Poverty Through a Satirical Lens: Comparing Jonathan Swift and John Gay

Writer and satirist Jonathan Swift stated that “satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own” (Swift). Such beholders, as Swift mentions, use satiric narrative to convey social and political plights. In his satire A Modest Proposal, Swift uses rhetoric, overt exaggeration and insincerity in order to capture the audience’s attention regarding the state of poverty in Ireland. John Gay also uses satire in his piece, The Beggar’s Opera, to highlight the hypocrisy surrounding the treatment of lower class society, hoping to correct the social and political vices that governed London in the eighteenth century. Satire is used to challenge the constructs concerning social class and poverty.

A Modest Proposal is an attempt to “find out a fair, cheap, and easy method” of transforming the starving children of Ireland into “sound and useful members of the commonwealth” (Swift 3). Swift begins by deploring the miserable lives of the poverty-stricken Irish who struggle to provide for their families. The exordium illustrates a world in which streets are full of female beggars, followed by children dressed in rags:

“It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town or travel in the country, when they 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 and importuning every passenger for an alms. These mothers, instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in strolling to beg sustenance for their helpless infants: who as they grow up either turn thieves for want of work, or leave their dear native country to fight for the Pretender in Spain, or sell themselves to the Barbadoes” (Swift 3).

The opening sentence offers a vivid and compassionate depiction of lower class society in Ireland. Readers are presented with unsettling images of poverty, overpopulation and hunger. In his introduction, the narrator is empathetic towards women and children, stating that the mothers are “forced to employ all their time in strolling, to beg sustenance for their helpless infants” (Swift 3). By using words like “forced” and “helpless”, Swift uses language to emphasize the suggested notions of sympathy. Readers are left with images of powerlessness. It can be inferred that the narrator does not assign fault to these beggars for their current position in poverty.

As a solution to the harsh realities, the narrator suggests killing the children of the poor families and serving them on the tables of the rich, thus easing the economical problems in Ireland. Swift uses outrageous exaggerations in order to confer social and political commentary. Readers begin to pick up on Swift’s insincerity due to the overall absurdity of his proposal.

“I believe no gentleman would repine to give ten shillings for the carcass of a good fat child, which, as I have said, will make four dishes of excellent nutritive meat, when he hath only some particular friend or his own family to dine with him. Thus the squire will learn to be a good landlord, and grow popular among his tenants; the mother will have eight shillings net profit, and be fit for work till she produces another child. Those who are more thrifty (as I must confess the times require) may flay the carcass; the skin of which artificially dressed will make admirable gloves for ladies, and summer boots for fine gentlemen” (Swift 7-8).

As the Irish are incapable of finding a logical solution to the poverty within their country, the narrator is hoping to inspire them to act rationally and act upon the pressing issue. The language Swift uses to describe the children’s meat is particularly interesting. He describes it as a sort of delicacy that “will make four dishes of excellent nutritive meat” (Swift 7). Furthermore, Swift comments on how an infant’s skin would make “admirable gloves for ladies” and “summer boots for fine gentlemen” (Swift 7-8). By using words such as “admirable” and “fine” to represent what can be made from the children, Swift is attributing wealthy characteristics to the poor.

With the proposal that the children are fed to the nobility rather to their starving parents, the “sympathetic” impressions within the introduction are quickly shattered. Swift therefore employs rhetoric throughout his text, giving readers a “love-hate” relationship with the narrator. Swift’s compassion towards the lower class is strongly alleviated by the sense that beggars are responsible for their state of poverty. The poor are no longer perceived as powerless. His language here touches on the popular belief that beggars are nothing but lazy opportunists. Although he does not completely associate himself with this notion, Swift is successful in demonstrating the social and political complexities through the use of satire surrounding the issue of poverty.

In his social satire The Beggar’s Opera, John Gay criticizes political constructs by suggesting that morality is a luxury only available to those who can afford it. In the words of the Beggar, the play explores how “the fine gentlemen imitate the gentlemen of the road, or the gentlemen of the road the fine gentlemen” (Gay 91). Gay’s representation of poverty revolves heavily around the concept of equality and the constant comparisons he makes between the upper and lower class:

“Through all the Employments of Life Each Neighbour abuses his Brother; Whore and Rogue they call Husband and Wife: All Professions be-rogue one another: The Priest calls the Lawyer a Cheat, The Lawyer be-knaves the Divine: And the Statesman, because he’s so great, Thinks his Trade as honest as mine” (Gay 2).

Gay uses wit and satire to shed light on the dark and corrupt structure of eighteenth century English society. Unlike Swift who highlights the obvious distinctions between the two classes, Gay brings the elite down to the level of the poor by accentuating their immoral similarities. Rather than portraying the poor as lowly beggars, they are seen equally as those with money. The text is rampant with comical equivalencies between the upper and the lower class, such as those made between priests and lawyers, and statesmen and criminals. By making such comparisons, Gay is exposing the fraud that exists within England’s justice system, ultimately hoping to eliminate the social and political vices that dictate the country.

We retrench the Superfluities of Mankind. The World is avaritious, and I hate Avarice. A covetous fellow, like a Jackdaw, steals what he was never made to enjoy, for the sake of hiding it. These are the Robbers of Mankind, for Money was made for the Free-hearted and Generous, and where is the Injury of taking from another, what he hath not the Heart to make use of? (Gay 29)

Matt’s speech effectively illustrates the theme of hypocrisy that exists throughout the play, taking on a socialistic approach to the rights of man. Although it is deeply prejudiced that riches be distributed among the wealthy, the calculating schemes used by the highwaymen – befriending innocent youth at a gaming table only to rob them from their earnings – is anything but honorable. Contrary to Swift, Gay declines to judge the poor for their moral lapses. It can be concluded that the poor are not represented as immoral, but amoral. Living in such poverty, the lower class has little use for morality, other than as a tool of manipulation.

