Firstly, when looking at these three pieces, the authors’ reasons and objectives for disgusting the reader should be explored. Both Orwell and Swift were seeking social reform, but Swift chose a more extreme method of persuasion. In ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ Swift uses the disgusting to make the reader look at how the supposedly civilised Gulliver is behaving, and question their own actions and society. In ‘A Modest Proposal’, Swift is writing in order to persuade the reader to consider a proper answer to the Irish question, disgusting the reader so they realise just how dire the situation actually is.
However, in ‘How The Poor Die’, Orwell is writing initially to inform the reader of the situation in the Paris hospital, though indirectly influencing their thoughts. Orwell and Swift disgust the reader in different ways: Swift uses the scatological to repulse the reader whereas, Orwell uses less physical, more emotional ways to disgust his audience. Orwell tugs at the emotions of his readers by discussing how people were ‘dying among strangers’.
Statements like that horrify the reader, but in a different manner to Swift’s more basic descriptions of bodily functions, as can be seen when Gulliver visits Lilliput.
Swift disgusts the reader causing them to be outraged and recoil in horror. Orwell however, uses more subtlety and the effect is that the reader feels pity and empathises with the poor patients in this hospital. In ‘A Modest Proposal’, Swift gains his readers’ trust and interest by beginning with the ironic title then shocking them with his vile idea.
In the space of one sentence, he juxtaposes the nice idea of ‘a healthy child’ with the grotesque concept of it being ‘a most delicious… food, … whether stewed, roasted, baked or boiled’.
Orwell and Swift Orwell and Swift Orwell and Swift
It is at this point that the reader is no longer reading out of genuine interest but out of fascinated horror. What shocks the reader in Orwell’s piece is the unemotional, seemingly disinterested way in which he writes. The blunt, unfeeling use of the word ‘corpse’, although accurate, is unpleasant to the reader. In this instance the word ‘body’ or ‘gentleman’ would be more agreeable. In ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ Swift deceives the reader by giving the impression that it is a travel book, but as soon in as the start of chapter 2, he is already talking in great detail of how he ‘discharged’ himself in Lilliput.
The device that is evident in all three pieces is the comparison with animals. Human beings have always considered themselves far superior to animals and are disgusted to be compared to them. In ‘How The Poor Die’, Orwell comments on how people ‘were just dying like animals’. The way in which Swift talks of ‘one male [being] sufficient to serve four females’ would have appalled the seventeenth century reader as it implies an unchristian act. The thought of breeding humans as if they were farm animals is as disgusting now as it was in Swift’s time.
He even compares a pregnant woman to a pregnant sow. He describes the Yahoos in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ in a way that implies that they are beasts; although it is obvious to the reader they are human. He even talks of their ‘claws’ and ‘fore-feet’. ‘How The Poor Die’ and ‘A Modest Proposal’ both deal with socially taboo or unpleasant subjects that would repulse readers. In ‘A Modest Proposal’, Swift discusses everything from sex to domestic violence, abortion to miscarriages, none of which people were open about at his time of writing.