Neoclassicism emerged from a literary movement in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The word neoclassicism was taken from the word “neo” in Greek which means “new” and the term “classic” refers to the type and works of ancient Greek and roman writers. It is the rebirth of classicism. It was a literary movement that focused heavily on the resurrection of the classical style in the time of Dryden and pope. In Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” features of the neoclassical era are illustrated through logic, a realistic representation of humans and satire. The title in itself contains satiric irony seeing that the paper itself is far from modest. In this essay, his use of neoclassical characteristics such as logic, reason, satire and irony to enlighten the troubles and repression that the Irish people have faced is going to be discussed.
The aspect of logic isn’t missing when swift proposes an answer for the impending economic crisis that Ireland is facing. In the lines “the mother will have eight shillings net profit and be fit for work till she produces another child” he suggests selling the children after fattening them up as a solution. He uses satire to bring out the humor in his words.
Furthermore, The use of irony is also not dismissed in the following lines “There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children” it is ironic because he is so disgusted by the idea of the murder of an unborn child yet he is suggesting something along the lines of cannibalism which is still the killing of a child and the abuse of one.
Moreover, the imperfect representation of a human being is a major neoclassical element implemented by swift in “A Modest Proposal”. In contrast to the works produced during the renaissance which portrayed humans as morally superior and ultimately faultless. Swift perpetuates a realistic idea of man as being full of faults. An example of this would be “a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled.” Swift nonchalantly discusses the various ways in which an infant can be cooked, insinuating the callousness directed from the rich towards the lower class and their poor living conditions in Ireland.
Regardless of the classification of this essay as political satire, it is meant to address issues that are much deeper than politics like the poverty present in the Irish and English communities. Overall, in order to fully comprehend the deep dimensions that exist within this essay, one must overlook the satirical irony and be willing to view it through an empathetic and human lens.