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Altruism, Where Art Thou?

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"Altruism, Where Art Thou?"

In the essay, "A Modest Proposal," readers are introduced by the essayist, Jonathan Swift, to the economic strife that exists in Ireland during the early 1700's. With the Protestant ascendancy in political power, a large separation in social class has developed in result to those of inferior religions being marginalized (Bone). Throughout the essay, Swift writes from the persona of the narrator, whose concern for the dire state of the country has inspired him to make a rather morbid proposal so that the social balance may be restored. It is proclaimed that through the exploitation of their reproductive abilities, destitute families shall attain higher incomes by selling their newborns so that they can be eaten by the public. Despite the narrator's provocative prattle on how the merits of infant cannibalism will resolve the polarity in social classes, it is the ironic tone of the essay that sobers his absurd ideology and invokes an introspective understanding that his proposal is not to be taken at all literally.

Readers are best able to identify Swift's ironic tone through the analysis of a small excerpt that occurs towards the end of the essay: "Therefore I repeat, let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients, 'till he hath at least some glympse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice" (7). This brief passage is presented as its own separate paragraph; a formatting technique Swift uses to effectively signal its importance to the reader. In his beginning words, "Therefore, I repeat," the narrator's aim at being direct with the reader contrasts the effect of his usual verbosity, which up until now has helped to conceal Swift's underlying message (7). Bewildered readers finally begin to comprehend the essay's satire as they pick up on the peculiar diction of two of the excerpt's phrases: "glympse of hope" and "hearty and sincere attempt" (7). These warm phrases suggest that the narrator possesses a true compassion for those less-fortunate, yet it is ironic that this attribute be revealed given that his proposal involves the cold-blooded killing


of the country's children.

Irony is also depicted in the morality of the platforms pertaining to the narrator and his opposers. In his statement: "let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients," the narrator expresses a strong disinterest in hearing the righteous proposals of his adversaries, who are generalized by the term "man." At last, Swift's subjects of ridicule are revealed, and can be identified as the political figures of Ireland whose proposed solutions to relieving the nation's poverty continually fail to be



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