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A Modest Proposal

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.

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3 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal

  1. I really enjoyed this work too! The satire probably shocked a lot of people; that seems to be what he wanted by writing something so shocking and audacious. It makes me wonder if it had the effect that Swift was hoping for. He seems to be critiquing the policies in place and the effort being put forth in Ireland during this time. By making such a mockery of such serious issues, he is indirectly (or maybe directly) also making mockery of the people handling the issues. The long title was very catchy and made it seem official. It was interesting how the title was all about making children “beneficial” to the public. This reduces people into animals or slaves or economic goods; Swift speaks as if he is devoid of any humanity! Definitely a fun piece to read.

  2. I love your image of the children when this essay first came out. I absolutely agree that they must have been frightened, and can picture parents using this essay as the common day “Boogey Man.” Instead of parents threatening that if we did not finish our vegetables the boogey man would get us, maybe parents used to threaten to eat their children if they misbehaved. Personally, it would have worked on me. When I first read this essay in high school, I not only thought it was very serious (hey, if bathing in dirty water in Bath is cleansing, who knows what they did to save money!) but I also was convinced I read the entire essay incorrectly because it could not actually have been about consuming babies. Ah, but luckily for us, it is. 🙂

  3. You said that “Swift speaks as if he is devoid of any humanity.” Do you think that this proposal may itself be a commentary on humans being devoid of humanity?

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