A Modest Proposal
A Modest Proposal is everything that a satirical story should be. It includes sarcasm and irony as Jonathan Swift takes us through a roller coaster ride to show us how the poor are treated miserably.
The narrator begins by leading us down a path. He seems sincere and thinks it is a pity how everywhere you walk in the streets of Dublin you see the poor begging people for hand outs. He is seeking a solution to help the commonwealth.
He appears to be a logical, educated person who makes it clear that he has been studying this subject for years. He then tells us that he has a solution to help the babies whose parents cannot afford them. We think his idea will be charitable and will actually help the poor as well as the nation.
The narrator then does something that I think set the tone for the rest of the story. He referred to a baby just born as being dropped from its dam. Animals are dropped from dams, not humans. Therefore poor people in this story are nothing more than animals.
We are told how the children are a burden and how instead of requiring food and clothing the rest of their lives, they will contribute to the feeding and clothing of many people. Any intelligent person would assume he intends to put them in factories or farms to work and not be on the streets begging for food. We are also told that his plan will prevent voluntary abortions and women murdering their bastard babies.
The narrator shows the reader he is serious by producing calculations that appear to be well thought-out and then showing us, through examples, That these children have no future.
Up to this point the narrator appears to be intelligent. He is from the upper class and has low morals. He thinks lowly about the poor but has made several logical assumptions and observations. He has us all wondering what his proposal will be.
He then tells us that a young healthy child at a year old is a most delicious, nourishing and wholesome food. The first thing that went through everyone's mind is that this man is crazy. Cannibalism? That is disgusting. Yet he continues on as if he said something completely rational and sane. According to his proposal, twenty thousand children may be reserved for breeding which is more than they allow to sheep, black cattle and swine. He is comparing humans to animals again. The rest, being one hundred thousand being sold to persons of quality and fortune. Persons of quality? What kind of person eats a baby? He is even going as far as to tell us to advise the mothers to let their babies suck plentifully in the last month, so as to render them plump and fat for a good table. That is revolting. He is just plain mad. That is the effect I think Jonathan Swift wanted to grab our attention and make us listen to him. That is when the satire starts to unfold and that is when he drops the bomb on us. "I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children." He is telling us we already have cannibalism. The landlords are cruel and inhuman. The landlords have already taken so much from the families, why not give them the babies as well?
It takes approximately two shillings annually to nurse a child, rags included. The children did not even wear clothes because they could not afford them. They wore whatever was cheap and whatever they could find and no gentleman would repine to give ten shillings for the carcass of a good fat child. There is more satire here. What kind of gentleman eats a child? The narrator goes on to tell us that he will be a good landlord and grow popular among his tenants. There is some more satire presented to us. The people will like the landlords for two reasons. One being that they will be getting rid of their babies which they cannot afford. I do not think the people will rejoice at having their babies eaten by their landlords.
The narrator spoke to a worthy person, a true lover of his country, who offered a refinement upon his scheme. He told him that the want of venison might well be supplied by the bodies of young lads and maidens between the ages of twelve and fourteen. To hunt humans as if they are game only because they are poor. His friend is not patriotic. His friend is a cannibal. I think irony is being used to describe him. Satire is being used when he tells us that some scrupulous people might be apt to censure such a practice, although unjustly, as a little bordering on cruelty. It is more likely that almost everyone would censure such a practice.
The advantages to his proposal are obvious and many as well of the highest importance. All his proposals are satirical, some even revolting. The poorer tenants will have something valuable of their own, which by law may be liable to distress, and help to pay the landlord's rent. Once again he refers to the land lords. Not only will they sell their babies to them but if they do not pay their rent, the landlords can take their babies. The babies are being used as a commodity and not even considered human. Another advantage according to him is the taverns will profit from a new dish that will be introduced to gentlemen. People who eat babies have refinement and taste? He even refers to them as gentlemen. People who are reading this proposal realize at this point that only the rich will benefit from such a ludicrous concept.
The narrator then lists several other satirical advantages. It would increase the care of mothers towards their children? We should see an honest emulation among women? The mothers are made out to be beasts. No mother would sell her child to be eaten at any price and I doubt very much that it will encourage marriage. People will not marry and produce babies to earn ten shillings.
"Men would become as fond of their wives, during the time of their pregnancy, as they are now of their mares in foal, their cows in calf, or sows when they are ready to farrow, nor offer to beat or kick them." Once again the poor are being compared to animals and I doubt men will take better care of their wives if they will sell the baby eventually.
There were some calculations made that caught my attention. These calculations are somewhat disgusting as well as satirical. Families would be consumers of infant flesh at merry meetings, particularly weddings and christenings. We are told that families will celebrate the introduction of a family and a christening of a child by eating some poor person's baby.
The narrator then lists several ideas that could be used as a remedy. Possibly to try to make his proposal seem sane. His ten proposals are not erratic. They are modest but far to radical for the rich people. They would never allow these ideas to be put into use.
The babies are then being referred to as useless mouths and backs to clothe and their parents as creatures in human figures. The narrator does not even consider them to be human. According to him, they look like people but do not live like people. The narrator even goes as far as saying the parents should be asked if they would have preferred to have been sold for food at a year old. Who in their right mind would want to be eaten? Yet he tells us that the parents would have been in favor of it.
The narrator commented on how he has no other motive than the public good for his country but his country does not include everybody. Only the rich and those who can take care and support themselves.
I think that Jonathan Swift tried to show how terrible the poor were treated. Everyone was to busy to help them. He compared them to animals and referred to them as creatures. I think he did this to show where their society was heading. The rich simply did not care about what happened to the poor and they were literally eating them out of house and home. Jonathan Swift wrote this satirical essay so the people would at least acknowledge that they had a problem. It is to be hoped that enough people read his essay and tried to make a difference.
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