The Foreigner in "A Modest Proposal"
William Bostwick '07, English 171,Sages, Satirists, and New Journalists, Brown University, Autumn 2003
Though eating young children serves a nationalistic purpose, curing the societal ills of "this one individual Kingdom of Ireland," the narrator of Swift's "A Modest Proposal" hears of this remedy from a foreigner (p. 5). Moreover, the narrator's informant, an American, learns about this idea from yet another foreigner, this time from the island of Formosa.
I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food. [p. 2]
But in order to justify my friend, he confessed, that this expedient was put into his head by the famous Salmanaazor, a native of the island Formosa. [p. 4]
1. Why doesn't the narrator take all the credit for the idea? What is the narrator's role in the essay -- is he merely a messenger?
2. Part of the narrator's support for this idea stems from the fact that it would enable Ireland to take her future into her own hands. Why then does the narrator suggest that his country adopt the practice of some foreign nation, when this seems to mimic the traitorous Catholics who attempt to put Ireland under the control of the Pope?
3. What does placing the solution's source in a foreign country do to the believability of the idea itself? Is it more or less plausible that such an idea would work because an American or the famous Salmanaazor came up with it?
4. The narrator, then, is not speaking from experience, nor does he have any personal interest in his plan. This seems very different from Didion's tactic, which places the narrator within each event -- whether it's a Doors recording session or the controlling of Southern California's water. Is the narrator's argument here more or less convincing than Didion's, and does this have anything to do with the role of the narrator?
Last modified 9 February 2005