Satire is used to challenge the constructs surrounding social class and poverty. In his not-so-modest proposal, Swift uses exaggeration, rhetoric and insincerity throughout the text to represent and reflect on the poor living standards in Ireland. He is quite literally suggesting that the rich “devour” the poor, achieving success at the expense of the lower class. Gay, on the other hand, reveals the similarities between the upper and lower class in order to disqualify the pervasive snobbery of the rich. Both authors, however, are successful in exposing the hypocrisy and corruption within England’s social structure through the use of satire.

Works Cited:

Gay, John. The Beggar’s Opera. William Heinemann, 1921. Print.

Swift, Jonathan. “A Modest Proposal.” Web. 5 Nov. 2015.

The Means of Persuasion in “A Modest Proposal”

On the surface, Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” (1729) suggests that the most convenient method for dealing with the starving children of Ireland is to convert them into useful — and edible — members of society. His horrid proposal recommends “plumping” babies up until they reach the age of one, and then selling them as food for the rich. Swift then concludes that implementing this project will do more to solve Ireland’s social, economic, and political problems than any measure previously offered. Beneath the surface of the essay, it seems that Swift is venting his aggravation towards the Irish people for their inability to take action on their own. He is covertly claiming that the Irish must come up with a logical way to better their weak economic situation, so that the poor are not “eaten alive.” Throughout, Swift uses careful rhetoric in his writing to argue for his overt proposal. He effectively exploits the three rhetorical appeals known as pathos, logos, and ethos throughout the piece to make his bizarre idea seem convincing and logical.

These three persuasion tactics, also titled the “artistic proofs” by Aristotle, date back to ancient Greece and are used to convince and persuade an audience: all three are now established as crucial techniques in the art of rhetoric. Pathos is the Greek word for “experience” and “suffering,” and it is used to manipulate a reader’s emotions by raising sympathy or stirring anger. Logos is the Greek term for “word” and is used to convince readers by means of logic and reason. Ethos is the Greek word for “character,” and it is used to convince readers that the author is credible and reliable. Johnathan Swift was thoroughly trained in classical rhetoric at Kilkenny School and Trinity College, Dublin (Beaumont). Therefore, it is not surprising that he is able to exploit these methods in an effective manner.

Swift begins to implement his rhetorical techniques and control the readers by manipulating them with pathos. He “Illustrates the dominance of his rhetorical method over his subject matter” (Rogal), by raising sympathy. The first sentence of the essay reads, “It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town or travel in the country, when they 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 and importuning every passenger for alms.” Here, Swift has already activated the emotions of the audience, and his readers are beginning to feel sorrow for the misfortune of the poor. He continues to control his readers with a strong statement, “There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas!” Now, not only has he continued to captivate the readers with sympathy, but he has also invoked an anger that will cause them to support him.

As important as Swift’s use of pathos is his ongoing delivery of factual information, or his use of logos. Logos is commonly developed by constructing a logical argument; naturally, most of Swift’s persuasive piece is a significant illustration of logos. He shares precise information and specific statistics throughout the essay to support his proposal. For example, throughout his fifth paragraph he makes a few calculations, stating, “The number of souls in this kingdom being usually reckoned one million and a half, of these I calculate there may be about two hundred thousand couple whose wives are breeders; from which number I subtract thirty thousand couples who are able to maintain their own children…” This is one of the many statistical surveys that Swift offers during his proposal. His well-presented information makes his argument seem very logical, thus influencing his audience immensely.

Throughout the piece, Swift also proves that he is a credible source by displaying his character and establishing himself as the “projector” of his modest proposal, thus demonstrating proper use of ethos. The persona that he assumes is “humane, self-confident, reasonable, competent, and somewhat exhausted in his attempts to improve his native kingdom” (Beaumont). He exemplifies his humanity in the opening words of the essay by raising pity for the poor children of Ireland, and by sharing that he feels sorry for them. He is also very humble throughout his proposal, stating, “I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection” (Swift). Swift’s narrator not only exhibits his humility, but also his fair-mindedness throughout his piece. He proclaims, “After all, I am not so violently bent upon my own opinions as to reject any offer proposed by wise men, which shall be found equally innocent, cheap, easy, and effectual” (Swift). The last example of Swift’s proper use of ethos is that he shows sincerity and unselfishness in his closing paragraph. He writes, “I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the public good of my country…” These examples display Swift’s character, and they encourage the audience to believe that he is reliable.

Although Swift uses pathos, logos, and ethos in his satire to discuss his apparent proposal, he also uses these persuasive techniques as well as underlying irony to argue what his work is actually about: the need for a logical solution to solve Ireland’s tragic economic state. By illustrating his outrageous plan to sell impoverished babies for food, he actually sheds light on the deeper issue at hand. Even the title, “A Modest Proposal,” suggests that what he is proposing is refined and timid, when in reality it is absurd. Swift captures the reader’s attention and directs the reader’s moral compass through this elaborately ‘modest proposal.’

