A Modest Proposal by Jonathan SwiftLast night my daughter asked me to watch what passes for comedy to pre-teens on Nickelodeon; a show low on laughs but high on laugh track. Its Halloween week and of course the thematic drum of cheap scares and slutty costumes (those of you dads that have 11 year old girls know what it is like to take a knee at the end of the show to have a side-bar chat about this topic alone) plays large when midway through the episode a six year old girl dressed like a failing barrister circa 1735 comes firing on stage screaming at her parents because they got her a Jonathan Swift costume instead of the requested Taylor Swift. This is where I wanted to pause live TV to tell my daughter about the original Swift, about A Modest Proposal - how our current American culture screams for someone like him to write about our never-ending race problem, our soul sucking capitalism-at-any-cost, our failed PAC-fueled political system. But my daughter is 11, I am 45, its late on Saturday night and I dont have it in me. I watch the Jonathan Swift girl rant and rave and I drool thinking about delicious Irish babies in a white wine sauce.
A Modest Proposal
If you want to know how different the world was in , consider Jonathan Swift 's case for cannibalism in A Modest Proposal. Okay, stop and take a moment to pick your collective jaws off the ground. The 18th century may have been a wild time, but Swift's proposal wasn't for real. A self-appointed shock jock, Swift was just satirizing the stingy British approach to dealing with their Irish subjects. If you thought Swift was serious about boiling babies, you wouldn't be the first. By the time Swift published A Modest Proposal , he'd already had his work misinterpreted by the Queen of England and countless other humorless readers who didn't understand irony. Swift wasn't winning any popularity contests in England, that's for sure.
Jonathan Swift 's attack on the British government's inability to solve the problem of poverty in Ireland is one of the literary canon's most famous examples of satire. A Modest Proposal proposes that the most obvious solution to Ireland's economic crisis is for the Irish to sell their children as food. Shockingly, it also suggests various ways in which they can be prepared and served. The detached, serious tone of its narrator emphasises the horror of what Swift is actually recommending: only in its final paragraphs, when the essay turns to the realities of the Irish economic system and the problems caused by absentee landlords, does the author's real view become clear. Despite its power as a piece of rhetoric, A Modest Proposal did not lead to any lasting changes for Ireland's rural poor. Just over a century later, thousands would perish in the Great Famine. This copy of A Modest Proposal is unique because it has been bound together with other printed pamphlets collected by a private buyer.
The essay suggests that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food to rich gentlemen and ladies. This satirical hyperbole mocked heartless attitudes towards the poor, as well as British policy toward the Irish in general. In English writing, the phrase "a modest proposal " is now conventionally an allusion to this style of straight-faced satire. Swift's essay is widely held to be one of the greatest examples of sustained irony in the history of the English language. Much of its shock value derives from the fact that the first portion of the essay describes the plight of starving beggars in Ireland, so that the reader is unprepared for the surprise of Swift's solution when he states: "A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee , or a ragout.
A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick.
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The author argues, by hard-edged economic reasoning as well as from a self-righteous moral stance, for a way to turn this problem into its own solution. His proposal, in effect, is to fatten up these undernourished children and feed them to Ireland's rich land-owners. Children of the poor could be sold into a meat market at the age of one, he argues, thus combating overpopulation and unemployment, sparing families the expense of child-bearing while providing them with a little extra income, improving the culinary experience of the wealthy, and contributing to the overall economic well-being of the nation. The author offers statistical support for his assertions and gives specific data about the number of children to be sold, their weight and price, and the projected consumption patterns. He suggests some recipes for preparing this delicious new meat, and he feels sure that innovative cooks will be quick to generate more.