesome food is not destined for the mouths of the starving Irish, the money that lords pay for it is. The determined speaker has created a win-win situation, albeit a very ironic one–not only will the wealthy be nourished with fine food, but the sale of that food will allow the poor Irish to rise. Who would have imagined that Swift’s speaker, who, at the beginning of the proposal was surrounded with poverty, would be able to find hope, offer a solution, and leave no doubt about his will.

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