Solving the plight of the poor children in Ireland
Natasha N. Bronn, English 171 Brown University, Autumn 2003
In his essay, "A Modest Proposal," Jonathan Swift "humbly" offers his insights into how to solve the plight of the poor children in Ireland. This essay is not, as one might assume, sympathetic to the poor children, who as Swift writes himself, are "every day dying, and rotting, by cold and famine." Instead Swift proposes that the children be breast fed by their mother's until the age of one and then sold to be eaten.
His horrifying ideas and rational are first discussed on the second page of the essay, in the tenth through the thirteenth paragraphs. In this section we see that Swift's plans not only include "breeding" poor people for the purpose of being consumed with "a little pepper or salt," but also have the "collateral advantage" of riding the nation of Catholics who, according to his research, produce more babies then any other group in the nine months that follow lent.
1. Swift at times appears to be sympathetic to poor, and has devoted much of his time to ‘solving' their problem, but he also refers to them as "breeders" and compares them to cattle. How does Swift truly view the poor?
2. In the tenth paragraph, Swift suggests that mother's are advised to allow their children to "suck plentifully" in the last month before they are eaten, but with no reference to how the mother might feel about helping her child to be a profitable meal. Does Swift have any sense of human emotion?
3. In the eleventh paragraph Swift states that the landlords have "already devoured" these children's parents. In what sense does Swift use the term "devoured" here?
4. Swift first exposes his joy that eating poor children will help to rid the nation of Catholics in the thirteenth paragraph, and mentions this several times more throughout the essay. How much do you think that Swift's contempt for Papists is a motivating factor in his plan?
Last modified 6 September 2003