Social Satire of Jonathan Swift and Voltaire
Modern society is developing more and more rules and limitations in order to make people tolerable and open to new people and ideas. Living in a diverse society, individuals are always careful in their deeds and sayings because anything can be perceived as an offence by one of the social groups. At the same time, along with politically correct humor and polite indifference there is still books, TV shows and even cartoons that break all the rules of politeness. One might think that the protest against the common morals of society is a form of a modern expression. In fact, that is not true. Two works that are analyzed in this paper present wonderful examples of a phenomenon that is called “black humor”. Jonathan Swift and Voltaire have managed to unite the ideas of horror and humor and this work is focusing on the way, in which the authors achieved the intended result.
Both authors often use very vivid physical images.. In A Modest Proposal Swift explains all the hardships of raising children in the 18th century Ireland and thus, offers a solution – to use children as an additional food resource. The author not only expresses this seemingly horrid idea out loud, but also develops it, presenting vivid pictures of consumption: “I rather recommend buying the children alive, and dressing them hot from the knife”. Furthermore, Swift provides various economic, social, and statistical reasoning for his proposal. At the same time, while being overall less shocking, Voltaire puts Candide into a number of rather unpleasant situations, such as a choice between “whipped six-and thirty times through all the regiment, or to receive at once twelve balls of lead in his brain” (Voltaire, 10). Throughout the book the author describes various unpleasant scenes, such as war-time villages, with bright and lively imagery. Thus, both authors are neither ashamed nor trying to avoid scenes and themes that are considered shocking by an average person.
The tone of analyzed works plays a significant role in the impression that a reader forms. For example, the way in which Swift expresses his opinions can be called calm and unemotional, although persuasive. This proposal could have been written by a state official or a modern-day analytic. A straightforward document is presented in a form of a report that can be studied by the authorities as an actual proposal. And this lack of emotional aspect and more or less professional expressions and content of the work create a truly unique impression on the reader. Voltaire, on the other hand, has a different tone in Candide. The author presents all the misadventures of his character in a cheerful way. Seems like Candide is on a relaxing journey even when he is in a grave danger or encounters something horrifying. Although the two works seem to have different styles and moods, they are united by one feature. Both Swift and Voltaire depict some gruesome facts like they are natural and ordinary. Situations, which an average reader would perceive as something unpleasantly unusual, are presented as something conventional and perfectly average.
The ways, in which Voltaire and Swift present their information, define the humorous elements in both Candide and A Modest Proposal. Not a single person would say that situations described by the two authors leave them calm and untouched. Both authors have chosen an alternative way to present some dreadful events. Neither calm business-like approach of Swift nor the merry storytelling of Voltaire would have been chosen by an average person. This somehow divergent, unusual attitude is the element, which turned description of unpleasant events into wonderful examples of satire and “black humor”.