Swifts' Powerful Message in A Modest Proposal
In the Holy Bible, Jesus Christ states that there will always be poor, pathetic, struggling masses and nothing we can do will ever completely eliminate this element. Swift also acknowledges the homeless people, but in a different vein than Christ. In "A Modest Proposal," the narrator expresses pity for the poor, but at the same time he strives to maintain his social dominance over them. According to Swift, the English-Irish common people of the time exist in a disgusting state, a fact that he attempts to make the English Parliament aware of. The poor that Swift refers to are Catholics, peasants, and every homeless man, woman, and child in the entire kingdom. Swift is worried that the Parliament is ignorant of the fact that there is a great socioeconomic distance between the increasing number of peasants and the aristocracy, and that this distance has powerful repercussions. Swift conveys his message in essay-form with satire, humor, and shock value as his weapons.
Swift pursues his main point in the first paragraph:
It is a melancholy object to those who walk through [Dublin]
. . .when they see . . .beggars of the female sex, followed by
three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every
passenger for an alms. These mothers instead of being able
to work for their honest livelihood, are forced to employ all
their time in strolling to beg sustenance for their helpless
infants, who, as they grow up, either turn thieves for want of
work or fight for the Pretender in Spain. (2181)
The last statement regarding the Pretender in Spain is a stab at Catholicism, the Pretender, being the Catholic James II, claimant to the English crown. In fact, Catholics are the butt of many sardonic jokes in the essay. Swift viewed Catholics as the main cause of this deplorable state, "being the principal breeders of the nation as well as our most dangerous enemies"(2184). This refers to the Catholic doctrine prohibiting birth control.
Swift estimates that there are 120,000 children of poor parents born annually. These children are a burden on society because " . . .we can neither employ them in handicraft or agriculture "(2183), they have no practical skills or uses. To deal with this problem, Swift makes his "modest proposal," using a device that is timeless in its effectiveness-shock value:
[A] healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious
nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted,
baked or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve
in a fricassee or a ragout. (2182)...