Jonathan Swifts Essay A Modest Proposal

If you want to know how different the world was in 1729, consider Jonathan Swift's case for cannibalism in A Modest Proposal. Okay, stop and take a moment to pick your collective jaws off the ground. The 18th century may have been a wild time, but Swift's proposal wasn't for real. A self-appointed shock jock, Swift was just satirizing the stingy British approach to dealing with their Irish subjects.

If you thought Swift was serious about boiling babies, you wouldn't be the first. By the time Swift published A Modest Proposal, he'd already had his work misinterpreted by the Queen of England and countless other humorless readers who didn't understand irony. Swift wasn't winning any popularity contests in England, that's for sure.

The feeling was mutual: Swift was no fan of the English rule, as he made abundantly clear in a series of political pamphlets. Although he spent plenty of time gallivanting around the London literary scene with buddies Joseph Addison, Alexander Pope, and John Gay, he was a reluctant Irishman who made his home in "wretched Dublin, in miserable Ireland" (source). Despite occasionally trashing his stomping grounds, Swift was equally critical of the British. In short, he was a crotchety guy who was often accused of hating on just about everybody.

But why, you might ask, would Swift suggest something as bizarre as chowing down on children? He never shied away from the tough stuff, and in the words of Samuel Johnson, took "delight in revolting ideas from which every other mind shrinks with disgust" (source). In fact, he was perfectly fine with grossing out the literary elite to make his point about the very real problems of famine and overpopulation affecting Ireland. That, or he was just a thirteen-year-old boy at heart.


Long before Jon Stewart's witty political commentary dominated The Daily Show, another Jon had a knack for sticking it to the Man. Just like his 21st-century twin, Jonathan Swift brought a healthy helping of over-the-top comedy to A Modest Proposal. Studio audiences aside, Swift's irreverent take on politics is the same kind of entertainment we tune in to on weeknights.

Swift might not have headlined on Comedy Central, but his funnyman routine was pretty well-known in the London coffeehouses. He wasn't always getting the laughs, though. Before going the satire route, Swift wrote a couple sermons on the conditions in Ireland that weren't nearly as entertaining as advocating for cannibalism. You might say his work got the ultimate boost in ratings when he turned to satire.

Don't be fooled by Swift's lighthearted irony: After he gets through detailing the nutritional value of a one-year-old, he gets in a couple of jabs about England's greed. And even though The Daily Show calls itself a "fake news program," you're just as likely to see an interview with a presidential candidate alongside a celebrity spoof. That's the thing with good satire—if you don't pay attention, you might get a recipe instead of a moral.


Jonathan Swift's Essay, A Modest Proposal

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Jonathan Swift's Essay, "A Modest Proposal"

Jonathan Swift in his essay, "A Modest Proposal" suggests a unique solution to the problem concerning poor children in Ireland. Swift uses several analytical techniques like statistics, induction, and testimony to persuade his readers. His idea is admirable because he suggests that instead of putting money into the problem, one can make money from the problem. However, his proposal is inhumane.

Swift wrote his proposal for those that were tired of looking at poor children of Ireland. He starts out explaining the situation in Ireland regarding single poor mothers that have three to six children and cannot afford to feed or clothe them. The children of the poor are a burden and a disgrace…show more content…

I again subtract 50,000 for those women who miscarry, or whose children die by accident or disease within the year. There only remain 120,000 children of poor parents annually born." He would keep about 20,000 for breeding and sell the rest for food. Swift argues that this would boost the country economically by 8 shillings per child. That is at least 800,000 shillings compared to their debt of 2,000,000 pounds sterling.

Swift also uses induction from a case where in Formosa (now Taiwan); anytime a young person was killed the state would sell the body for a fair price and was considered a delicacy. Also there was a young, fifteen-year-old girl that tried to kill the emperor and was sold to the Prime Minister for a good meal. He points out that there are same non-productive young people in their country who could be sold for a profit like in Formosa. He suggests that such "a course may be taken to ease the nation of so grievous an encumbrance."

Swift then uses the testimony of a very "worthy person, a true lover of his country, and whose virtues I highly esteem." This person and many more gentlemen like himself supported Swift’s proposal due to a lack of deer meat and the need for more money. "He conceived that the want of venison might be well supplied by the bodies of young lads and maidens, not exceeding fourteen years of age nor under twelve." There were also testimonies from an American who backed the tastefulness

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