Critical Response to A Modest Proposal
In A Modest Proposal, Jonathan Swift provides a logical solution to the poverty crisis in Ireland: eat the children of the disenfranchised lower class. Swift’s pattern of thought carries the reader through the process of birthing, raising, and breeding poor children as a delicate form of livestock which would theoretically alleviate Ireland of its financial and social burdens. The obvious irony in A Modest Proposal is that, by most moral standards, Swift’s proposal is far from modest. What impresses me about Swift is his ability to convincingly defend such a disingenuous opinion. In A Modest Proposal, Swift not only exhibits his rhetorical capability, but he also raises legitimate questions about the social climate of Ireland.
In the first six paragraphs, Swift presents himself as a clear-headed thinker who is worth listening to. Swift outlines the central concerns of his essay in a calculated and deceptively rational tone by using phrases like “agreed by all parties” and explaining that he has “maturely weighed the several schemes of [Ireland’s] projectors.” Swift presents his objective, truthful assessment of Ireland’s problem without so much as hinting at his extreme and highly questionable means to its solution. By the time Swift introduces his plan of action, he has already developed within the reader the idea that he is going somewhere logical. Swift’s opening argument captures an intellectual, concerned audience and promotes close reading—two factors that contribute to a higher yield of worthwhile response and criticism.
As ridiculous as Swift’s proposal may be, it ends with an acutely sobering defense. Before Swift anonymously signs off, he asks one favor of his proposal’s combatants: “Ask the parents of these mortals, whether they would not at this day think it a great happiness to have been sold for food at a year old.” (CT p. 224) I believe it is here that Swift...