The adage says that “history repeats itself. ” Criticisms of today’s society apply to societies that came centuries before. Satires from the 18th century criticize political events happening in the 20th Century. Many techniques of satire also transcend time. Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” which many accept as the first modern satire, is laden with irony. Irony is “the expression of meaning using language that normally expresses the opposite” (Brown 1417). Although Jonathan Swift and Flannery O’Connor lived and wrote in different time periods, they both criticized their societies using irony.
Flannery O’Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia on March 25, 1925. (Feeley 9) When O’Connor was just 16 her father was claimed by lupus (Feeley 9). O’Connor was very affected by her father’s death and lost faith in religion after his death. The most common object of criticism in O’Connor’s works is religion, which is deeply rooted in the death of her father. The young O’Connor could not understand how God could have allowed her father to die despite all her prayers and pleadings. She decided to turn away from Him as a result (Feeley 73). Most of Flannery O’Connor’s stories criticize religion.
Good Country People, and A Good Man is Hard to Find criticize the self-righteous view that people have of the church have of themselves (O’Connor 84). Edward O’Connor’s death had another influence on Flannery’s works. Flannery O’Connor is not known for her happy and light-hearted stories. Death is always a central theme in O’Connor’s stories. But it is not simply present; death is explored and detailed in an uncommonly grotesque fashion (O’Connor 121). The Southern Gothic Period is a period in American Literature that is classified by its grotesque imagery and Deep South setting.
Race, Religion, and the Civil War are all topics of criticism for Southern Gothic writers (Peters). Looking at the events going on during the Southern Gothic Period, the evidence for the morbid inspiration is clearly evident. The period began in the early 1930s and ended in the late ‘70s (Roosevelt). The Great Depression began with Black Tuesday, the stock market crash, in 1929 and lasted up until the beginning of World War II in the early ‘40s (Roosevelt). The depression is the worst economic crisis the world has ever seen and sent many to the streets looking for work (Roosevelt).
This dismal outlook for the future led to morose themes in the stories of the time. Flannery O’Connor’s stories were read and received all over the world. Many of the themes used by O’Connor and other Southern Gothic writers, like William Faulkner, influenced the authors of the Latin American Literature Boom. The Boom began right after World War II, marking a time of Latin American economic stability and prosperity (Yates). Jorge Luis Borges, the father of the Boom, is known for his criticisms of religion as well as of the war.
Other Boom authors, like Julio Cortazar, Carlos Fuentes, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, show the evolution of the Southern Gothic themes (Man in the Middle of the Latin American Book Boom). Marquez and Fuentes, for example, use magic realism to bring the supernatural into the already dark themes present. Jonathan Swift was born in Ireland in 1667 (Hunting 18)). Although the facts about Swift’s childhood are unclear, it is known that his father died before his birth and is believed that his mother went to England leaving him to his father’s parents (Hunting 19).
As a man, Swift spent time back and forth between England and Ireland. Growing up Irish but spending time in England, Swift was able to see how both societies’ viewed each other. In “A Modest Proposal” Swift writes from the point of view of an Englishmen. He uses the journalistic feel to make the reader trust the narrator. He then goes on to list suggestions on how to better the problems in Ireland. Initially, the suggestions are reasonable, but then they progress to the more extreme, like eating babies. The reader then realizes that Swift is presenting the serious situation in an ironic tone (Daniel 515).
The Great Famine, better known as the Irish Potato Famine, decimated the Irish population killing about 1 million and forcing 1 million more to emigrate out of the country and was the ins. Although Ireland was part of the United Kingdom, it received little to no aid from the British who considered themselves superior. In the 1800s the Anglican Church was in a political battle with the Catholic Church. Swift attempted to defuse the conflict in “Gulliver’s Travels” (Xu). There was infighting amongst the Lilliputians about whether or not to eat the soft-boiled egg from the big end or the small end (Xu).
Swift is trying to show the triviality of the Church’s conflict with the exaggeration in his story (Xu). Jonathan Swift is one of the most respected and acknowledged writers in the English language. He is known as the father of satire and was well respected by his peers. Alexander Pope stated about Gulliver’s Travels “it is universally read, from the cabinet council to the nursery. ” Literary critics of the time had a hard time analyzing Swift’s work. At first, critics dismissed his works as one-of-a-kind and thus too difficult to critique.
As the style caught on, however, critics acknowledge that Swift’s work was special. Flannery O’Connor and Jonathan Swift both use irony in their works. The type of irony, however, is different. O’Connor makes use of situational irony while Swift uses dramatic irony. Situational irony is when an “event occurs that directly contradicts the expectations of the characters, the reader, or the audience” (Brown 1417). “A Late Encounter with an Enemy” is filled with situational irony. The difference between the young and old is very dominant in the story.
General Sash, who is a 104 year old Civil War veteran, only cares about the present. He is unlike the stereotypical portrayal of a veteran that likes telling war stories and is not in tune with the present. General Sash likes the “young flesh” (O’Connor 163) of today’s girls. He hates history and all associations that people have with him and the war. His daughter, Sally Poker Sash, on the other hand only cares about the past. She is obsessed with proving to her college professors that she is something special. For her graduation, she asked that her father come in his Civil War uniform to present her diploma.
After a little hemming and hawing General Sash agrees and it seems as if the graduation will become the perfect moment in Sally’s life. Once he gets on stage however, General Sash collapses in his wheel chair and dies. This moment that was supposed to represent the high point in Sally’s life ended up being her greatest embarrassment. Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” makes use of dramatic irony. “A Modest Proposal” begins by outlining the the dire straits faced by the Irish. The Great Hunger is at its peak and Swift begins by telling the reader about poverty and the beggars and the ack of food to go around. This opening lulls the reader into believing that the essay will present the problems facing Ireland and maybe provide a solution. When Swift throws in the sentence: “A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled: and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragoust” (Daniel 515) To readers uninformed of the essay’s satirical purpose, Swift’s idea of infanticide may seem like a serious proposal.
Thus, Flannery O’Connor and Jonathan Swift both used irony as a technique with which to criticize their respective society. Flannery O’Connor uses setting to set up contrasting emotions between her characters while Jonathan Swift is a master of the art of saying one thing and meaning the exact opposite.