A Modest Proposal by Jonathan SwiftLast night my daughter asked me to watch what passes for comedy to pre-teens on Nickelodeon; a show low on laughs but high on laugh track. Its Halloween week and of course the thematic drum of cheap scares and slutty costumes (those of you dads that have 11 year old girls know what it is like to take a knee at the end of the show to have a side-bar chat about this topic alone) plays large when midway through the episode a six year old girl dressed like a failing barrister circa 1735 comes firing on stage screaming at her parents because they got her a Jonathan Swift costume instead of the requested Taylor Swift. This is where I wanted to pause live TV to tell my daughter about the original Swift, about A Modest Proposal - how our current American culture screams for someone like him to write about our never-ending race problem, our soul sucking capitalism-at-any-cost, our failed PAC-fueled political system. But my daughter is 11, I am 45, its late on Saturday night and I dont have it in me. I watch the Jonathan Swift girl rant and rave and I drool thinking about delicious Irish babies in a white wine sauce.
A Modest Proposal
Presented in the guise of an economic treatise , the essay proposes that the country ameliorate poverty in Ireland by butchering the children of the Irish poor and selling them as food to wealthy English landlords. The essay is a masterpiece of satire , with a blend of rational deliberation and unthinkable conclusion, and its title has come to symbolize any proposition to solve a problem with an effective but outrageous cure. A Modest Proposal. Info Print Cite. Submit Feedback.
It is a melancholy object to those, who walk through this great town, or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads and cabbin-doors crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags, and importuning every passenger for an alms. These mothers instead of being able to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all their time in stroling to beg sustenance for their helpless infants who, as they grow up, either turn thieves for want of work, or leave their dear native country, to fight for the Pretender in Spain, or sell themselves to the Barbadoes. I think it is agreed by all parties, that this prodigious number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their mothers, and frequently of their fathers, is in the present deplorable state of the kingdom, a very great additional grievance; and therefore whoever could find out a fair, cheap and easy method of making these children sound and useful members of the common-wealth, would deserve so well of the publick, as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation. But my intention is very far from being confined to provide only for the children of professed beggars: it is of a much greater extent, and shall take in the whole number of infants at a certain age, who are born of parents in effect as little able to support them, as those who demand our charity in the streets. As to my own part, having turned my thoughts for many years, upon this important subject, and maturely weighed the several schemes of our projectors, I have always found them grossly mistaken in their computation. It is true, a child just dropt from its dam, may be supported by her milk, for a solar year, with little other nourishment: at most not above the value of two shillings, which the mother may certainly get, or the value in scraps, by her lawful occupation of begging; and it is exactly at one year old that I propose to provide for them in such a manner, as, instead of being a charge upon their parents, or the parish, or wanting food and raiment for the rest of their lives, they shall, on the contrary, contribute to the feeding, and partly to the cloathing of many thousands. There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas!
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The author argues, by hard-edged economic reasoning as well as from a self-righteous moral stance, for a way to turn this problem into its own solution. His proposal, in effect, is to fatten up these undernourished children and feed them to Ireland's rich land-owners. Children of the poor could be sold into a meat market at the age of one, he argues, thus combating overpopulation and unemployment, sparing families the expense of child-bearing while providing them with a little extra income, improving the culinary experience of the wealthy, and contributing to the overall economic well-being of the nation.
The essay suggests that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food to rich gentlemen and ladies. This satirical hyperbole mocked heartless attitudes towards the poor, as well as British policy toward the Irish in general. In English writing, the phrase "a modest proposal " is now conventionally an allusion to this style of straight-faced satire. Swift's essay is widely held to be one of the greatest examples of sustained irony in the history of the English language. Much of its shock value derives from the fact that the first portion of the essay describes the plight of starving beggars in Ireland, so that the reader is unprepared for the surprise of Swift's solution when he states: "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.
If you want to know how different the world was in , 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.