Jonathan Swift a Modest Proposal
A Modest Proposal is a satirical essay written by Jonathan Swift in 1729. In mocking British attitudes towards the poor, Swift recommends that impoverished Irish parents sell their children to be used as food. The full title of the work is: A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick.
The exact reasons that Swift wrote A Modest Proposal remain unclear. Some scholars believe that because he had been exiled to Ireland, he was attempting to bring to light the abuses of the Irish at the hands of the English. It was to England’s political advantage to keep the Irish poor, and Swift was also enraged at the seeming passivity of the Irish to accept the situation. Other scholars maintain that Swift, rather than complaining about conditions in Ireland, was lampooning numerous popular solutions to various social problems that were being offered in the English press.
Swift’s literary rhetoric creates both a sense of sympathy for the Irish and a dislike of the narrator, using the seriousness of tone to undermine the ludicrous solution that he offers. It is not until one is deep in the pamphlet that one begins to understand exactly what is being proposed. In this he was following a long tradition of satires that had been written by various Roman authors, including Tertullian, Horace and Juvenal.