A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift Book Review
In “A Modest Proposal”, Swift presents a satirical solution to the burden the impoverished people place on wealthy English landlords. The piece begins as Swift acknowledges the problem and pitches a solution on how to make the poor children “sound, useful members of the commonwealth” (paragraph 2) since there were so many without the appropriate means to live. The proposal quickly turns gruesome when Swift states that infants would be a “most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food” (paragraph 10) as this would be the only way the poor would become useful to society. Swift satirizes the exploitation of Ireland by the English and in doing so challenges the landlords who oppress people into poverty.
Swift includes understatements throughout his proposal to enhance the presence of satire. The title itself is an understatement, because there is nothing modest about proposing to eat children, but then again there was a lack of modesty in the English’s view and handling of this situation. Swift hopes that his ideas will “not be liable to the least objection” (paragraph 9) as if anyone would agree that cannibalism is morally and socially acceptable. Swift doesn’t forget to mention his idea is “fair, cheap, and easy” (paragraph 2), another understatement since there is a lack of fairness when it comes to eating people, and while it might not cost money to partake in, the price to pay emotionally is high. Understatements are a supporting element in this proposal since Swift tackles a socio-economic issue by down-playing the immorality and severity of what he is proposing.
Juxtaposition is also found among the heinous proposals. Swift claims that a child will taste good no matter if it is “stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled” (paragraph 4), insinuating that the cooked child will “equally serve” (paragraph 4) in other dishes if the animal is replaced. Normally, children are not cooked, eaten or killed for societal gain and the juxtaposition of such is vibrant in this proposal. The skin of the children could be used to make “admirable gloves for ladies” and “summer boots for fine gentlemen” (paragraph 16) which is crass and creates a horrifying image, all to emphasize how the Irish have been denied humanity by the wealthy English. Comparing the child to a roasting pig is the greatest juxtaposition of all since Swift deliberately states that a child will now be equal to a dead pig.
The addition of understatements and incorporation of juxtaposition speak to the inhumanity of not only the proposal but the true purpose of the writing, to jeer at the English who exploit the Irish. The piece ultimately is representative of Irish society and the oppression of such by the wealthy English who pride themselves on the wealth and humanity they possess and deny the Irish.