Like most pieces of persuasive writing, Jonathon Swift’s A Modest Proposal usefully employs pathos and ethos quite effectively, while using a perverted form of logos. It is designed to convince English citizens to not try to fix all of their problems by exploiting the Irish, but to instead work on improving their own lot. By comparing Ireland’s plight to the English eating Irish babies in a calculating, logical manner, it goes to the heart of English morals and emotions.
The gruesome imagery that Swift speaks of nonchalantly is enough to revolt readers, now and then. Examples include any time he speaks of baby consumption, but a few particular points come to mind. He says that those who are thrifty “may flay the carcass… [to make] admirable gloves for ladies, and summer boots for fine gentlemen”. In this process he recommends “dressing them hot with the knife” as they are still alive. Scenes like these, which even in modern days no company would try to film for a movie, must have sickened the relatively less sensitized English citizens. With this he makes a parallel to the current atrocities in Ireland, where the landlords “have already devoured the parents” through merciless rules and high rents.
His gory details elicited the emotions he desired but it was his appealing to morals that honed his message. He satirically pointed out that the faults of England were caused by England alone, and that the English should feel ashamed of themselves for their treatment of the Irish, for were the English actions causing the deaths and misery of thousands so far away from the idea of feeding on babies? He pointed out to the English that if this idea seems so appalling to them, they should reexamine their policies pertaining to Ireland.
Swift’s use of satire to achieve his rhetorical goals makes his essay memorable and well known today, while most other pro-Irish activists are lost to obscurity. His satire allowed him to get his ethos and pathos into the minds of his countrymen without being rejected outright, in a very different method than Martin Luther King Jr. had used in his letter from a Birmingham jail.