A modest proposal

Book Reports
Paper Title:
a modest proposal
An Ironic Proposal Unlike most essays, Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest
Proposal” is written for the reader to see through what the narrator is
expressing. The narrator does not want the reader to agree that the solution to
overpopulation and poverty in Ireland is to eat babies, he wants the reader to
see there needs to be a practical solution. By stating the advantages and
objections to his proposal, using ironic words and phrases, he directs the
reader not to see the apparent, but the implicit. Swift’s narrative voice
metaphorically compares the Irish to pigs and cows, which implies the Irish are
being treated subhumanly. Although something seems one way to the narrator,
Jonathan Swift wants the reader to see it in an opposite light. Firstly, the
narrative voice begins the essay by describing the deplorable conditions in
which the Irish peasants are living. He demonstrates there is a serious problem
with a great need for a solution. He then suggests a solution and then lists a
whole list of advantages. His propsal of eating the Irish babies is followed by
advantages such as “by the sale of their children, the parents would be
rid of the charge of maintaining them after the first year”(14). Another
advantage is, as Swift put it, “the poorer tenants will have something
valuable of their own”(14). These quotations imply that the poorer tenants
have nothing of value and that they would have to resort to selling their own
flesh and blood in order to earn an income; they also do not take into
consideration that the parents might want to have a family and children who will
live with them past the age of one year. A decrease in the meat consumed by
Ireland would lead to an advantage of “the addition of some thousand
carcasses in our exportation of barreled beef”(14). A quotation such as
this asks the residents of Ireland to eat human flesh to improve exportation.

All the advantages he suggests are true: if his proposal was put into action,
these would be benefits, but he is asking the poor to sell their children for
consumption. The large population and poor living conditions of Irish peasants
are matters which need to be taken care of. By means of downplaying his
“modest proposal,” the narrator leads the reader to believe his
proposal is rationale. He even goes as far as saying, “I shall now
therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the
least objection”(1) before he introduces the solution of eating infants. Of
course there will be objections to this outrageous recommendation as it is a
ridiculous notion. The suggestion of eating young children is most definitely
not humble. He also proclaims, “he can think of no one objection that
will be raised against this proposal, unless it should be urged that the number
of people will be thereby much lessened in the kingdom.”(15). There are
objections and they include more than just concerns about the population
numbers. The Irish are being asked to consider ideas of selling their children
for profit and cannibalism. If this idea is to go beyond just a proposal, the
values of society should be questioned. If this is to be contemplated as a
legitimate solution, the values of society should also be examined thoroughly, I
might add. Throughout the essay, ironic words and phrases are used to make the
reader see that there is a discrepancy between the stated word or phrase and the
implied meaning. The title of Swift’s essay, “A Modest Proposal”
implies that his suggestion will be one of insubstantial content, something
simple and unassuming. As a solution to the poor standard of living of the
Irish, the narrator suggests eating children of about one year old. This
recommendation is ludicrous and not simple at all. The narrator is asking the
Irish to revert to cannibalism, which not just eating other human beings, it
includes their own children. When the narrator begins to introduce this
preposterous proposal, he comments, “I shall now therefore humbly propose
my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.”
(11) He proposes the idea of eating the young and then downplays this ridiculous
notion as being humble. Although the narrator is suggesting an appalling idea,
he minimizes it as a humble thought by claiming it is something simple or
unpretentious and then continues to report that there will be no objections to
his way of thinking. The narrator uses the term “carcass” more than
once to describe the children being discussed. The Canadian Oxford Paperback
Dictionary defines a carcass as “the dead body of an animal, especially one
slaughtered for its meat”(138). By using the word carcass, the narrator
exhibits that the Irish peasants are thought of as subhuman. Despite suggesting
an outlandish notion, he is trying to make others see that there is a problem
and it needs to be solved. Metaphors are used continuously throughout this essay
to parallel the Irish peasants to animals. Before introducing the proposal, the
narrator compares Americans to savages when he states, “a very knowing
American”(11) told him that a child of one year makes “wholesome
food”(11). They are treated like animals by the English and their
landlords. The narrator also discusses eating the Irish infants, like one would
a piece of animal flesh. The Irish peasants are constantly portrayed as animals.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

For example, “Pigs…are no way comparable in taste or magnificence to a
well-grown, fat yearling child,” (14) compares the babies directly to pigs.

While introducing his proposal to the reader, he talks of how “infants’
flesh will be in season throughout the year”(11). This confirms the
narrator writing about the Irish as if they are animals that will become a new
“excellent nutritive meat”(12) one could pick up at the market.

Furthermore, the narrator metaphorically compares the poor treatment of the
Irish to animals when writing, “the landlords have already devoured most
of the parents”(11) of these children. The landlord have
“devoured” the parents in the sense of excessive taxation and
collecting high rent. The parents are paralleled to animals and dehumanized by
being referred to as “breeders” several times in the essay. Lastly,
the children are depicted almost as a form of currency. The sale of the children
for food is to pay their parents’ debts. The infants emerge as a form of
collateral from this proposal. By using metaphors, the treatment of the Irish
peasants as less than human by the English is depicted. Listing advantages and
claiming that there will be no objections, the narrator rationalizes his
solution and consequently makes the reader believe his suggestion will be one of
insignificant content. He captures the attention of the reader by using irony,
which is firstly evident in the title of the essay, “A Modest
Proposal.” His tone of voice detaches him emotionally by supporting this
proposal with examples of how animals are bred, proposing that children be bred
the same way. In conclusion, the narrator is deeply angry about the way in which
the English treat the Irish peasants and he thinks something should be done. By
stating the problems and proposing an extreme solution, he works with irony
throughout the essay to allow his reader to see things on the flip-side. Swift’s
proposal is an antithesis to get the reader to see the contrary.

Work Cited “Carcass.” The Canadian Oxford Paperback Dictionary.

2000 ed. Swift, Jonathan. “A Modest Proposal.” Introduction to
Literature. Eds. Isobel Findlay et. al. 4th ed. Toronto: Harcourt Brace, 2001.


Word Count: 1230
Book Reports