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A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift and Shooting an elephant by George Orwell belong to the most famous examples of satiric literature. Both authors depicted reality of their time and expressed their attitude to the most burning problems of the day. In case of the abovementioned Swift’s work it is the problem of poverty and other social problems of Ireland of the 18th century. Orwell’s work is dedicated to one of the most discussed phenomena of the 20th century, namely imperialism and its influence on people’s minds.
In a satiric form Swift suggests to eat children from poor families in order to prevent them “from being a burden to their parents or country” (McQuade, Atwan 343). A reader was not prepared for such a conclusion while the introduction of the essay touchingly describes the sufferings of little Irish beggars. Swift indicates that he has a plan for how to resolve this social problem, and we are waiting for a sustainable plan of social development.
But surprisingly there appears a phrase: “A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout.” (McQuade, Atwan 345). With a unique irony Swift rejects the proposals that he was really standing for.
Swift uses absolutely serious tone and even almost a scientific style to emphasize the absurdity of the proposals expressed in the discussed essay. He even describes different possible methods of child cooking. This style can be named as “laugh through tears”, because we actually do not have any desire to laugh while thinking about poor children, but we cannot prevent a smile appear on our faces because of the author’s irony.
John Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant is another example of satiric style. His irony is directed not only on reality, but also on the author himself, which we can see, for example, from the words: “The crowd would laugh at me. And my whole life, every white man’s life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at.” (McQuade, Atwan 224) Orwell uses Latin phrases and words of Indian origin, which demonstrates the author’s educational level and the awareness of the specific features of Indian life. The author also uses original metaphors, like the following one: “If the elephant charged and I missed him, I should have about as much chance as a toad under a steamroller.” (McQuade, Atwan 226)
Shooting an Elephant is also a symbolic work: an elephant from this story can be understood as a symbol for imperialism. As in other his works, Orwell also reflects here on the nature of tyranny: “I perceived in this moment that when the white man turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys.” (McQuade, Atwan 226) This is the very truth, which the author understands through study of everyday life: we can see how the episode with the elephant brought him to the thoughts about constraint and freedom.
Both discussed works belong to the satiric, or ironic literature. They cannot be compared; they are original and unique. Both of them demonstrate the authors’ concerns about the problems and burning issues of the day. The talent of both Swift and Orwell cannot be questioned; they are one of the most read authors in the world. In Swift’s A Modest Proposal we can see the unserious reflections on the serious problems, which turns public attention to these problems even more effectively than any serious articles and discussions. Orwell’s Shooting an Elephant is an example of how a thinking man can draw philosophic truth from the everyday life. By his work Orwell turned our attention in a entertaining way to the problems of tyranny, freedom, and, at last, animals protection.
McQuade, Donald, and Atwan, Robert. The Writer’s Presence: A Pool Of Readings. 5th edition. Bedford: St. Martin’s, 2006.