The Projector's Friend in "A Modest Proposal"
Stephen Kilar, English 171 Brown University, Autumn 2003
In "A Modest Proposal," Swift offers a number of supports for his plan to sell and eat the babies poor citizens in eighteenth-century Ireland. The following passage details a similar plan in which teenagers act as substitutes for deer, as proposed by Swift's friend. Swift manipulates his friend's suggestion so that it seems both cruel and irrational, while simultaneously supporting his own.
ÊA very worthy person, a true lover of his country, and whose virtues I highly esteem, was lately pleased in discoursing on this matter to offer a refinement upon my scheme. He said that many gentlemen of this kingdom, having of late destroyed their deer, he conceived that the want of venison might be well supplied by the bodies of young lads and maidens, not exceeding fourteen years of age nor under twelve; so great a number of both sexes in every country being now ready to starve for want of work and service; and these to be disposed of by their parents, if alive, or otherwise by their nearest relations. But with due deference to so excellent a friend and so deserving a patriot, I cannot be altogether in his sentiments; for as to the males, my American acquaintance assured me, from frequent experience, that their flesh was generally tough and lean, like that of our schoolboys by continual exercise, and their taste disagreeable; and to fatten them would not answer the charge. Then as to the females, it would, I think, with humble submission be a loss to the public, because they soon would become breeders themselves; and besides, it is not improbable that some scrupulous people might be apt to censure such a practice (although indeed very unjustly), as a little bordering upon cruelty; which, I confess, hath always been with me the strongest objection against any project, however so well intended.
But in order to justify my friend, he confessed that this expedient was put into his head by the famous Psalmanazar, a native of the island Formosa, who came from thence to London above twenty years ago, and in conversation told my friend, that in his country when any young person happened to be put to death, the executioner sold the carcass to persons of quality as a prime dainty; and that in his time the body of a plump girl of fifteen, who was crucified for an attempt to poison the emperor, was sold to his imperial majesty's prime minister of state, and other great mandarins of the court, in joints from the gibbet, at four hundred crowns. Neither indeed can I deny, that if the same use were made of several plump young girls in this town, who without one single groat to their fortunes cannot stir abroad without a chair, and appear at playhouse and assemblies in foreign fineries which they never will pay for, the kingdom would not be the worse.
- How does Swift's speaker introduce his friend in a manner that gains the audience's trust? How does he later describe him in order to change their opinion of the "friend"?
- What effect does the Projector's disagreement and then justification of his friend's argument have on the reader?
- How does Swift successfully make the transition between critiquing and then justifying the friend's proposal?
- Does Swift's speaker ever defend the cruelty of his own plan, or even mention it? Or does he only assume it isn't cruel by categorizing other proposals in this manner?
Last modified 7 September 2003