Assignment: The Role of Inference in Reading and Understanding Satire

The 18th century Irish essayist and clergyman Jonathan Swift published his influential satire “A Modest Proposal” in 1729. In the module we learned that satire is a type of humorous writing that relies on exaggeration to make its points. Unlike an argumentative essay that directly states its main claim and strives to clearly contextualize its evidence, a satire implies its meanings so as to persuade the reader to reach certain conclusions or to ponder certain issues. Given this indirect mode of persuasion, we can see that readers of satire will need to read analytically, carefully noting related details in order to infer the writer’s meaning. 

In Swift’s piece, he is addressing the real and pressing issue of material poverty in his time. Much of its impact comes from the jarring mismatch between his serious tone and the absurd nature of the “proposal” he offers and then elaborates upon.

STEP 1: First, read Swift’s satire here.

Be sure to read analytically, looking for ideas that seem to be related to each other and to the main question or issue that drives the piece. Pay close attention to any perspectives, concepts, or solutions that you think are being implied but not directly stated.

STEP 2: Next, answer the following questions in complete sentences and with sufficient detail to demonstrate understanding:

  1. What are four benefits that Swift explicitly claims will follow from adopting his proposal?
  2. What perspectives does Swift seem to be mocking through his exaggerations?
  3. What authorities or individuals seem to be responsible for the suffering and misfortune that Swift describes?
  4. What more realistic actions is Swift implying have not been taken previously, thus making his proposal necessary and plausible?
  5. Finally, what are some recent forms of satire you’ve encountered? What current events or issues do you think those films, novels or TV shows were addressing? Write at least a paragraph for this answer.
Criteria Proficient Developing Points
Degree of analysis Correctly answers questions 1-3 and provides evidence showing an understanding of Swift’s proposal. Partially answers questions 1 through 3 or does not give enough of a response to demonstrate an understanding of the text __/5
Understanding of inference Correctly answers questions four with evidence and understanding from Swift’s essay Does not thoroughly answer question four about implications of Swift’s essay __/5
Application of concept Answers questions five and provides a detailed response with an example that demonstrates an understanding of what satire is and what it looks like. Partially answers question five or provides insufficient example of satire __/5
  Total __/15

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