Hoaxes Uncovered: Are they even literature?

Before determining whether a hoax should be considered a piece of literary work, it is first necessary to understand the definition. Literally, the word conveys a sense of mischievous deception: one who seeks glory, fame, or recognition through artfully taking advantage of, or “hoodwinking,” his/her audience. But this does not always seem to be the case. Take Jonathan Swift’s, “A Modest Proposal,” for example. In this short work, Swift employs satire in order to raise awareness of how the rich exploit and even dehumanize the poor in eighteenth century Ireland. His purpose was not to propose such an outrageous idea as feeding poor babies to the rich to solve Ireland’s famine. Rather, to illuminate the deeper societal issues to bring about change in the social construct. This highlights another important theme: context is essential in order to extrapolate a purpose from hoaxes. Technically speaking, literature is considered to be any piece of written work, though it is often associated with a purpose. Swift’s short piece falls into this category; however, what effect does the content have on its validity (or lack thereof), and should this still be considered literature? There are a multitude of other examples of hoaxes that do not have as honorable intent as that of Swift’s, such as the Hitler diaries; nevertheless, it is ultimately up to the reader to determine for his/herself which pieces of written works should be accepted as literature.

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