Contained within the satire essay ‘A Modest Proposal, Johnathan Swift not only entertains with a backhanded and witty criticism of the privileged and hypocritical wealthy, the ridiculous uselessness of the politicians in Ireland, and the dreadful conditions that the poor in Ireland must endure. Swift ridicules those who have the financial means to help, but refuse to help the situation in a positive way, as well as the horrid cruelty of the English that makes the whole thing absurdly incompetent on the part of those who refuse to help themselves. (Swift & Fabricant, 2011)
When Swift wrote this piece, in the 18th century, the practice of writing and distributing political pamphlets was popular. This allowed anyone who could write, the opportunity to share his or her opinion. Often these pamphlets offered ways that Ireland’s economic and social problems could be solved. Swift share his opinions with an ironic wit and strategic charm that offered ideas which were unrealistic and oftentimes rather horrific. (Swift & Fabricant, 2011)
The methods and style of Swift’s pamphlet reflects his apparent individual disappointment at his own view of failure in the field of journalism. Although, he does a fairly good job at expressing his own discontent in the political structure and leadership of Ireland, he also attacked the idea of an economic utilitarianism. Swift saw the idea of economics in a scientific and humanitarian format as absurd and not in agreement with how he thought it should work. (Swift & Fabricant, 2011)
The basic challenge of his ironic writing is that he could capture and hold the attention of an indifferent audience that had heard it all. His gift of biting but truthful wit that tested the true morality of those at the top, bottom, and in the middle, offered a negative string of absurdities that caused the reader to question his or her moralities in many different realms including politics, humanitarian acts, and personal values. Especially when he suggests that of the poor rid themselves of their children that it would save Ireland’s economy. ("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", n.d.) That was probably one of the most absurd items and one of the most surprising endings that this writer found. However, Swift also suggests to make use of the children. This of course could be to put them to work, but not employ them for the empowerment and economic gain of their parents, but just to keep them off the streets to avoid becoming another eyesore to the wealthy. His suggestions, while written in good humor to show what a ludicrous idea it is, was to suggest abortions of unborn children as a way to unburden society of the children born to unwed mothers. His reference to children as sheep and cattle can be reduced in numbers if the poor are not allowed to breed. hHe reflects his opinion of the Roman Catholic Church by offering up the fact that more children are born nine months after Lent.
In conclusion, Swift what offers is several ideas that suggest that parents who are poor should consider the idea of getting rid of their children, selling them to pay their way, avoid having them in the first place, or setting them free to roam. However, he does suggest that if they roam free that they will survive by killing the kingdom’s wild animals which will leave nothing for the Noblemen to hunt or eat. Swift’s use of the twisted humor and human nature to prove a point is noteworthy as one of the most politically damaging pieces of its time.
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. andromeda.rutgers.edu. Retrieved 25 April 2016, from https://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Texts/modest.html
Swift, J. & Fabricant, C. (2011). A Modest Proposal (1729) [in, A Modest Proposal and Other Writings: Edited with an Introduction by Carole Fabricant] (Penguin Classics). Cambridge [England]: Proquest LLC.