A Modest Proposal

From Academic Kids

A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public (1729) is a classic satire written by Jonathan Swift.

The author (who is not to be confused with Swift himself, but is merely a persona) argues, through economic reasoning as well as a self-righteous moral stance, for a way to turn the problem of squalor among the Catholics in Ireland into its own solution. His proposal is to fatten up the undernourished children and feed them to Ireland's rich land-owners. Children of the poor could be sold into a meat market at the age of one thus combating overpopulation and unemployment, sparing families the expense of child-bearing while providing them with a little extra income, improving the culinary experience of the wealthy, and contributing to the overall economic well-being of the nation.

He offers statistical support for his assertions and gives specific data about the number of children to be sold, their weight and price, and the projected consumption patterns. He suggests some recipes for preparing this delicious new meat, and he feels sure that innovative cooks will be quick to generate more. He also anticipates that the practice of selling and eating children will have positive effects on family morality: husbands will treat their wives with more respect, and parents will value their children in ways hitherto unknown. His conclusion is that the implementation of this project will do more to solve Ireland's complex social, political, and economic problems than any other measure that has been proposed.

This is widely believed to be the greatest example of sustained irony in the history of the English language.

Reactions

The satirical intent of A Modest Proposal was misunderstood by many of Swift's peers, and he was harshly criticised for writing prose in such exceptionally "bad taste". He was close to losing his patron because of this essay. The misunderstanding of the intent of the satirical attack came about because of the disparity between the cannibalistic proposal and the sincere tone of the narrative voice.

Modern usage

In modern usage, the phrase "modest proposal" has come to indicate a proposal that is anything but modest.

External links

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