Inducements to Marriage and Better Child Care

Cecilia Kiely, English 171 Brown University, Autumn 2003

As Jonathan Swift supports his "Modest Proposal" by outlining several benefits of his plan to relieve the poverty in Ireland by serving poor Irish children as a delicacy, he offers this final reason:

This would be a great inducement to marriage, which all wise nations have either encouraged by rewards, or enforced by laws and penalties. It would encrease the care and tenderness of mothers towards their children, when they were sure of a settlement for life to the poor babes, provided in some sort by the publick, to their annual profit instead of expence. We should soon see an honest emulation among the married women, which of them could bring the fattest child to the market. Men would become as fond of their wives, during the time of their pregnancy, as they are now of their mares in foal, their cows in calf, or sow when they are ready to farrow; nor offer to beat or kick them (as is too frequent a practice) for fear of a miscarriage.

1. This final argument is at least twice as long as his first five. Does this indicate that it is a digression or does the elaboration signal that his commentary on marriage is central to his main argument?

2. If Swift’s commentary on marriage is fundamental to his argument against the British treatment of the situation in Ireland, how is that so?

3. If it is a digression, how does the humor add to the satire?

4. How does this passage about marriage serve as a transition to the "many other advantages" that he goes on to dismiss in the interest of "brevity"?
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Last modified: 8 September 2003