I consider “A Modest Proposal” to be a “Great Work”. Before I go into specifics as to why I was fond of this particular text, I’d like to mention that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the reasons I enjoyed this reading may well be reasons for others to avoid it. There were a couple of things that stood out to me about this reading — the message that Swift was trying to get out there, the issues that he was trying to bring exposure to, and his method of achieving this goal of getting his message and the issues the exposure they needed. To me, a great work of literature needs its subject matter or narrative to be timeless, it needs to successfully captivate the reader (in one way or another, “A Modest Proposal” achieves this in the nontraditional sense), and it needs to be concise enough that a reader will want to read it multiple times without wasting too much time on it.
For starters, the subject matter and historical context in “A Modest Proposal” deals with an issue that is likely never going to disappear: class inequality and the harsh treatment of a country’s lower class by the higher class. It’s an issue that still exists in the modern-day United States and many of the world’s countries. The circumstances and exact details may change, but I believe that the historical context makes the reading a lot easier to relate to since the reader can draw those parallels to modern-day society. I think by having that type of context, it also may also appeal to people who wouldn’t normally read things like that; something else that is very important to me in declaring something a “Great Work”. The narrative or contextual aspect of the story must be strong enough for an audience who may not normally consume the genre.
I believe the “proposal” in the reading also does a great job of captivating the reader and leaves a lasting impression. If any student has ever reading the text, they’d instantly be able to identify “A Modest Proposal” as the text about a proposal for eating babies. As ridiculous as that sounds, it really does bring some notoriety to the reading, and the absurdity of the proposal makes the reader actually feel a certain way regarding it. It also helps people realize that this is satire and gives them an opportunity to find that deeper meaning that Swift is attempting to convey. Lastly, I believe that the reading is a perfect length – long enough to get his point across and make his complaints to the aristocratic British ruling Ireland, but short enough that readers can very easily revisit this and analyze it multiple times to really get their own interpretation of it – even those who aren’t necessarily Lit majors or professors.