Behind every person, object and event, there is a veiled motive, undetectable by the public. Deception is an act or statement which misleads, hides the truth, or promotes a belief, concept or idea that is not true. Appearance leads to the formation of an opinion, which can be inaccurate due to deception. There is a thin line between perception and reality, and a great amount of distinction may lie between the two. In the short stories “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift, “A Story for Children” by Svava Jakobsdottir, and Feng Jicai’s “The Street Sweeping Show”, the theme that things are not always as they appear to be is portrayed through the use of satirical elements and literary devices. In Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”, the use of understatement makes the story seem as if it is uncomplicated and harmless, when in actuality, it is repugnant and cruel. Also, in “The Street Sweeping Show”, irony is used when the mayor and his dignitaries are portrayed as environmentally concerned and involved, when they truly just want the media’s positive attention. Lastly, in “A Story for Children”, Jakobsdottir utilizes exaggeration, believing that serious distress will occur from something trivial. These all delineate the theme that things are not always as they appear to be.
In “A Modest Proposal”, Swift portrays the theme that things are not always as they appear to be through the use of the literary device, understatement. In this work, Swift states he is accepting any offers proposed to him, as long as they are as discreet and fair as his own,“After all, I am not so violently bent upon my own opinion as to reject any offer proposed by wise men, which shall be found equally innocent, cheap, easy and effectual” (Swift 6). Understatement and deception is also present in the title, “A Modest Proposal”. Swift’s proposal is about children being eaten in order to benefit the economy, which is very gruesome and inhumane, yet the way this is said makes it seem as if nothing is wrong, understating it’s brutality. There is a dissonance between the tone of the essay, and what is actually being proposed. The dissonance is very prominent while reading this piece, and informs the reader that the proposal is not as innocent and modest as Swift is depicting. In the title of this essay, the word modest is used, which is unquestionably an understatement considering the context of the essay is children being eaten. This adjective is ill-suited for the title in regards to what the essay is prompting, making it seem as if it will be about a lighthearted and unpretentious matter, when in reality, it is grim and appalling . This resonates with the theme that things are not always as they appear to be. Conclusion
Feng Jicai’s “The Street Sweeping Show” uses irony to convey that things are not always as they appear to be. When the mayor and his dignitaries arrive at the event, they are eager to begin sweeping and clear the little amount of garbage that was there, “The concrete pavement was clean to begin with; they pushed what little grit there was back and forth with their big brooms. The most conspicuous piece of litter was a solitary popsicle wrapper, which they all pursued like children chasing a dragonfly” (Jicai 248). It appears as if they are trying to help the environment, when ultimately, their interest lies in public attention and the positive light it puts on them. The irony of this is that the mayor and his dignitaries are cleaning up an area which is already clean. To the public, it seems as if the mayor’s true intentions are to help clean up the community sacramentally, when in reality, his interest is the self-serving aspect. Irony is effective at exhibiting the theme that not all things are how they appear to be because it shows how little the mayor is actually concerned with the state of the environment, compared to what is being depicted to the media and public eye. There is also irony present when the mayor’s grandson notices his grandfather on television, “Look, Granddad, you’re on TV!” … “It’s not worth watching. Let’s go have dinner” (Jicai 248). The grandson is proud to see his grandfather on television, involved in a seemingly benevolent act. The mayor knows that he is not worth watching on television because it was an ingenuine act being publicized. This resonates with the literary device of irony because he does not want to set a false example and deceive his grandchild, yet his motive to attend the street sweeping event was to do just that to the public. He will be praised, idolized and thought to be authentic by those watching the media for a personna he has put on, not his true self. This characterizes the theme that things are not always as they appear to be.
In the short story, “A Story for Children”, Jakobsdottir uses exaggeration to portray the theme that not all things are how they appear to be. While the mother is reading a story to her children, she comes to the realization that supper will be ready later than usual, which to her, seems like a serious concern, “She was just about halfway through the story when it occurred to her that one of the other children might suffer psychological harm from not getting supper on time” (Jakobsdottir 382). The mother is concerned that not feeding her child supper at the usual time will result in a negative impact on their mental well being. It is very unlikely for one to actually believe that their child will experience psychological harm from something as simple as this. This unlikeliness introduces a dramatic tone, giving the reader insight that the story is not to be taken on a literal level and that it may not be exactly as intense of a context as it seems to be. Exaggeration is used to exhibit this