Shocking the Sensibilities in A Modest Proposal
Two Works Cited Three years after Gulliver's Travels was published, Jonathan Swift wrote "A Modest Proposal," a work grounded in thoughtful satire. Swift describes the destitution that characterized the life of Ireland's poor in the 18th century then renders a brazenly inhumane solution to their problems. He shocks the sensibilities of the readers then leads them to consider the inhumanity of the destitution in the first place.
Although he was born in Ireland, Swift considered himself an Englishman first, and the English were his intended audience. Swift used the good reputation afforded him by previous works to expose an otherwise indifferent English public to the circumstances of Irish misery. Unfortunately, many of the English were so predisposed to hatred of the Irish that they would disregard the point of Swift's essay and might go so far as to endorse Swift's proposal. For the people of Ireland, "A Modest Proposal" built upon Swift's earlier Drapier's Letters and made Swift a national hero (Bookshelf).
"A Modest Proposal" begins with a description of the state of 18th century Irish life. Ireland was a place where children too often became beggars or thieves to sustain themselves or their families, women had abortions because they could not afford to raise children, few jobs were available to the workforce, and landlords abused poor tenants. As miserable as the picture Swift painted of Irish life was, the brushstrokes of history were even harsher. Actions of the English in the previous century had thrust the Irish people into a state of diaspora; tens of thousands had been killed, thousands had been enslaved, and the majority were forcibly relocated to other parts of Ireland. By the 18th century, Irish Catholics were denied suffrage, education, and the opportunity to serve in the military.
After the introduction to the problem, Swift describes his solution, with the first paragraphs indicative of the faux panacea he crafts it to be. He proposes that the children of Ireland's poor should be utilized as a food supply and a source of leather products. The body of the essay is devoted to an unflinchingly positive portrayal of this proposal and its benefits. Swift also addresses problems that would arise if...