Jonathan Swift Writing Style: Unveiling Social Critique through Satire

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Through the use of satire, author Jonathan Swift brings to light the problems that Ireland was experiencing in 1729. Using this satirical writing in this time period helped Swift avoid major problems with the monarchy of England and advocate his ideas in this enlightenment period. Swift brings to light problems of poverty, beatings, miscarriages, and lack of women’s rights. It was a text for the masses.


The Art of Satire and Its Protective Shield

Let me first start out by stating that Swift uses satirical writing in this time period to protect himself against the monarchy and their treacherous ways (White).

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Therefore, when we read some of his text, we must understand that there is another meaning there. He is writing about selling and murdering babies, but he uses such a subject to show a different problem that is happening. Having this way of writing helps him show us the problems at hand but also protects him from punishment by the monarchy.

One of the first major problems that Swift points out in the text is how much of Ireland lives in poverty. In the opening lines, Swift states, “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” (Swift 315). Swift uses words like “great town” and then streets crowded to amplify the impact of just how many beggars there are and the large amount of poverty there is in this country. Swift goes on to do the math on how much it costs to feed a baby for a year and how much this baby could be sold for, thus helping to stimulate the economy and get rid of the poverty problem that plagues this country.

During this time period, England had not helped the Irish and their economy. The Irish were also not able to participate in law because they were Catholics, and the ruling party in England was Protestants. Because of these religious feuds, Ireland was not in a place of power to fight for itself. Swift refers to this by saying, “I, fortunately, fell upon this proposal; which, as it is wholly new, so it hath something solid and real, of no expense and little trouble, full in our own power, and whereby we can incur no danger in disobliging England” (Swift 320). Swift shows there will be no help from England and that the only real thing they can do for their economy is to do things themselves that don’t upset England. Because of these religious oppositions and the fear of angering England, Ireland has no way to get itself out of poverty.

Dissecting Gender Injustice and Women’s Plight

One of the biggest things Swift wants to bring to light is the poor treatment of women. Women are being beaten, left to die, having miscarriages, prostituting themselves, and much more. At this time, there were very few women’s rights, even though it was the Enlightenment period.
Women in this period are being beaten by their significant others. This is a huge problem that does not do any good for women or men. Swift states that by selling their children, maybe men would look at their woman as an asset or commodity. If a husband looks at his wife this way, then they would be more likely to protect their woman and not beat them to the point of death and not be punished. In this way, Swift brings to light how these women are being poorly mistreated and beaten.

As a result of women being beaten, it leads to the problem of miscarriages. If men looked at women as an asset or commodity, then they were more likely to stay with them and not beat their wives because it would cause the baby to die, which would be a loss of money for the family. He goes on saying “Thus the squire will learn to be a good landlord and grow popular among his tenants” (Swift 317). Swift is showing us how bad this problem is in his country, that men are beating women and that women are having miscarriages. To further emphasize how many women are being beaten and having miscarriages, he says, “as they are now of their mares in foal, their cows in calf, or sows when they are ready to farrow; nor offer to beat or kick them (as is too frequent a practice) for fear of miscarriage” (Swift 319).

The Dismal Impact of Religion and England’s Role

In the Catholic church, it is illegal to get a divorce. The problem women face here is that men are leaving them but not divorcing them. Women cannot work at this time. If the woman cannot work, then the only thing left to do is starve themselves. By saying that women can sell their babies, Swift states that “this would be a great inducement to marriage, which all wise nations have either encouraged by rewards or enforced by laws and penalties” (Swift 319). What he is really saying is that the problem of marriage has gotten so bad that men need to look at women as a commodity or asset to stay with them because the men are not being punished by law to leave the women.

Women in this time are not allowed to work, and their men are leaving them. This leads women to start prostituting themselves or begging to make some kind of money to eat. Women are starving. There is no punishment either for men to leave their women and go with another one. Thus, this problem never ends. This leads to more and more women starving and being left to beg in the streets.


Through the use of satire, Jonathan Swift brought to light the different problems in his country. In his text, he made the argument of selling babies, but he was really making the argument of all the problems he saw. Jonathan Swift saw a country full of poverty and beggars. He saw the problem of religion and how it affects them. Jonathan Swift saw just how some laws were not being upheld. Men would not get punished if they left their wives. Men would beat their wives, and women had no rights. When men left women, they were left to starve and prostitute themselves. While going through all these problems, women would have miscarriages, and nothing was being done about this. In order to not be imprisoned or killed, Swift used satire to show these problems to the people of his country. If he needed to defend himself, he could say it was merely a joke. All these different points come together to help enlighten the people of his time and country. Swift swiftly swooped in and swindled the swindler and swopped the swatches of Swift’s sweet society.

Works Cited

  1. White, Justine. “Lecture” English 2333-83001. Richland College, Dallas. 4 Feb. 2019
  2. Swift, Jonathan. “A Modest Proposal” The Norton Anthology World Literature. Edited by Peter Simon et al. ed. 3, vol. D, Norton, 2012, pp. 315–320.
  3. MOORE, SEAN. “The Irish Contribution to the Ideological Origins of the American Revolution: Nonimportation and the Reception of
  4. Jonathan Swift’s Irish Satires in Early America.” Early American Literature, vol. 52, no. 2, May 2017, pp. 333–362. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1353/eal.2017.0028.
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Jonathan Swift Writing Style: Unveiling Social Critique Through Satire. (2023, Aug 31). Retrieved from