This is probably my favorite work from Jonathan Swift. I love modern day satire like “The Onion” so it is cool to see some of the same styles of writing almost 300 years ago. When I first read this, naturally I thought that Swift was serious. Back in that time, there were absolutely preposterous ideas being thrown around so I did not see it as an impossibility that someone suggest this.
I think what made me take this work for truth is the fact that is starts out in a very serious and official manner. The title “A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland, from Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick” made me feel like this was a serious proposal. I expected Swift to write something about making these children go to work, or school. I had no previous notion that eating poor children could make them “benefitial to the public”. This is why I think this is such a well-written piece. When you can make people 300 years down the road still think you were serious then I’d say it is a pretty well written argument.
Having said that, I would have loved to be around Ireland when this was just released to the public. I think that usually the only problem with satire today is that it may offend some people. But I think it would have been interested to see how the public handled this work when they believed Swift to be serious. I picture a “War of the Worlds”-style freakout by many people. I can see those poor Irish children asking their parents if they are going to eat them. It sounds funny to me now, but I feel like this was something that actually frightened a lot of people back then. I have to give props to Swift. I think that recreating a piece like this for the modern day would be much more difficult to do. Then again, we do have the internet now, so perhaps a modest proposal via Facebook or Twitter could turn some heads.