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Don Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

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"A Modest Proposal?"

"A Modest Proposal" is a brilliant satirical essay written in 1729 by Jonathan Swift. Swift, who was also a clergyman, was well known for his biting satire and nowhere is it more evident than in "A Modest Proposal". Swift hoped to use this essay to bring attention to the horrific treatment and living conditions of the poor and homeless Irish of that time and to try and persuade his colleagues and his congregation to do something about the situation besides complain.

To correct the problem of the poverty-stricken population of 1700's Ireland, Swift proposes that the children of the poor should be killed and eaten. This will help both the poor Irish, who can't afford to care for their children anyway, and the prosperous businessmen of the time, who will get a good meal and also make a profit out of the whole process. Swift explains the reason for his proposal in the very first sentence of his essay: "For Preventing The Children Of Poor People In Ireland From Being A Burden To Their Parents Or Country, And For Making Them Beneficial To The Public"(1)

By using satire, Swift holds up to light the appalling treatment of the Irish by Absentee landlords and by the businessmen of the time who controlled the economy. When Swift proposes that the children be sold and eaten he is comparing the treatment of the Irish to cattle and pigs of the day; they are treated like animals and thought of as animals so why not eat the children as a solution to the problem of the poor and homeless? Swift states that "[the landlords]...have already devoured most of the parents" (2) and is exposing the fact that the poor of Ireland are being "eaten alive" by the high rent and the taxes being imposed upon them by absentee landlords. He refers to the mothers as "dams" and "breeders".(3) He advocates using the skin of the infants to make gloves and boots. One of the most horrible comparisons is the one where he "recommends buying the children alive and dressing them hot from the knife, as we do roasting pigs".(2) These comparisons emphasize the point that the Irish are thought of as nothing more than animals.

Swift goes on to list the benefits and advantages of his "modest proposal". If the parents sold their children, they wouldn't have to take care of them after the first year and it would put some money in the pockets of the poor. He also asserts that his proposal would improve relations between Irish men and women; since the babies would be a source of income, men would not want to damage the "herd" and therefore would not be so inclined to abuse their spouses. He also suggests that a side effect of eating the children would be an increase in beef profits because the Irish would be eating less beef and they could export more beef to other countries and make more money. He also puts forth a moral advantage "...that it will prevent those voluntary abortions ...women murdering their bastard children,..."(1) All of these benefits and advantages are presented as facts and figures that Swift has researched. One source is an American and another is a Frenchman; both of whom he quotes in the article as being authorities on the matter.

Swift very effectively uses logic in support of his proposal. He points out that if his proposal was taken seriously and the Irish actually did begin to sell their children for food, all the advantages that he espoused would take place. The poor would be reduced in number, the children of the Irish would no longer be a burden upon their families or the general population, and the economy would improve. The very rationality of Swift's arguments is



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