Works Cited Beaumont, Charles Allen. “Swift’s Classical Rhetoric in A Modest Proposal.” Georgia Review 14.3 (Fall 1960): 307-317. Rpt. in Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800. Ed. Thomas J. Schoenberg and Lawrence J. Trudeau. Vol. 101. Detroit: Gale, 2004. Literature Resource Center. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. “Home – Ethos, Pathos, and Logos, the Modes of Persuasion ‒ Explanation and Examples.” Home – Ethos, Pathos, and Logos, the Modes of Persuasion ‒ Explanation and Examples. N.p., 2015. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. Johnson, Maurice. “The Structural Impact of A Modest Proposal.” Bucknell Review 7.4 (May 1958): 234-240. Rpt. in Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800. Ed. Thomas J. Schoenberg and Lawrence J. Trudeau. Vol. 101. Detroit: Gale, 2004. Literature Resource Center. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. Rogal, Samuel J. “The Timelessness of A Modest Proposal.” English Record 18.4 (Apr. 1968): 48-53. Rpt. in Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800. Ed. Thomas J. Schoenberg and Lawrence J. Trudeau. Vol. 101. Detroit: Gale, 2004. Literature Resource Center. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. Swift, Jonathan. “A Modest Proposal.” The Literature Network. Jalic, Inc.2016. Web. March 2016.

Examining the Elusive in “A Modest Proposal”

The beginning of the eighteenth century witnessed the establishment of the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland, and a gradual retraction of the civil rights of Roman Catholics (Papists). The Anglican minority took measures to enrich and empower itself through various policies, including mercantilism, which relied on the devaluation of a country’s goods to increase its exports. This rush to increase trade value came with the price of rapid impoverishing of the working class. Moreover, the laborer was considered part of a country’s capital, and no child was too young to go to work. In his satirical work “A Modest Proposal” Anglo-Irish essayist Jonathan Swift responds to the dilemma of the nation’s proliferating indigent masses in a parody of the autocratic landlords of his time. He introduces a method of putting the begging mothers to productive employment, and their children to the purpose of the gratification of landlords. Conning an unwavering loyalty to his perverted scheme and drenching every word in reasonableness, Swifts demonstrates his mastery in satire and effectively shocks, captivates and entertains the readers. If his support were not lacking in credibility (or his scheme in practicability), his tactful, persuasive style would leave few readers unconvinced.In light of the socio-economic problems in Ireland, Swift adopts a can-do attitude and describes how, through deliberation, reasoning, and collecting information about Ireland’s population and customs, he has seen the perfect way out: namely, by breeding unproductive and burdensome children for the purpose of providing food to the upper class, and a means of income to the mothers. There would be numerous uses for this dish of infant flesh; it could be served in every season, to any sort of dinner guests or with any dressing that best suits the family. This proposition would be beneficial to all classes of people in Ireland, and many similar examples from other countries exist to support the practice. The objections or alternatives to the proposal are not worth consideration. Undaunted by the sheer absurdity of his plan, Swift achieves coherence in his organization of ideas and support through formal patterning, and executes an ingenious development to stimulate strong response in the reader. His methodical arrangement of reckonings and computations prevent logical conflicts from weakening his propositions or diluting his act of being a well-informed authority on the subject. He progresses in a systematic presentation of facts, his proposal, its method, and its advantages, following the author’s reasoning process and making his essay comprehensive. Nevertheless, he manages to employ sustained irony to its best effect and the reader is shocked by what he is least expecting from a self-proclaimed patriot: that a child is a “delicious nourishing and wholesome food”. In the same assertive vein, Swift satisfies his audience with regard to the practicability and benefits of his proposal by presenting a multitude of mathematical, analytical and external support, while this serious persistence has the dual effect of amusing and outraging the reader. After providing a brief introduction to the economic conditions of Ireland that calls out for sympathy and concern, he zeroes in on his proposal by first offering statistics relevant to his problem at hand: namely, how to provide for “a hundred and twenty thousand children of poor parents annually born”. Such numbers, while giving him the officious air he desires, imply that he is not ‘fooling around’. They materialize the concerns of Ireland and the possibility of benefitting by his scheme. His suggestions that ‘twenty thousand may be reserved for breed’ and the rest ‘be offered in sale to persons of quality and fortune’ are a mocking representation of the attitude of the wealthy toward the outnumbering poor, and the shock and fury they induce is comparable to the protestations against the violation of Human Rights. Furthermore, Swift is conversational yet formal, clearly addressing the educated ruling class, and by means of subtle yet effective literary devices, he pulls off an admirable Juvenalian satire that lends the element of fascination to a social and political theme probably propagated to redundancy the serious way. Unlike contemporary revolutionary work sensationalizing the injustice toward the poor, Swift impersonates the class of people he means to upbraid, and in the style of the traditional Roman satire, he derides the reforms he wishes to suggest. This conflicting personality successfully exposes the outlook of the ruling class to the disinterested reader, while subjecting the perpetrators of the injustice to utmost ridicule and contempt. A reaction of shock and horror at the indecency of his proposition is followed by eye-widening wonder at his nerve to carry the exploitation of the working classes so grossly out of proportion. At the same time, stating metaphorically that since the autocrats “have already devoured most of the parents,” they are entitled to the children, vividly suggests how the present conditions approximate the unthinkable.Besides using a cleverly contrasting style, Swift combines the language of politics and economics to model the manipulative and shrewd approach of people toward the poor, and remarkably, through his apathy, influences striking unrestrained response from his reader. Coolly advising “buying the children alive and dressing them hot from the knife”, he paints a lurid image through an unconventional attribution of predicate to the object. Replacing “children” by “pigs” in the above example creates a very flat, lifeless statement. Similar instances of the use of phrases from animal husbandry such as, “their flesh was generally tough and lean…and their taste disagreeable” heightens disgust and horror. Swift’s professional advisory style is out of place with his ‘modest’ proposal, and for some, this may leave an unpleasant, sinister impression of human perversion. Swift is not to be taken seriously yet his manner stresses that the inflexibility of the boundaries of social acceptability is not to be dismissed.Most of the outrage of the reader is a result of the solemn and earnest tone in which Swift proposes his solution. The unfaltering formal gravity of his narration conveys the extent of serious contemplation he has devoted to his theory and is one of the elements of his essay that create antagonism for the scheming attitude of the ruling class. Moreover his characteristic and persistent air of rationality depict the fact that the Aristocrats of his day were not only bent on achieving prosperity through the drudgery of the lower class, but were also blissfully unaware of the moral and ethical implications of employing exploitive means to achieve their end. Along with distaste and revulsion it may induce in the average reader, “A Modest Proposal” also questions the depths to which human nature is capable of sinking to secure personal gains. Swift seems comfortable with the assumption that every Landlord would be able to ‘stomach’ the reform without a conscience and that every progenerating mother would bargain her flesh and blood. Since Swift doesn’t spare rich or poor from the sarcastic implication of corruption, he is condemning the whole Irish nation to the verdict of moral degeneration. There are exceptions and nonconformities to every human stereotype, and Swift himself gives an excellent example by differing from other Anglo-Irish of his time. Undoubtedly, Swift’s Proposal has beguiled and impressed critics, readers and literature buffs alike for generations with its innovative and inspirational technique. His text embodies the ironic but often true phenomenon that the wrong means might sometimes be essential for achieving the right end. Hence he utilizes his advantage by birth and education to join ranks with the discontented masses and lampoon the conduct of the upper classes. Jonathan Swift was not the first or the last of his kind. What makes his work stand out among the rest of the nationalistic prose is his mischievous contrariness and subtle symbolism, and his assimilation of the Irish spirit of optimism, unaffected, as he illustrates, by a surprisingly great extent of depravity.Works CitedSwift, Jonathan. “A Modest Proposal.” A Modest Proposal and Other Satires. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1995. Print.

