Presentation on “A Modest Proposal”

April 6th, 2017

Beaumont in his article “Swift’s Classical Rhetoric in “A Modest Proposal” ” argues that the essay is modeled after five part classical oration:The Exordium (Paragraphs 1-7),The Statement of Facts (8-16),Classical Digression (17-19),The Proof (20-28),The Refutation (29-30),The Peroration (31-33)


  • “The classical form of the essay is itself an important constituent of Swift’s irony, for the projector’s addressing his readers through an ancient and learned form helps allay any suspicion of radical newness” (307). Because Swift uses a respected traditional form, the absurd and radical proposal that the projector advices comes off as ironic.

Classical Rhetorical Devices that Create Irony:

  • Aristotle identifies three kinds of proof for a speech: the ethical, emotional, or the logical proof. Swift relies on the ethical proof, “which springs from the moral character of the speaker” (307). The projector of this modest proposal is characterized by Swift as humane, competent, reasonable, and weary and exhausted from his attempts to improve his native kingdom. Beaumont asserts, “In creating his projector, Swift faced a rhetorical problem that required careful balancing of these contrasting characteristics in one person. He had to make his projector humble enough to gain the reader’s approval and sympathy and assured enough to gain the reader’s confidence. Further, Swift had to keep the projector sufficiently dense to sustain the irony” (308).
  • The self-confidence of the projector is revealed in the second paragraph when he states that he looks forward to seeing himself commemorated with a statue. His sureness of himself and the efficacy of his proposal is further revealed in the Statement of facts. And he speaks out boldly in giving his proofs. But the projector is also humble. The proposal is introduced in modest terms “I shall therefore humbly propose…” “I do humbly offer to publick consideration.”
  • “Swift has blended these two qualities of his projector in such a way that both are convincing and neither quality overshadows the other. The result is a pleader whose humility is justifiably tempered by the sure knowledge that he has something to offer Ireland” ( 310).
  • These are the explicit indicants of the moral character of the pleader; they are reinforced and dramatized by the whole tone of the essay.


  • Classical Rhetorician use the device of diminution, “the use of lesser term to name a thing” (311).
  • The most obvious use of diminution is the use of lesser noun to refer to people. So Swift refers to mothers as “beggars of the female sex”
  • Couples are referred to as ”breeders”
  • ” Rhetorically, the projector’s varying the normal term with the animal term serves to keep the reader off guard, with the result that if the reader begins to expect the animal term, he is fooled. The effect is that one term is just as normal as the other” (312).
  • Furthermore, Beaumont asserts “As if the diminution of human beings to animal were not strong enough, the irony is intensified by a species of redoubled diminution. The animal becomes food. The progression than becomes man to animal to food” (312).
  • “If such man-to-animal diminution stood alone in the essay, it would no doubt be so offensive that it would defeat its intended purpose of persuading the reader. However, as Swift has blended the operation of this device with the functioning of the several devices, the whole resultant fabric of the irony is made so tightly knit that this particular use of diminution is one highly successful and basic to the whole essay” (313).


  • Refining is the third most important rhetorical device that Swift uses in this essay. Refining “consists in dwelling on the same topic and yet seeming to say something new.” Swift uses this device in a subtler form. Swift varies the word until the word or phrase has new meaning/definition.
  • The proposal is designed “for the children of professional beggars” (313). Swift uses the term in paragraph three, but here children of professional beggars and infants of the poor are two separate groups. In the next several paragraphs he refers to children of the beggar as “the children of the poor” and the noun, beggar, is dropped. It is in fourteenth paragraph that he identifies the infants of the poor as beggars. So as the essay progresses, the two groups, infants of poor and children of beggars is conflated”

Main Points:

  • “For “A Modest Proposal” Swift uses ethical proof, diminution and refining as the major rhetorical devices to construct irony” (315).
  • Swift’s ironic norm is established by the pervasive tone of diminution (human beings to animals) and by the projector’s sustained point of view as an economist.

