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A Modest Proposal

            “A Modest Proposal” was quite a shift in gears from the subject matter of “A Lady’s Dressing Room”! The essay is very ironic and eye-opening. I wasn’t sure in the beginning paragraph if Swift was compassionate towards beggars or being ironic in his sympathetic tone. On one hand, he refers to the begging mothers as “forced to employ all their time in Stroling, to beg Sustenance for their helpless Infants” (3). This sounds like he is criticizing society, not the beggars. Then, he identifies women as “breeders,” which sounds more derogatory. As the proposal continues, it is clear Swift is being critical of the economic aspects of society as a whole. His proposal to eat children to stop hunger and overpopulation jaw-dropping effect causes the reader to pay more attention to the true meaning of his piece. The irony lies in statements like he “hope[s] it will not be liable to the least Objection” (8). This idea is so far beyond objectionable, but is so extremely rational that it is hard to give logical reasons for why this idea is a bad one. It reminded me of our discussion of Friday and cannibalism—why is cannibalism so stigmatized and any different from eating animals? Because it just seems wrong eating our own species. Swift seems to be criticizing the political and economic state of Ireland. By suggesting such a wild proposal and listing all of its economic benefits in a matter-of-fact manner, he seems to be mocking the actual proposals/reform taking place when this was written. There is no compassion taking place in the proposal—Swift even discusses the price of child meat and the different ways it can be prepared. “A Modest Proposal” seems to be questioning rational/scientific solutions to humanitarian problems such as poverty and overcrowding. I found myself thinking of the cycle that Mr. Bramble despises in Humphry Clinker. Bramble dislikes the idea of drinking water that has been bathed in—this is similar to humans eating humans; especially mothers eating children that they have borne.  

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2 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal

  1. Very interesting point: “‘A Modest Proposal’ seems to be questioning rational/scientific solutions to humanitarian problems such as poverty and overcrowding.” If I understand correctly, you are arguing that England over-priveledges the rational and that a consequence of this is the loss of compassion? What does it say about logic that “it is hard to give logical reasons for why this idea is a bad one?” Can we give different reasons, maybe those based on compassion, for why this is a bad idea? If so, what does this say about logic?

  2. I agree with you. I could not tell throughout the piece whether he was being serious or ironic and what exactly his stance was on the economical issue at hand. I found his humor funny but thought many people could take it the completely wrong way. His idea of fixing overcrowding and poverty, although being completely irrational and ironic, is relatively logical. This is the running joke throughout the piece. It does make sense to eat children right? Disregarding all moral and religious beliefs.

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