"Oh,Sweet Irony" / A comparison/contrast paper about the ironies in Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" and Susan Glaspell's "Trifles"

Essay by MattmoosUniversity, Bachelor'sA+, March 2004

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Oh, Sweet Irony

"A Modest Proposal" (1729) by Jonathan Swift relates one man's facetious point of view on the state of Ireland's impoverished. Swift offers a solution to the problem by suggesting that the overpopulation conundrum can by solved by indulging in the flesh of the nation's underprivileged infants. Susan Glaspell's Trifles (1916) depicts an early twentieth century murder-mystery and the role that two women take in solving the mystery during a time when a woman's and opinion held no credibility or esteem. While Swift's satirical piece incorporates an ironic tone in the form of sarcasm and shock, Glaspell presents the use of irony primarily through the actions and dialogue of the female characters. Though "A Modest Proposal" and Trifles were written during entirely different eras and intended for contrasting audiences, the authors of both works greatly implement the use of irony.

Although "A Modest Proposal" and Trifles both incorporate irony, this irony is depicted in two separate forms between each piece.

The first definition of irony which adheres primarily to "A Modest Proposal" states that irony is, "A figure of speech in which the intended meaning is the opposite of that expressed by the words used...usually taking the form of sarcasm or ridicule" (OED online) . In his essay, Jonathan Swift uses this sarcasm as a façade for his intended meaning. However, Swift's use of sarcasm becomes so prolific as the essay progresses, that the ability to distinguish the author's seriousness from sarcasm becomes quite difficult. Swift uses this heavy dose of irony to his advantage, further driving his point into the ground. While Swift suggests that Ireland's overpopulation problem can be solved by allowing the nation's infants to be offered for public consumption, he truly has no intentions of slaughtering the helpless babes of Ireland.