Satire In Animal Farm And In A Modest Proposal

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Satire is a literary form that writers employ that uses humor, irony, exaggeration, and/or ridicule to mock the shortcomings of something in the real world. This is often done with the purpose of sparking change. In the texts ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell and ‘A Modest Proposal by Johnathan Swift, satire addresses problems such as inequity and corruption of people in power (Animal Farm) and poverty and egotism (A Modest Proposal) with the hope of inciting public debate to hopefully bring about change to these ‘sad states of affairs.’ Orwell and Swift use irony, humor, parody, and absurdity in their texts. Both texts point out problems in society hoping we will recognize and change them.

Written as an allegory for the Russian revolution, ‘Animal Farm’ tells the story of the animals revolting against their farmer and establishing animalism (communism). Satire in ‘Animal Farm’ primarily targets the inequality that occurs in any supposedly ‘equal’ society. Orwell employs irony to show the contrast between this proposed ideal society and reality. An example of this is when Old Major says, “all men are enemies. . . we must not resemble them. . . no animal must ever tyrannize his own”. Later in the book, this is the opposite of what Napoleon does once he has established his rule, as reflected in the quote, “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig again: but already it was impossible to say which was which.” Throughout the book there is a strong recurring theme, “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”. This encompasses the animals’ journey; trying to create an equal society, but as the said society was built it just became less and less equal. This mimics the sad state of affairs in the real world with situations such as one-quarter of the world consuming three-quarters of the world’s food.

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Orwell further employs satire by targeting the corruption of people in power. He primarily conveys this through the character Napoleon. Napoleon came into power by lying, blaming others for his mistakes, and killing those in his way. At the beginning of the book, the animals chant, “Four legs good, two legs bad”, showing the animals ‘equality’ over humans. Later in the book, Napoleon goes off with the pigs and teaches them to walk on 2 legs (this is also Orwell employing the satirical technique of humor). He then returns and changes this chant to, “Four legs good, two legs better”, showing his corruption throughout the novel. This shows Orwell’s use of irony, as Napoleon became the very thing he swore to destroy. This change mimics situations in our world where corrupt politicians change their stance on an issue after being elected.

In a similar vein, Johnathan Swift employs satire in A Modest Proposal to comment on the mistreatment of the poor in England and Ireland. He employs the technique of absurdity, by suggesting we eat poor children. He rebuts ‘all reasons’ saying there is no logical argument to his proposal. His goal here was for the audience to be horrified at this proposition before realizing that the children are dying anyway, spurring the audience into debate/action. Since nobody was willing to help the people, he proposed this as essentially the only valid solution. This is emphasized by the quote, “I am not so violently bent upon my own opinion, as to reject any offer, proposed by wise men, which shall be found equally innocent, cheap, easy, and effectual” This mimics the state of our world in which we ignore situations such as climate change, saying all methods are too difficult and “we can’t do anything”. It’s as if someone suggested, “Blow up earth and be done with it”. Everyone would disagree, but it’s essentially what we are already doing.

Another target of satire in A Modest Proposal is the egocentricity of people. By proposing this cheap and easy (though outrageous) solution that requires little contribution from the rich Swift points out how egocentric people are. This is by showing that until something absolutely horrifying is placed in front of them, they ignore problems completely. “Therefore I repeat, let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients, ’till he hath at least some glimpse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice”, reflects this. This quote uses mockery of the egocentric, saying there is no hope of a more humane method, as egocentric people will not help, and the problem will remain unsloved. This is another way Johnathan Swift reminds us of the sad state of affairs in our modern-day world in situations such as climate change. Nobody is willing to help out because they don’t think it will impact them, they don’t believe it’s real or they just can’t be bothered.

Satire reminds us of the sad state of affairs in our world, it doesn’t create them, it can’t mock what isn’t there. This quote is exemplified in the above texts. They both provide avenues of social commentary, discussing problems that exist in our society. The texts inspire debate with the hopes of people changing their views and working toward fixing these sad situations. It isn’t about preaching to the people, rather about encouraging them to carefully reflect on situations in our society. Both texts are successful in conveying this message and represent the successful use of satire.  


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