"Oh,Sweet Irony" / A Comparison/Contrast Paper About The Ironies In Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" And Susan Glaspell's "Trifles"

1448 words - 6 pages

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. Swift, through his overuse of sarcasm, reveals that these are not his true intentions. "...I rather recommend buying the children alive, and dressing them hot from the knife as we do roasting pigs" (49), Swift states, in an obvious extensive use of sarcasm.Through his word choice as well as his complex sentence structure, Swift comes across as a very well-educated man. Such an intelligent writer could not possibly subscribe to such a preposterous proposal. "A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends; and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter" (48). Perhaps, through his overuse of sarcasm, Swift simply wishes to illustrate to the English Parliamentary of the time that the state of Ireland is poor and decrepit. By offering such an ironic idea as a solution to the problem of the country's diseased and malnourished children, Swift hopes to bring about change in the general treatment of Ireland's lower-class. Swift also states that he has no intentions of participating in this plan himself. "I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the public good of my country, by advancing our trade, providing for infants, relieving the poor, and giving some pleasure to the rich" (52). If Swift's so-called "modest" proposal is so fool-proof, then why does he not wish to lead the way in eating the youth of the nation? How ironic that such an intelligent man who suggests this proposal in such a serious manner will not participate in his own demoralized scheme.While "A Modest Proposal's" irony consists primarily of filet-cut sarcasm, Susan Glaspell's Trifles uses irony in a different light. An alternate definition states that irony is "A condition of affairs or events of a character opposite to what was, or might naturally be, expected; a contradictory outcome of events as if in mockery of the promise and fitness of things" (OED online). When Trifles was written in the early twentieth century, women did not have much of a voice in society, especially when men were present. Perhaps this is why Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters solved the murder-mystery while the men were not present in the action. As the play progresses, the two women become increasingly aware of more and more clues as to the solution to the motive. "Mrs. Peters, look at this one...and look at the sewing! All the rest of it has been so nice and even. And look at this! It's all over the place! Why, it looks as if she didn't know what she was about!" (Glaspell 65), Mrs. Hale exclaims as she discovers a clue. With each advancing clue however, the women decide to keep to themselves the newly discovered information. Is this a plea to protect the accused Mrs. Wright, or simply the action of women knowing their place and role in a man's world?Even though the evidence increasingly points toward Mrs. Wright as her husband's killer, the dialogue between the women offers denial of the facts and protection of the truth. When they discover a dead bird with a broken neck, the women hide the bird as well as their feelings about this piece of evidence from the men.COUNTY ATTORNEY: ...Has the bird flown?MRS. HALE (putting quilt piece over the box): We think--the cat got it.COUNTY ATTORNEY: Is there a cat?MRS. HALE glances in a quick covert way at MRS. PETERS.MRS. PETERS: Well, not now. They're superstitious, you know.They leave.(Glaspell 67)While both women agree that a crime must be punished, neither of them ever states that they believe that Mrs. Wright is the murderer. As the definition of irony suggests, perhaps the women solve the crime yet are afraid to admit their own intelligence, a contradiction and mockery of things at the same time. "My, it's a good thing the men couldn't hear us. Wouldn't they just laugh! Getting all stirred up over a little thing like a--dead canary. As if that could have anything to do with--with--wouldn't they laugh!" (68) Mrs. Peters states in denial of the evidence. Obviously, Susan Glaspell uses women's trifles as a means of illustrating the underestimated intelligence and underrepresented voice of women during the era. As Mr. Hale points out, "...women are used to worrying over trifles" (62). Are the women's actions and dialogue merely trifles? Without these trifles, this murder-mystery would perhaps go unsolved.Through the eminent use of irony, both stories succeed in uprising thoughts of change within the reader. Even suggestions for the conflicts at hand come to mind. What actions should the English Parliamentary take to raise the general welfare of the lower-class in Ireland, so as to prevent them from having to follow the advice of Jonathan Swift? Perhaps a public-aid system should be put into place, or even a better means of communication and education amongst the poor and the ignorant. Or maybe these poor immigrants could be sent to a new nation with richer resources and more opportunities in order to start a new life for themselves and their families. What can be done to change the fact that women have no voice in society? Maybe women do have the intelligence that men have. Perhaps women should be allowed to vote! Susan Glaspell cannot be accredited with single-handedly changing the way women are thought of in America, just as Jonathan Swift was not the only factor in bringing about change toward the treatment of Ireland's lower-class. However, these two authors are quite successful in their use of a literary tool known as irony; carefully crafted within the confines of "A Modest Proposal" and Trifles, irony serves to invoke strong emotions within the reader--emotions which implore the mind to bring about change to an ever-corrupting world.


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