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A Modest Proposal Vs. Tartuffe: Comparison Between Two Satires

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“A way of using humor to show that someone or something is foolish, weak, bad, etc.”, is the official Merriam Webster definition of Satire. Some Satires are doing a better job than others when trying to point fingers at human foolishness. Taylor Swift´s shows with “A Modest Proposal” a completely different way of introducing Satire to the audience than Moliere does with “Tartuffe”. But which of them can point fingers at human follies and speak right to the audience in a better way? Which one of them has the ability to touch the heart and mind of the audience? Which one of them can make a change in society by showing true foolishness? After reading both texts several time I came to the decision that Moliere´s comedy “Tartuffe” was the better version of Satire and moving forward I am explaining why I got to this decision.

But first of all I will explain why “A modest Proposal” did not work to me as a Satire as well as “Tartuffe”.

While reading “A modest Proposal” I was confused if this proposal is serious or not. With no background knowledge at all about the Author, Taylor Swift, I was taking his proposal for serious. I did not find any evidence that his proposal was not just purely fiction. Even Swift´s own true proposal he his giving to solve the problems of the Irish people, by changing the taxing system and consumer behavior, did not give me a clue that the Proposal was meant as a Satire. It was just not enough to show me that the proposal was pure fiction.  Of course it did seems very inhumane and unrealistic to me, but it would not be the first outrages proposal against poverty and overpopulation that I have read or heard about in my life. Using children of poor families as a food substitute is just too abstract and cruel. Making gloves and other products from the children´s skin made me remember about the cruelty that Jewish people had to experience during the Second World War. His use of statistics and mentioning people who were familiar with the human flesh industry made his proposal sound very serious, giving me even more confusion about what humans are capable of. But again people, in the past as well as in the present, are showing us of what humans are capable of. On the other hand, this extreme idea did such a great effect on me, that I was paralyzed by the imagination and perplexed about what I am reading about. It made it interesting to read and horrifying enough to keep in my head for hours. I was taking “A Modest Proposal” as a serious proposal until we discussed it at class. I did not understand to see the proposal as pure Satire, until learning more about the Author and his intention. In my opinion, a Satire should give people material to think about but also should be easy to recognize as such. Also did he mention actual problems that the people of Ireland had to deal with. From overpopulation to abortion and poverty. So after recognizing it as a Satire, I thought his use of cruel ideas was actually a very effective way of showing and pointing out the problems the people of Ireland were fighting with and how desperate their situation was.

Another reason I see “A modest Proposal” as the less successful Satire is because of its high, complicated and abstract language. I had to look up several words and read over and over again to understand its contents. One of the reason for this is of course that English is not my first language, but also because the English, in which Swift is writing, is old fashioned. Trying to imagine how readers must have felt back in the day when “A modest Proposal” was published, they probably would not experience it as old fashioned, but some people of different social background would have had problem to understand the high English. We also got to remember that in 1729, the year “A Modest Proposal” was written, the ability to read and write was a privilege reserved for the people of the higher class. Children of poor families did not have the chance to visit schools or other educational institutions. But we must also remember, that Swift most likely wanted to reach out to the people of the higher classes. Those who had a voice in politics and could actually make a change. But in my opinion, it is always important to include both sides when aiming to change something. The people that are in power to make the change possible, and the people that are in need for a revolution.

One the other side we have Moliere’s “Tartuffe”, which in my opinion did work as a Satire very well.

Moliere´s theatrical comedy was first performed in 1664. At a time when the leading and most successful institution was no other than the church. In the Golden Age, when Monarchy and the Church were the most powerful rulers of the world, disobedience against the King or the Church resulted in punishment or worse – death penalty.  At this time, and much longer afterwards, a good man was someone who went to church every Sunday. Someone who took himself down in purpose to put his King up. Someone who knew what is right and what is wrong according to the bible. But here is the problem. Fear of God and the knowledge of what is good and what is evil, does not make you to a good person. What is making you to a good person is the willingness to act in the right way. Not only towards the Church but also to the person next to you. A Religion like Christianity does teach to be kind to each other. Respect and care. Help the ones in need even if it means to put yourself down. Giving what is yours to others and share. Moliere was the first who went against the fear of Monarchy and showed the hypocrite side of both - Monarchy and Religion, which goes hand in hand witch each other. Moliere denounced both of them in the same time. He managed successfully to present a whole society in one single character – Tartuffe. Tartuffe, the main character in Moliere's comedy, presents everything that Moliere finds disturbing about the idea of Religion. Tartuffe, with the habit of talking in the highest of all tones about himself and his great worship of good and the Church, was able to trick Orgon, the head of the household, the person who is supposed to be the smartest and strongest part of the family, into a fool. He was able to make him belief that he was a good men. And he did this so well, that Orgon promised him everything and put him and his wellbeing above his own family. Moliere was a very brave man to find the dare to show how a single man symbolizes a whole society. Tartuffe was more than just the main character in his comedy, he functioned as the mirror held right to the audience. A hypocrite society that praises the lord for his charity but does not find the will to help others on their own behalf. So the first reason why Moliere´s Satire is working so well is Moliere’s courage and braveness. It is hard to imagine for us what it have must have meant to stand up against the Church. An institution that was not only ruling over its followers but also the entire country. And it is even more significant to acknowledge his bravery with the knowledge that 400 years ago a bad word against the King or the Church could cost your head. I think it is people like Moliere that we have to appreciate and have to be thankful for, because creativity and braveness like his, made it able for us to live in the way we are living today. We must also acknowledge that Moliere was harshly criticized for his comedy. His success and freedom of speech was a result of is positive and close relationship to the King, who granted him safety. Moliere was very smart in the way he presented his critical comedy to the audience. Criticizing but cautious enough that people could still find the humor in it and laugh about it.



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