A Modest Proposal



The first impression that I have from reading this poem of “A Modest Proposal” is that the author must be sick or unstable to propose the selling of one-year-old children for the purpose of being cooked and eaten by the rich. However, a more in-dept analysis of the tone and style of the writer reveal a specific purpose behind this outrageous proposal. In effect, it seems that Swift’s intent is to address some very hot issues being faced by the citizens of his “kingdom” at the time, namely, poverty and overpopulation.


It is obvious, from the content of the essay, that the increasing number of poor children, the ever unemployed mothers and fathers were of great concern to most and “a very great additional grievance” to the kingdom. It is also reasonable to assume that the writer has tried in the past to propose some socially acceptable solutions that have fallen on deaf ears, as evidenced by these lines, “as to myself, having been wearied out for many years with offering vain, idle, visionary thoughts, and at length despairing of success…” the author has turned to this satiric form of essay in an effort to get the attention of those who might think they have heard it all and might have become blaze and indifferent to any regular or acceptable form of solution. In using satire, most writers aptly use ridicule to attack or expose the negative or false values of society. This author’s style seems even a bit more caustic. He makes what could, arguably, be viewed as the most objectionable, if not disgusting proposal, proceeds to dehumanize children by dwelling on thedetails of cooking them, the numbers of servings one can get out of one child, even suggesting using their skin as gloves and boots, making the reader feel as uncomfortable as humanly possible, only to proceed in attacking his prime target in the most sarcastic way, “I grant this food will be … very proper for landlords, who as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.”
As a sub-social issue, Swift also touches on abortion, an issue that remains to the present era one of the most controversial issues in America. In fact, even though the essay obviously predates the Roe versus Wade decision issued by the United States Supreme Court in January 1973 where abortion became legal in America, it seems that abortion was already a
debated issue in 1729. The author casually insinuates that his proposal would also take care of that problem, as he writes,
“There is likely another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas! Too frequent among us, sacrificing the poor innocent babes, I doubt more to avoid the expenses than the shame, which would move tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast.”
It is readily apparent that Swift is being extremely sarcastic by offering the extreme solution of killing and cooking a living infant as a solution to avoid the killing of a fetus, which many, even in today’s debates, consider to be nothing but that, a fetus, not a potential infant, since, arguably, life does not begin until birth.
One of Jonathan Swift’s purposes in writing this essay seems to be a desire to bring the social plagues of his society, the most prevalent being the misfortune of the underdog acerbated by, “the oppression of landlords, the impossibility of paying rent without money or trade, the want of common sustenance…” to the attention of those who had the power of making a change but instead preferred to hypocritically commiserate with the poor while secretly taking advantage of them. By using satire or sarcasm, he manages to keep the readers’ interest long enough to impress upon them the urgency of the problem, while pointing out the general flaws and
weaknesses in the thinking of the general public and innocently force them out of their complaisance. He seems to have noticed that, for any proposed solution to pique anybody’s interest, it has to be “innocent, cheap, easy and effectual.” Swift also had no qualms
in making it clear that he knows that the growing