Critism: A Modest Proposal - A critique on Jonathan Swift's Modest Proposal

Essay by JHuynhCollege, UndergraduateC, November 2006

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Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" begins with a detailed description of the dire poverty that was rampant in Ireland during the early 1700s. Taking the stance of a detached and rational economist, the narrator's proposed solution is to use children as a resource, mainly as food. Swift goes into great length describing the proposal, discussing such minute details as the amount of servings each child will serve or the net profit the parents will make each year from selling their children. The bulk of his argument, however, can be summarized into six main points. This paper will review those points and discuss whether they contain any merit.

The first claim that the narrator makes is that the consumption of children will reduce the number of "papists" (Roman Catholics) who, according to him, were "most dangerous enemies" and also the "principal breeders of the nation". I find it ironic that the very people who the proposal is suppose to help - poor Irish families - fall into both these categories.

Ireland is a predominantly Roman Catholic country, and during the potato famine the only people who weren't poor were wealthy English gentlemen or landowners. The logical conclusion is that if the proposal was followed through, the vast majority of the Irish population would cease to exist within a few generations, since no children would be left to grow up and have children of their own. The fact that the narrator thinks this is a good thing implies that he is looking at it from an English point of view, which leads me to believe that Swift intended this to be a commentary on the animosity between England and Ireland, the latter feeling that it is being assimilated and oppressed by the former. In terms of supporting his proposal,