Mildred Pierce as a Tool of Instruction in Postwar America

Mildred Pierce (Michael Curtiz, 1948) is a dynamic film that attempts to reconstruct a post-war economy by teaching lessons about the importance of gender roles and a balanced family to the men and women in the theaters. Mildred Pierce illuminates “the historical need to reconstruct an economy based on a division of labor by which men command the means of production and women remain within the family, in other words the need to reconstruct a failing patriarchal structure” (Cook, 69). The film also touches on a fear of women by men returning from the war. Women were more independent and less feminine that before the war. “[T]he films themselves seem to indicate just how threatened and unsure hegemonic patriarchy was during the postwar years” (Benshoff, 264). This essay will deal with a scene from Mildred’s first flashback within the film beginning with Mildred fixing up her newly purchased restaurant as Monty enters and flirtatiously invites her to the beach house and ending with Mildred and Monty’s exchanged words of affection pertaining to their beating hearts. This scene overlaps Kay and Veda’s trip to the beach with their father Bert during which Kay comes down with pneumonia. This essay deals with the symptomatic meaning of the film Mildred Pierce. “This is abstract and general. It situates the film within a trend of thought that is assumed to be characteristic of American society during [a certain time period]” (Bordwell, 62). This film deals with the deterioration of a family in postwar America. “While birth rates did soar after the war, so did divorce rates…Men and women had very different experiences of the war, and the two often did not easily mesh” (Benshoff, 262). The film teaches its audience how to avoid such a failed family ideal. “The first sign of deterioration comes when Mildred’s one night of illicit passion with Monty is followed by Kay’s death” (Cook, 74). This film establishes ideal gender roles for the redevelopment of society while defining the fear of women present in postwar America. It is important to point out that this scene is Mildred’s flashback. Mildred Pierce has two distinct points of view: Mildred, the woman, and the detective, the man. “The basic split is created in the film between melodrama and film noir, between ‘Woman’s Picture’ and Man’s Film, a split which indicates the presence of two ‘voices’, female and male” (Cook, 72). Mildred’s flashbacks are evenly lit, but cannot be trusted. “The viewer’s process of picking up cues, developing expectations, and constructing an ongoing story out of the plot will be partially shaped by what the narrator tells or doesn’t tell” (Bordwell, 92). The detective’s perspective explains the truth of the narrative, but is presented in shadows and low-key lighting. “Mildred’s discourse is the discourse of melodrama, her story is the stuff of which the ‘Woman’s Picture’ was made in pre-war and war years when woman were seen to have an active part to play in society and the problems of passion, desire, and emotional excess” (Cook, 71). The melodramatic tone to Mildred’s narration helps to pull the woman in the theater into the storyline. This is crucial considering the message the film presents to women to stand behind their men and to go back into the kitchen and cook pies. The detective’s discourse is a representation of the man’s role to find the truth through hard evidence.“ [The detective] is simply concerned with establishing the Truth, with resolving the enigma, while Mildred’s story contains complexity and ambiguity, showing a concern for feelings rather than facts.” (Cook, 71). This scene begins with an establishing shot of the exterior restaurant, still under construction, and quickly dissolves into the interior of the restaurant with Mildred’s legs, detached from her body, in the upper right side of the screen. Mildred’s legs are fetish sized in order to control her sexuality. “One part of a fragmented body destroys the Renaissance space, the illusion of depth demanded by the narrative, it gives flatness” (Mulvey, 838). By the man taking a small part of the woman and focusing in on it, the woman, as a whole, is no longer a threat to the man. This entire scene sexualizes Mildred. First a close up of her legs is presented and then her in a two piece bathing suit. At this point in the film the viewer has not yet seen the epitome of Veda’s evil actions, nor the reverse shot revealing Veda as a killer; therefore, Mildred is still under great suspicion for the murder in the first scene. Mildred appears to be using her sexual prowess to control Monty in this scene. Joan Crawford’s acting is that of a confident woman in control. Monty asks if she needs help with her zipper and she replies “no” with a large smirk on her face. Her business is not yet a success, but she is on her way due to the property Monty has loaned her. “Joan Crawford, who plays Mildred, is an ambiguous sexual figure as a star with a history of playing ‘independent women’ roles” (Cook, 77). It is almost as if Mildred is “sealing the deal” with her body in this scene. Men in postwar America were threatened by the woman’s sexual prowess and often tried to repress it. The film gives an example of the “brutal and enforced repression of female sexuality, and the institutionalization of a social place for both men (as fathers and husbands) and women (as mothers and wives) which rests uneasily on this repression” (Cook, 69). Mildred’s sexuality is repressed by the realization later in the film that it is Monty who is using Mildred and not the other way around.The most interesting cinematic shot in this scene shows Mildred entering a room at the beach house with Monty close behind. Monty stops in the doorway while Mildred approaches the closet to look for a bathing suit. Initially, nothing appears unordinary or strange about this camera shot. However, As Mildred moves closer to the camera something the viewer was not expecting happens: Mildred enters the frame from screen left, when just moments before, she was moving downward from right to left on the screen. Then two images of Mildred are presented and the viewer realizes that the initial shot was not real. It was only a reflection on a closet door mirror. This cinematic trick causes the viewer to question what is real and what is simply an illusion. At this point, the viewer can question the validity of Mildred’s flashback all together. Even though Mildred is not the femme fatale in this film, but she is a woman. In postwar America women could not be trusted. This scene is all a flashback sequence told from Mildred’s point of view. One could argue that the flashback sequences, such as the one in question, are being presented according to how Mildred remembers them. “Mildred’s story is revealed as duplicitous, thus foregrounding the work of repression involved in narrative resolution” (Cook, 73). Curtiz’s choice of high-key lighting is appropriate because this appears to be a happy time in Mildred’s life. There is no need for stark contrasts between light and dark, like so many other less light-hearted scenes in the film. “Low-key lighting has usually been applied to somber and mysterious scenes” (Bordwell, 130). Instead, Curtiz relies on double meanings to