On a Modest Proposal

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A Very Modest Proposal

During the final years of the seventeenth century, political pamphlets were distributed throughout Ireland to promote the ideas of various intellectuals. However, the general public did not pay attention to them and through them away. Jonathan Swift, author of “A Modest Proposal,” took advantage of the ignored pamphlets, and developed a truly ridiculous proposal. His main objective was to illustrate how deplorable the state of Ireland was, and to show how the distinction between different social classes was abysmal. Swift’s main idea was for the babies of all the poor and desolate to “contribute to the feeding, and partly to the clothing, of many thousands” (Swift 868) in order to improve Ireland’s economy and living standard. His idea originated from the large number of women who kept having children even though they were not able to provide for them. Swift also states that his proposal would make the babies “beneficial to the public” (866). He also states that he is proposing this because of Ireland’s truly low living standards. Thus, he blames the politicians for the poor conditions of the country (specially because the apathy and laziness they present while making decisions to improve the conditions) In “A Modest Proposal”, Swift brilliantly uses irony, sarcasm, and rhetorical exaggeration to reveal his frustration and disapproval at the current behavior of politicians, papists, and citizens of the impoverished Ireland during the late seventeenth century. Nevertheless, there are three important factors that show the reader that Swift’s arguments are not to be taken seriously: The tone of the writing, the insincerity of the author, and the utter absurdity of the proposal. As mentioned above, in “A Modest Proposal” Jonathan Swift does not exclusively blames the Irish people, but also the politicians, and the English. Swift writes that if a poor young child somehow manages to survive the dangerous childhood years, they would be left whit very few options to keep on living into adulthood: they would either “leave their dear native country to fight for the Pretender in Spain” or “they would sell themselves to the Barbados,” as servants (867). Here, Swift implies that the once that left Ireland do not have either pride in their country, nor sense of nationalism, and thus are also responsible for Irelands demise. The essay also shows Swift’s deep resentment towards the Roman Catholics (referred in the essay as “papists”). In the thirteenth paragraph, Swift observes that Catholic babies are born nine months after Lent, and thus this would be a good season to buy them in the markets (plus, they would have another advantage, the would be “lessening the number of papists among us” (869)). From this paragraph onwards, the author shows his animosity towards papists by wanting to reduce the number of their children and therefore reducing the amount of Catholics in general. Also, another evaluation can be made from the fact that Jonathan Swift himself was an ordained Anglican priest (866). Considering the constant conflict between catholics and protestants, it is quite possible that the Catholic Church had some influence on the Irish economy (or so, the author leads us to believe). Another annoyance exposed to the audience is the confrontation between Ireland and England. During the final years of the seventeenth century, Ireland was controlled by her nearby nation, England, and suffered (among other things) of imposed taxes. In the text, Swift strongly expresses how the English oppressed Ireland by saying: Let no man talk to me of other expedients: of taxing our absentees at 5s. a pound: of using neither clothes, nor household furniture, except what is of our own growth and manufacture: of utterly rejecting the materials and instruments that promote foreign luxury: of curing the expensiveness of pride, vanity, idleness, and gaming in our women: of introducing a vein of parsimony, prudence and temperance: of...
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