11 June 2015
Rhetorical Analysis: A Modest Proposal
In the seventeenth century, people made habit of distributing political pamphlets in Ireland to promote intellectual ideas. Many people threw these pamphlets away and did not pay attention to them. In 1729 Jonathan Swift, author of “A Modest Proposal,” devises this proposal to show how bad and backwards the social class and general state Ireland was in. His proposal was that the infants of the desolate and poor should “contribute to the feeding, and partly to the clothing, of many thousands” in order to improve the standard of living and economy in Ireland (Swift).
Jonathan Swift’s reasoning behind this proposal is that many women were having children that they were unable to care for. He says that this proposal would make the infants, “beneficial to the public” (Swift). This proposal also addresses the horrible conditions in which the people were living in at the time. Swift blames the politicians for the deplorable conditions due to the lack of apathy presented in the decision making process, in fixing the conditions. In “A Modest Proposal”, Swift uses rhetorical exaggeration, sarcasm, and insincerity to express his aggravation with papists, politicians, and the poverty stricken citizens of Ireland at the time. In order to make his argument more effective, and to get his message across, Swift uses the rhetorical devices of logos and ethos.
Jonathan Swift employs the use of logos to help him throughout his proposal. In The History and Theory of Rhetoric, logos is defined as an account, or a clear and logical explanation, or an argument. Swift makes a very logical and persuasive argument that the Irish should eat their children. Swift makes a case that by feeding on the infants of the poor after they reach one year of age, the country would be solving several major issues the country is facing. By eating the babies they can reduce the number of children that the poor people have to support, the men would not beat their pregnant wives because the children they are carrying are valuable like a foal or calf, and by selling the infants as food the economy will be improved. Swift points out that an infant can be fed from its mother’s breast for up to a year after being born, with little or no additional nutritional support. Since theses infants need no additional nutrients other than their mother’s milk, it does not cost anything to feed them and support them for a full year. During this one year period the infants have time to grow and become fat, making them more delicious to eat. After this year, the families can sell the babies. They can then use that money to feed their other, older, children. He implies that babies will become a delicacy and that chefs will pay good money for a fat child. With fewer mouths to feed, the country will not suffer as much from poverty, and those who are poor will have a new source of income. Swift makes this ridiculously unethical argument to eat babies and yet makes it seem like a very logical thing to do. By eating these children, there will be a decrease in population, the economy will be stimulated, and overall quality of life will be improved.
In Rhetoric, by Aristotle, it states that, “persuasion can come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions” (Aristotle 8). The rhetorical device that plays upon emotions in an argument or speech is called ethos. The usage of ethos appears in this proposal, appealing to two different emotions. One way in which ethos is used is by instilling a sense of pride in the countrymen of Ireland. Swift uses the proposal to anger and rally the people of Ireland into being patriotic and defending their country. Swift has seemingly strong views when it comes to the English and the Papists. He states that if an infant were to make it through childhood that they would leave Ireland to fight for Spain or sell themselves to Barbados as indentured servants,