, Research Paper
A Modest Proposal
In very simple terms, A Modest Proposal is a satire of the social and economic events in Ireland. It was written in the early eighteenth century in an attempt to shame England and to shock Ireland. Jonathan Swift lived in an Ireland which was a colony, politically, militarily, and economically dependent on England. England was happy to keep things as they were to keep Ireland weak. The result was an overpopulated and poor Ireland. Swift offers a solution for the problems of Ireland in a practical manner. Through his ironic prose, Swift suggests one solution for both the problem of overpopulation and the growing numbers of starving people. The idea is to breed the children of Ireland for food and then sale the carcasses to England to improve Ireland’s living conditions.
Swift was writing in response to the belief that the English are taking control and destroying the Irish. It definitely shows England as the villain.
” For this kind of commodity will not bear exportation, the flesh being of too tender a consistence to admit a long continuance in salt, although perhaps I could name a country, which would be glad to eat up our whole nation without it.”
This writing also gives equal responsibility to the Irish for their plight. Swift was extremely enraged at the passivity of the Irish people. It was an attempt to shock the Irish out of their lethargic state. Swift had made numerous proposals to the Irish Parliament which were ignored. These proposals included the taxing of absentee landlords, to encourage the Irish industries and to improve the land. A Modest Proposal is a parody of Swift’s own serious proposals.
“But, as to myself, having been wearied out for many years with offering vain, idle, visionary thoughts, and at length utterly despairing of success,”
By mentioning his clearly more rational ideas that would have helped Ireland rectify things, Swift pokes fun of his fellow Irishmen. In his proposal he asks that no one talk of these ideas unless there is an attempt to put them into practice. He speaks of the poverty and terrible life conditions of his fellow Irish. The oppressed, ignorant and hungry peasants that are desperate for any type of salvation even though this might require the sacrificing of their young, “first ask the parents of these mortals, whether they would not at this day think it a great happiness to have been sold for food at a year old.” After all these peasants were so desperate that they were already murdering their bastard children to avoid the expense. He uses shock value to try and open their eyes.
Swift wrote this proposal with such a rational voice and logic that he makes it seem feasible. As Swift mentions the many different advantages of his proposal, it does make perfect sense that it would help the Irish help themselves out of their plight. He makes it even more persuasive when he urges others to describe a better way to solve the problem.