A Modest Proposal Essay

Submitted By Kuryree
Words: 923
Pages: 4

In his essay “A Modest Proposal,” Jonathan Swift provides a quick and satiric analysis of the economic problems Ireland in the early 1700s faced and offers a “solution” to the problem: serving the children of the poor to the rich as a delicacy. As his earlier reasonable proposals failed to garner any real attention, Swift attempts to shock his audience in a way that both outlines the true dimensions of the problem as well as forces action to be taken to rectify the poverty, starvation, and inability of the poor to do anything to truly fix their situation. “A Modest Proposal” is written as a satire, and as such, its introduction of the horrific idea of eating other human beings is made to elicit outrage, and in doing so, causes the reader to contemplate about what can actually be done to rectify the problem. Through his use of diction, Swift portrays the children destined for devouring as less than human. Swift also uses vivid examples that in their utter outrageous absurdity drive his point home. Both Swift’s use of dehumanizing diction and vivid examples tie his work together as a whole and present “A Modest Proposal” as a blunt in-your-face sort of article that forces attention both to the work itself and the problem it addresses. Swift presents “A Modest Proposal as a serious solution to the rampant destitution in Ireland at the time and manages to do so by keeping a detached standpoint from the morality of eating children by dehumanizing them with the diction he uses to refer to them. First, when referring to the burden and relative uselessness of children, Swift not only simply states that the “prodigious number of children… [is] a very great additional grievance,” he also gives a price to the value of a human life. He refers to a newborn as “at most not above the value of two shillings” and a twelve year old as able to “not yield above three pounds.” In doing so, Swift paints the image of children being nothing more than commodities, simply things that can be bought and sold at perhaps reasonable prices. He continues to compare the vast stocks of Irish children to herds of farm animals, first offering the suggestion that only “one male would be sufficient to serve four females” in the act of breeding as a generous proportion in comparison to the ones for “sheep, black cattle, or swine,” then referring to “the fore of hind quarter” as parts of the body that would be consumed. The children in “A Modest Proposal” are presented as figures, things to be manipulated in order to reach economic stability, nothing more than animals. First, made into numbers, Swift provides a quick, emotionless approach to the worth of each child, not taking into account the person, the life, the emotion behind each individual. Secondly, when categorized as nothing more than an animal breed for slaughter, each child is shown as nothing more than simply meat, just another kind of creature to be used for sustenance. “A Modest Proposal” utilizes several extremely vivid examples that both reinforce the idea of dehumanized children and elicit disgust from readers. Swift gives a rather graphic description of the ways a child could be prepared for dining, as suggested by a “very knowing” American acquaintance: “…a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.” On that