A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift Essay
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How does Swift attempt to make his readers aware of the problems in Ireland with his pamphlet? To what extent do you think he succeeds? Satire; a mode of writing that exposes the failings of individuals, institutions, or societies to ridicule and scorn. The modest proposal was considered one of the finest pieces of satire in world literature and was published as a pamphlet in 1729 in Ireland aimed at mainly the middle/ upper class of Ireland. The reasons for Swift’s outlandish and shocking pamphlet were to argue that the problem of poverty in Ireland can be best remedied by selling the babies of the less fortunate as food for the wealthy.
He put forward his ideas in a pamphlet as this was a common method to publish an argument or in the public treatise arena. There was an issue of too many Protestants becoming quarrelsome over the Irish religious issues and something had to be done to resolve the complaints. This is where Swift’s proposal came into action as it addressed the issue and played on people’s prejudices and stereotypes of the Catholics and the Irish being inhumane savages. The proposal can be perceived as barbaric, cannibalistic and outrageous whereas some will see the logic behind it and how it will actually work.
In the whole pamphlet he uses irony constantly to show satire and to horrify the public but sometimes you cannot always see the serious behind the writing. Swift sets up the proposal by giving the reader an insight into what someone might see as they walk through a town in Ireland in 1729. He describes the town (Dublin) as ‘great’ in the first paragraph but then carries on by saying that the streets are ‘crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four or six children’. He is putting the country down by writing about the streets swarmed with beggars.
This tells the reader that he doesn’t like where the country is going as in poverty and homeless people. He is very blasi?? when mentioning the beggar’s children as if they don’t care about them and can’t even keep track of their offspring. He is describing a place where there is a problem and it needs to be fixed. When mentioning the women with several hungry and poor children, he wants the reader to feel sorry for them. If he can engage the reader with poignant images then they will be keen to agree with the proposal.
When talking about the amount of children the women are having he doesn’t want to make people feel sympathetic or even think that they are stupid for having so many children and not being able to raise them. He is playing on stereotypes of anti-catholic Protestants because Catholics do not believe in contraception so they will conceive more children than Protestants regardless if they can or cannot support them. Swift is highlighting a problem which he thinks can be resolved.
He starts to build up to the proposal by giving hints along the way like in paragraph 3 when he says ‘and shall take in the whole number at a certain age, who are born of parents in effect as little able to support them’. This sentence must make the reader puzzled as to what is going to follow about poor and helpless children who cannot be raised by their parents. Paragraph 4 is where Swift reveals the basic idea of the proposal by talking about how much it is to raise a baby until the age of one year for a poor begging family.
He says that it would cost no less than 2 shillings as the baby would feed on its mother’s breast milk. When it does reach that age then the baby can be sold to feed and clothe the ‘many thousand’ Irish rather than the child becoming a burden to its parents as they will not be able to feed them much longer. I think that Swift writes this with a dispassionate tone even though the topic he is proposing is a sensitive area to the people who are reading it. He could have used some emotion rather than becoming so reserved.
In paragraph 5 he starts stating the advantages of the scheme like preventing voluntary abortions and ‘that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children’. For some, this will emphasise the savage animalistic nature of the Irish. This is where Swift becomes aggressive and tries to persuade the reader that his proposal can solve these unfortunate mishaps just because the families these children are born into cannot support them. In paragraph 6, Swift uses statistics to rationalise his argument. In this section he writes very bluntly without any emotion at all.
He starts calculating the amount of women who will be used as ‘breeders’ and those who will be able to support their children. He then calculates the amount of breeders in Ireland and minuses the amount of miscarriages. It’s good that he does use statistics because otherwise the reader will not be able to imagine how you can put this plan into action to solve the problem of too many poor Catholics in Ireland. By using statistics he could win the readers over because they are very logical and straightforward ways of thinking. He weighs out the factors that could affect the ‘breeders’.
He uses the term ‘breeders’ as substitute names for the wives who will be producing the children. This is harsh and inhumane as you would normally associate ‘breeders’ as animals or cattle. If Swift didn’t use statistics then the readers would not be convinced as to how such a plan would ‘work’. In ‘A modest proposal’ Swift uses a lot of irony in his writing. Some examples of this is when Swift says that 12 year old boys and girls could be sold as an alternative to deer however the reason he changed his mind was because they wouldn’t be worth much money for their meat.
This is because they will have to be fed alot more than a one year old baby as they are growing and need to have some fat and meat on them to be used as food. They would be expensive to breed, clothe and feed. He never gives the full proposal in the first paragraphs which builds suspense as you want to know more and ask questions about why he is doing what he is and when will this happen. Swift reveals his proposal in paragraph 9 and 10 by mentioning ‘a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London’ which implies that he is blaming the theory on someone before he even starts.
He says that this man told him that a ‘young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food’. This line would have most probably shocked all readers because they would never think of eating babies however Swift would see it as comical because it is a ridiculous idea in the first place. He then adds to the horrific idea of eating children by listing some of the ways to cook them! This is where Swift is being satirical and humorous because he would never cook a child ‘in a fricasie, or a ragout’. It was just to shock the audience.
In paragraph 10 he tells you how he would go about ‘reserving’ women for breeding purposes only and how the males will be made to breed and not be allowed to create a bond with the women. It would be like a production line which would be similar to ‘sheep, black cattle, or swine’. He refers to them as ‘savages’ which is very callous and unsympathetic. Swift then talks about how many people one baby will feed and how many it will entertain. He says that a child will make two dishes for friends and for a family meal they can use the fore hind quarter will make a reasonable dish.
He talks about the baby as if it is any piece of meat. He wants the audience to feel that he is very blasi?? about the situation and that he doesn’t care that he is dehumanising the Irish in such a horrific way. I think that the way he is so unloving about the women being used as baby machines is terrible but the only reason he is removing the love is to show the lack of humanity given to the Irish. The objective is to lessen the amounts of ‘papists’ which is an abusive and racist term given which plays on peoples prejudices of the Irish. He takes anti-catholic/Irish sentiment to its logical conclusion.