Secondary Article: Swift’s Classical Rhetoric in “A Modest Proposal” by Charles Allen Beaumont.


Presentation on “Bartleby the Scrivener”

April 6th, 2017

Background on Melville:

For most of his life, Melville struggled financially. He didn’t have much support from his family, who were also under financial stress. And prior to writing “Bartleby the Scrivener” Melville had personally experienced economic hardships. He searched for work without success in Illinois and then later in New York City in 1830, before becoming a commercial sailor and a whaler. He lived in NYC from 1844-1850.

New York City in 1850s:

The city was going through political change. There were labor movements springing across neighborhoods. Often these labor groups had contentious and violent contact with the police authority. This led to a mood of mass political turmoil. Two writers in particular, Bennett who wrote for Herald, and Greeley who wrote for the Tribune, wrote extensively on labor issues. Both championed for the rights of the working class, but both had differing perspective on the problem. Bennett’s argument was “there was hardly a rich man in this community, who had not risen from poverty through persevering industry.” He argued that wage labor system was consistent with Christian values. Greeley on the other hand chastised the way “Christians harmonized this social injustice” with their faith. He encouraged that workers should resist and fight this unjust system. These protestant values legitimated class privilege and inequality.

The conflict in the story, between the lawyer, who represent Protestant entrepreneur who fused his values with the economic system, and Bartelby who refuse to do work because of the impersonal, unequal and exploitive conditions is “like the opposing positions of Bennett and Greeley” (386)

Setting in the Story:

■Wall Street, in Melville’s depiction, is, after work hours, as “deserted as Petra … an emptiness,” a space “entirely unhallowed by humanizing domestic association” (385)

Kuebrich describes it as “attention to the Wall Street setting and the sharp class divisions in the workplace clarify the symbolic function of the story’s omnipresent physical barriers: the prison walls, the brick structures that surround the law office, and the fold glass doors and portable screen that divide it internally. phrasing Emerson’s trope, the walls are natural facts which suggest social and psychological facts: the densely developed urban setting that separates the story’s characters from nature; the growing impersonality of not only of the workplace but of the larger society” (386). Furthermore, there are distinct separation of classes. The clients are the rich, the lawyer represents the upper-middle class and the employees are the lower class. Furthermore the prospect of social mobility for the copyist is really slim. This is shown by the fact that Turkey is still doing that job at his old age, and “Nippers is a frustrated would be lawyer.” Bartleby is the representation of the worker who refuses to work in these growing impersonal and unequal conditions.

The Lawyers Outlook upon Work:

■The lawyer constantly attributes the problems of Turkey and Nipper to their nature. Their lives are lamentable because of their vice.

■Turkey’s irritability is result of him drinking too much wine or “red ink.” The lawyer never “asks himself why he drinks” in the first place

■Nipper’s problems are a result of vice and genetics

■ “nature herself seemed to have been his vintner, and at his birth charged him so thoroughly with an irritable, brandy-like disposition, that all subsequent potations were needless” (392)

Workers are Servants of the Boss:

■He identifies his authority with natural order

■“Bartleby’s refusals strike him not as acts of resistance to an unjust and humiliating subordination but as “violently unreasonable” (p. 22), whereas his own behavior is “perfectly reason- able” (p. 25). He places Bartleby inside his office behind a high screen so that the scrivener may be hidden from view and yet “within easy call, in case any trifling thing was to be done” (p. 19). On the third day of Bartleby’s employment, the lawyer relates how he “abruptly called to Bartleby” in “natural expectancy of instant compliance” (p. 20, emphasis added). It is in response to this brusque summons that Bartleby issues his first “I would prefer not to” “ (393).

Main Point:

■“An awareness of the many correlations between “Bartleby” and current social conditions and debates does not in itself explain the mysteries of the story, but it does make a strong prima facie case for viewing it as an historicized text more concerned with then-contemporary economic realities than is usually acknowledged” (388).

Secondary Source: Melville’s Doctrine of Assumptions: The Hidden Ideology of Capitalist Production in”Bartleby” by David Kuebrich

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