highlight the question of what is real and what is an illusion. One example is when Mildred, looking at the ocean from the window in the beach house, replies, “You have a wonderful view.” Monty, looking at her body, responds, “Well, I wouldn’t say that…I hope the suit fits better than the robe.” Monty knows that she is speaking about the ocean and not her appearance, but twists her question. There are other ways to interpret Mildred’s question. Mildred could be drawing attention to Monty’s point of view, the point of view of a man. The point of view of a man represents truth in this film and in postwar America a man’s point of view is what mattered. Through denial of the woman’s point of view, man can take over again. “As if to restore proper patriarchal order, American culture attempted to deny or degenerate the stronger woman that wartime conditions had created” (Benshoff, 262). After a wide shot of Mildred and Monty jumping into the ocean together, the film dissolves into the interior of the beach house where Mildred is drying off by the fire. Another illusion is presented here through Mildred’s reflection in the mirror while Monty makes a drink to the left of the screen. Curtiz is once again playing with the viewer’s perception of reality versus illusion, who to trust in this scene, and if the scene should be trusted at all.In this scene the viewer is not yet aware that it is Veda whom is the true femme fatale and not Mildred, however Mildred is still a woman in postwar cinema and therefore is painted in a negative light. Her narrative can not be trusted and she oozes sexuality. Mildred’s character is paralleled by Veda’s character. “The film asks us, through the device of metaphorical substitution , to confuse the wicked Veda with the honest Mildred, thus establishing Mildred’s innate guilt, even though she is not guilty of the actual murder” (Cook, 71). Although Mildred did not kill Monty, she is guilty of an even bigger crime in postwar America: pursuing a career and becoming the head of a family. “Mildred’s take-over of the place of the father has brought about the collapse of all social and moral order in her world” (Cook, 75).At the end of this scene, Monty and Mildred embrace and exchange words of affection. However, through camera movement, Curtiz allows the viewer to see past Mildred and Monty’s false feelings for each other. As Monty and Mildred embrace there is music in the background coming from a record player off screen. The record begins to skip and Mildred replies, “The record Monty, the record.” Just before Mildred says this Monty says, “When I’m close to you like this there’s a sound in the air like the beating of wings. Do you know what it is? My heart beating like a school boy’s.” To which Mildred replies: “I thought it was mine.” The camera then slowly pans right until it reveals the record player and the mirror image of Monty and Mildred embracing in the same shot. The viewer can now make the connection and understand that it is not their hearts beating. It is only the sound of the record player skipping along.The setting of the beach house is important to the entire narrative of the film. The beach house in this scene provides the location for romance between Mildred and Monty and will later provide a location for Monty’s murder. Monty’s murder is a direct result of his bond with Mildred; therefore the beach house should provide a sense of foreshadowing for the viewer. A parallel can be drawn between Mildred and Veda through their intimate happenings with the same man at the same location (Mildred later discovers Veda and Monty kissing at the beach house). It is clear that “cinema setting can come to the forefront; it need not be only a container for human events but can dynamically enter the narrative action” (Bordwell, 115).As Mildred opens Monty’s closet at the beach house she finds a large collection of bathing suits. Monty jokes, “They belong to my sisters”. However, they clearly belong to other lady friends of his because towards the end of the scene, in front of the fire, Monty states, “You’re very beautiful like that.” And Mildred jokingly replies, “I’ll bet you say that to all your sisters.” There is a very serious issue being alluded to here: the taboo of incest. This scene is foreshadowing the eventual relationship between Veda and her stepfather Monty. Incest is one of the worst ways a family can fall apart and it appears to be Mildred’s punishment in the film for her choice to be an independent career woman. This film sends a message to the audience of postwar America that women should find their places back in the home or their families will fall apart. As Mildred and Monte converse in front of the fire another interesting point is brought up. Another message seems present and this one is intended to teach the men in the audience. Mildred asks, “And just what do you do, Mr. Beragon?” Monty replies, “Oh, I loaf in a decorative and highly charming manner.” Monte clearly lacks a career or any ambition to pursue one. In postwar America “woman were unceremoniously fired from their jobs in order to create employment opportunities for returning men” (Benshoff, 262). Society demanded that woman be in the home and that men be at the workplace. Mildred’s involvement with a man that doesn’t fit this mold consequently ends in her downfall and the deterioration of her family. The message presented in the film clearly outlines gender roles and what is expected of each sex in order to restore patriarichal order to America at this time. This message is also seen earlier in the film through Bert’s character. He cannot hold down a job and temporarily looses his family. He however has ambition to work and reunites with Mildred in the end of the film. Monte, however, is punished with death.Mildred Pierce is an entertaining film with ulterior motives. In 1947, America was recovering from an economic crisis, altered gender roles, a deteriorated male population, and high divorce rates. Leave it to Hollywood to instruct American’s on how to set everything straight again. Not only does this film present a number of messages detailing the woman’s place in the home and the man’s place at work, but it also reflects a fear that woman had gained too much control, become too masculine, and would no longer be a link in healthy family units. Sixty years later, society has come a long way towards accepting women as important figures in the world’s career market. Although this film and others like it were successful in creating the “leave it to beaver” atmosphere of the 1950’s. It was only a short while before this ideal crumbled. Now men and women can compete on a more even playing field. Women need not be punished, like Mildred Pierce was, for pursuing a career.Works CitedBenshoff, Harry M., and Sean Griffin. “America on Film: Representing Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality at the Movies.” Noir Film Coursebook, 2007. 260-264.Bordwell, David, and Kristin Thompson. Film Art: an Introduction. 8th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008.Cook, Pam. “Duplicity in Mildred Pierce.” Women in Film Noir. Ed. E. Ann Kaplan. London: British Film Institute, 2005. 69-79.Mulvey, Laura.“Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Noir Film Coursebook, 2007. 833-844.

