Analysis of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”
During the late seventeenth century, political pamphlets were distributed throughout Ireland to promote the ideas of various intellectuals and laymen. However, many discarded them and did not pay attention to them. Jonathan Swift, author of “A Modest Proposal,” takes advantage of the overlooked pamphlets, and constructs a ridiculous proposal. He does this to illustrate how backwards and bad the state of Ireland is and the social classes. Swift proposes that the babies of all the poor and desolate will “contribute to the feeding, and partly to the clothing, of many thousands” to improve Ireland’s economy and standard of living (Swift 868). He says this because many women kept having children but were unable to provide for them. He also states that his proposal would make the babies “beneficial to the public” (866). Also, it is proposed because of Ireland’s sincerely grim living standards. For these reasons, he looks at the politicians to blame for the poor conditions because of the apathy they presented while in the decision making process, to resolve the conditions. In “A Modest Proposal”, Swift effectively uses insincerity, sarcasm, and rhetorical exaggeration to reveal his annoyance of politicians, papists, and overall citizens of poverty-stricken Ireland in the late seventeenth century. However, there are three factors that make Swift’s argument not serious: the tone of the author, his insincerity, and ridiculousness of the proposal. In “A Modest Proposal” Jonathan Swift does not blame the shortcomings of Ireland on the people. He says that the people, politicians, and English were all to be at fault for the terrible state and poverty of Ireland. Swift states that if a poor infant passes the dangerous years of childhood, they would “leave their dear native country to fight for the Pretender in Spain [James Stuart]” or “they would sell themselves to the Barbados,” as indentured servants (867). Here, he suggests that neither the ones that did leave the country, have no sense of nationalism, nor do they have any pride in their country and have also lead to its demise. “A Modest Proposal” also reveals to the reader a sense of resentment towards Roman Catholics, often referred to as “papists” within the essay. In paragraph thirteen, Swift mentions that more Catholic babies are born nine months after Lent and will flood the market with infants. Later on, he says his proposal “will have one other collateral advantage, by lessening the number of papists among us” (869). From paragraph thirteen, the author reveals animosity towards papists by wanting to reduce the number of their children and therefore reducing the amount of Catholics. Also, another assessment can be made by the fact that Jonathan Swift himself was an ordained Anglican priest (866). Since the ever-present conflict between Catholics and Protests existed, it makes it quite possible that the Catholic Church had an influence on Ireland’s economy at the time or so Swift leads the reader to believe. Another annoyance revealed to the audience is the confrontations that Ireland had with England. During the late seventeenth century, Ireland was controlled by her neighboring nation, England. England imposed many heavy taxes upon the Irish as well as commandeers their resources for their own. In the text, Swift profoundly states how the English exploited 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 learning to love our country, wherein we differ even from Laplanders, and the inhabitants of Topinamboo:...
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