A Modest Proposal

In his essay, A Modest Proposal, Jonathan Swift uses the literary devices of organization, point of view, diction and imagery to maneuver the reader into identifying the need for humans to let both logic and emotion govern decisions. Jonathan Swift, in order to prepare his audience for his radical proposal to provide for the large starving Irish population, first identifies the problem and provides hard facts before stating his actual scheme, so that the reader may see the logic in his otherwise horrifying plan of eating Irish infants. In the first five paragraphs, Swift addresses the problem of Ireland’s huge starving population as an unfortunate predicament, but not one of his own concerns. His explanation appeals to those indifferent about the plight of the Irish beggars, such as the English, informing them of a regrettable fact. However, in the sixth paragraph, in his last attempt to gain the audience’s support, he resorts to dry facts, hoping that the readers will abandon emotional ties and regard this problem and its solution with only logic and reason. Swift’s organization of the essay, particularly his deliberate delay in stating the thesis, gives him a certain power, by which he shares with the audience ideas that, unprepared for, they would have immediately rejected.In narrating his essay, Swift chooses to write as a naïve narrator who actually takes the side of the people he is trying to chastise. By writing from the point of view of a person not at all sympathetic of the Irish condition then over exaggerating as to the inconvenience the beggars pose on the sophisticated elite and proposing such an absurd and grotesque solution, Swift illustrates the actual preposterousness of Irish oppression, and his true feelings towards the English exploitation of the Irish. Since, in the narrator’s opinion, the beggars contribute to the “deplorable state of the kingdom”, a concern of only the wealthy, Swift almost comically shows how inconsiderate and self-absorbed the wealthy are to think that the poor, living in abject poverty, are merely an unsightly nuisance. Swift counts on his audience seeing through the shallow narrator and come to the conclusion that you must rely on emotion as well as logic when considering how to provide for the Irish. Emotional ties are dealt with ironically throughout the piece, noticeable first in Swift’s comment about the “horrid practice” of abortions and killing illegitimate children, which seems not as immoral considering his plan of killing and eating children a year old, then again when he says in all sincerity that he could not experience the least personal gain, since his youngest child was too old to be eaten. By writing from the point of view opposite to his own, Swift easily has his narrator highlight the mistakes and faults of the English, and can sway the reader’s opinions to agree with his own.Swift’s choice of diction in A Modest Proposal enables him to control the reader’s opinion of the society and its treatment of the Irish. The powerful words he uses, such as describing the Irish as animals, helps the narrator justify butchering and eating children. However, when the different methods of cooking children are discussed, he relies on the compassion and ethics his audience retains to turn the readers against the narrator. Breeding humans like livestock is unthinkable; it disregards emotional ties and morals, which is what sets humans above animals. The vivid descriptions tie the “proposal” to cannibalism, a crime that would bring humans down, from the role as the superior race, to the level of hyenas and other uncivilized animals. Through his word choice, Jonathan Swift successfully illustrates the failure of the English intervention and feudal governing techniques thus far.

The Social Frustrations of Jonathan Swift in “A Modest Proposal”

Eating babies would be the last resort of a country in turmoil. Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” outlines the plans of a solution to resolve Ireland’s current deplorable state, which is to eat the children that can’t be supported by their parents. Swift begins by introducing all of the problems of the country, and the specific goals that his plan will achieve. He doesn’t introduce his plan until almost halfway through the text, and after doing so he continues to give reasons and evidence as to why his plan would work. While Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” is generally seen as a satire on political legislation, the text also serves as an outlet from which Swift vents many of his frustrations on societal issues in Ireland, such as the dominance of the rich, the liabilities of children, the lowly regard of marriage, and the religious tensions in the country.

In the paragraph where his proposal is revealed, Swift criticizes society by comparing children to animals, and drawing a distinction between the rich and the poor. Swift says that the “savages” of his country do not highly regard marriage, and thus most of the children will be bastards rather than “fruits of marriage” (1115). This is used to justify having just one male “breeder” to serve four females. Swift is criticizing his society’s marital values; he argues that because people tend to play off the importance of marriage and people will sleep with whoever they want, so it is perfectly fine to have one male serve four females in breeding because people are practically already doing that. The recurring theme of comparing children to animals is also prevalent in this passage. Swift says that children practically have the same usefulness as animals, but they are only one step above livestock because his plan still allows more males than breeding with “sheep, black cattle, and swine” (1115). The children, just like animals we eat, are allowed to “suck plentifully” before they are slaughtered to “render them plump and fat for a good table.” Swift then says that the “fore or hind quarter” of these children will make a very “reasonable” dish (1115). This analogy of comparing children to livestock could suggest that Swift thinks the majority of children born in his country are worth no more than farm animals. Another detail in this passage is that Swift says the children will be sold to “persons of quality and fortune” (1115). The children that are being sold are all “children of poor parents,” which is mentioned earlier in the text (1115). Along with the animal analogy, Swift is saying that the rich literally eat up the poor, and this characterization of rich people eating the poor people’s children occurs in other places in this text as well. This plays well into the children as animals analogy because Swift is likely criticizing how the rich upper-class have control over the poor.

In a passage leading up to the actual proposal, Swift spits out some numbers and computation to support his plan. This can be overlooked as simply the logos aspect of Swift’s satire of an argument, but there are underlying critiques of society that Swift mentions in this passage. For one, he flat out states that there cannot be as many children sufficiently supported “under the present distresses of the kingdom” as projected; according to Swift, only thirty thousand out of two hundred thousand couples have the means to support their children (1115). Swift says that one-fourth of the fertile women will “miscarry, or whose children die by accident or disease within the year” (1115). These statements are straightforward and simple; it is clear that there is a major issue with childbirth in Ireland. Swift brings up the issue that the vast majority of people who have children aren’t able to support these kids, while many don’t even get the chance because of children dying early. Swift conveys the idea that people who shouldn’t be having kids are having kids, and this is worsened by the state of the country.

Swift continues this passage by posing a question about the usefulness of children. He mentions that perhaps the only way that children can make a living is by stealing, which is not very morally just. Swift says that children can’t be employed in “handicraft or agriculture,” and “very seldom pick up a livelihood by stealing” (1115). Because he even mentions making a living off of being a thief, Swift asserts that there is a problem with thieves, and the problem may be that there is no other feasible way to make a living. He elaborates on the topic of stealing, saying that only children above the age of six can become proficient thieves, although these children “learn the rudiments much earlier.” He continues by saying that it is unlikely that children under six can be proficient thieves, “even in a part of the kingdom so renowned for the quickest proficiency in that art” (1115). Swift describes robbery as if it were a respectable skill, characterizing it as an “art” with “rudiments.” It seems clear that Swift and other people of country are far too familiar with robbery; he acknowledges it as a way to make of living, and just like any other career, the workers must learn the skills necessary for the job.

Phrases from the text suggest that Jonathan Swift was in the middle to lower class seeing the tyranny of the rich. Swift brings up the idea of the rich eating up the poor in one passage. He says that baby meat is “very dear for landlords” because they have already “devoured most of the children,” so the landowners should “have the best title to the children” (1116). The problem that Swift is pointing out is that landlords and the upper-class have all the power, while the tenants and lower-class may as well give up their children to the landlords because they have nothing else to lose. Swift is likely not upper-class because he criticizes landowners and wealthy people plenty of times in this text, so it seems that Swift is of a lower social standing and he sees the struggles of dealing with oppression by the rich.

Swift also seems to be an Anglican, worried about the Catholic presence causing religiou turmoil in Ireland. Later on in the same passage, Swift introduces and addresses the Catholic problem in the country. He never directly says that Roman Catholics are bad, but he does mention that an unnamed French acquaintance has informed him that, in a Catholic country, “a year after Lent, the markets [for babies] will be more glutted than usual” (1116). Swift claims this as a win-win situation because while there will be more baby meat available for sale, these babies are all papists. Swift seems to have a distaste for Irish Catholics, as he suggests that it’s a good thing his plan has an added benefit of lowering the popish population. This passage addresses Swift’s concerns with the religious tensions in the country, and he may be scared that the Catholics would overtake the country because he states that “the number of popish infants is at least three to one in this kingdom” (1116). Swift later reiterates on this point, saying that the papists are overrunning the country because they are the “principal breeders of the nation,” but they are also “our most dangerous enemies” (1117). The other major religion in Ireland was with the Anglican Church, and Swift’s suggestion of eating the Catholics shows that he is likely an Anglican that views the Catholics as a threat. The array of people that Swift belongs to—middle class Anglicans—seem to face challenges with other people of the country—the rich and the Catholics,—and Swift highlights some of these issues of society in “A Modest Proposal.”

At the end of the list of benefits from this proposal, Swift says that his plan will “be a great inducement for marriage” (1117). Swift mentioned earlier that the people of Ireland don’t value marriage very highly, so this plays into a possible solution for that. Ironically, Swift claims that women would “increase care and tenderness” towards their children when selling them for food rather than raising them. Swift is pointing out the stinginess of these people; they will work harder if there is a monetary gain rather than deep gratification. The problem that Swift identifies is that, to the Irish, children are simply an just an expense. Swift brings up the theme of children being animals again later in this passage. He says that mothers will see who can bring the “fattest child to the market,” and fathers will become “as fond of their wives during the time of their pregnancy as they are now of their mares in foal, their cows in calf, their sows when they are ready to farrow” (1117). Swift says that parents will treat their child like livestock, but another problem Swift identifies here is within marriage. He implies that fathers are more fond of their livestock than they are of pregnant mothers, and beating and kicking mothers “is too frequent a practice” (1117). Swift explains how the Irish clearly don’t have good marital practices, and mothers are treated worse than animals; this idea elaborates on how stingy and money hungry the Irish people are.

On the surface, Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” seems like a satirical play on government proposals and legislation, although there are subtle passages and phrases that Swift weaves in the text which display Swift’s discontent and his critical judgement of society. Although several issues are directly stated, such as husbands beating wives, other issues are not so straightforwardly proclaimed, such as the all to frequent thievery. “A Modest Proposal” isn’t simply a story about the merits of baby meat, but also an outline of the frustrations and social issues that Jonathan Swift sees in his country.

An Overview of A Modest Proposal: Swift’s Persona as Absentee

In his 1976 essay “A Modest Proposal: Swift’s Persona as Absentee”, Robert Willson examines Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal through analyzing and discussing the meaning behind his offensive proposal, revealing a clear message from Swift – “…to warn of the imminence of total destruction for the Irish people [at the hand of English control and exploitation]” (Willson 9). Willson begins his analysis by comparing several popular interpretations of Swift’s “proposal”, systematically discrediting each one and finally culminating in confidently revealing his own interpretation. The author also carefully examines the personal characteristics of the narrator and the discrepancies he conveys during his devious planned proposal, which lend to Willson’s idea that Swift intended this strange and ludicrous proposal to alert the audience to Ireland’s real demise.

To support his analysis of A Modest Proposal, Willson describes several well-known theories regarding Swift’s message and motivation for the proposal, and discusses why each one does not have the full picture. Landa focuses on the narrator as a selfish economist who Swift uses to criticize commercial policy. Price views the narrator as a politician – an “eager collaborator” to the opposing side (England) who is clearly blind to the economic aspect of this plan and its implications for Ireland. Ewald contended that the narrator was meant to be an economist based on two famous economists of the time who proposed ways to solve Ireland’s financial problems without interfering with England’s own economy. Rosenheim thought that the narrator was Irish himself, disgusted with unreasonable economic solutions, expressing his contempt through satire. Cook thought that the narrator was a “self-deceived enthusiast”, and a clear window to Swift’s own political opinions. Carnochan discounts the narrator as a misguided person the reader is meant to dismiss. Most of these analyses reduce the proposal to harsh political commentary from Swift in the form of satire, but Willson has decided that these ideas don’t capture the full sentiment of Swift’s message to the audience.

Willson claims that Swift’s goal is to have the audience decide that the narrator and proposer of the plan is the “archetypal absentee landlord”, meant to lead the audience to read between the lines and deduce that this plan is not actually in their favor (as it is meant to appear on the surface), but just another way for the English to prey on the resources of the Irish, and with their own permission, at that. Willson suggests that the audience is to pick up on the cleverly hidden anti-England message in that, “…though the speaker claims to be offering a way for the Irish to use only what they produce the scheme is really just another sham by which England could continue to devour Irish resources” (Willson 6). Swift wants the audience at this point to be outraged and make the connection between the “absentee landlord” and England, noting the likeness of the “inhuman” (according to Willson) narrator and his attempts to deceive the public as to England and their self-serving control of Ireland.

Willson describes the proposal’s construction as a “…strongly implied Swiftian purpose of exposing an attempt at public deception”. Willson contends that the narrator has carefully calculated a ridiculous plan for the audience to analyze and realize their enemy, the absentee landlord. Then, according to Willson, the audience is supposed to make the connection between exploited tenants of absentee landlords and England’s strong-handed grip on Ireland and their economy. Then, finally, the audience gets to the true message meant to be delivered by Swift – England is going to cause Ireland turmoil due to the fact that this analogy (that England’s relationship with Ireland can be accurately compared with a cannibalistic-entrepreneur attempting to swindle the Irish by writing up an outlandish action plan to supposedly solve economic problems through selling and eating impoverished children – and implying that from this a tasteful gentlemen’s market could be born) can be made at all.

According to Willson, Swift wrote A Modest Proposal in this way to underline how close he felt Ireland was to a major demise and to jar the audience with an outrageous economic plan for the Irish people. In his deeply political interpretation of A Modest Proposal, Willson’s main claim is that the absurdity of the proposal combined with the absenteeism of the narrator is meant to draw attention to English control over Ireland and portray Swift’s own distaste for the situation.

Works Cited

Willson, Robert F., Jr. “A Modest Proposal: Swift’s Persona as Absentee.” Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800, vol.101, Gale, 2004: 1-9. Literature Resource Center. Web. 2 June 2018.