Roberta Writes – A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift #classicbooks #readingcommunity

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The full name of Jonathan Swift’s pamphlet is A Modest Proposal For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick. This work is a Juvenalian satire which is a type of satirical writing that uses extreme hyperbole to mock or criticize some aspect of human behaviour, society, or government. A Modest Proposal mocks heartless attitudes towards the poor, as well as British policy towards the Irish in general.

The title is itself ironic because Swift’s proposal is not at all modest but is disgusting and absurd.

The essay starts by lamenting the sad fate of the children of the poverty-stricken Irish who live in squalor because their parents are too poor to keep them fed and clothed. Swift argues that the problem of too many children could be turned into a boon if the children of the poor were fattened up and sold into a meat market at the age of one year old.

He uses hard-edged economic reasoning to support his proposal and lists six advantages to selling Irish babies as food, namely, reducing the number of Catholics, allowing the poor to pay rent, improving the menus at eating establishments, relieving poor parents of the financial burden of raising children, improving marriage and family life for the Irish by making the children assets of value and the mothers’ contributors to the financial wealth of the family, and enriching the Irish nation.

Swift goes on to cite statistics in support of his argument in the form of specific data about the number of children to be sold, their weight and price, and the projected consumption patterns of the purchasers. He also suggests recipes for the preparation and cooking of the children.

His essay concludes that his proposal would solve Ireland’s complex social, political, and economic problems.

The purpose of A Modest Proposal is to comment on England’s legal and economic exploitation of Ireland. While the essay sometimes argues that the Irish themselves are partially to blame for their country’s problems, his main viewpoint is that the English were responsible for destroying Ireland’s economy and culture.

A Modest Proposal is a shocking but excellent piece of writing that highlights political and social injustices by using logical extremes to make a ridiculous argument for solving the problem of poverty in Ireland in 1729 when the piece was published. A Modest Proposal is still relevant because extreme poverty still plagues many countries in the world.

Quotes from A Modest Proposal

“I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young 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 fricasie, or a ragoust.”

“I have already computed the charge of nursing a beggar’s child … to be about two shillings per annum, rags included; and I believe no gentleman would repine to give ten shillings for the carcass of a good fat child, which, as I have said, will make four dishes of excellent nutritive meat.

Those who are more thrifty (as I must confess the times require) may flay the carcass; the skin of which artificially dressed will make admirable gloves for ladies, and summer boots for fine gentlemen.”

“whoever could find out a fair, cheap and easy method of making these children sound and useful members of the common-wealth, would deserve so well of the public, as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation.”

Purchase A Modern Proposal by Jonathan Swift

Amazon US (also available as an audio book) (available for free download

69 thoughts on “Roberta Writes – A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift #classicbooks #readingcommunity

        1. I still have my books from those two classes, lovingly preserved in amber (so to speak). My hardest class was US Government, not because the material was difficult but because I was bored to tears, and I hated multiple guess tests.

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    1. Hi Jan, the attitude of the conservatives in the USA towards abortion is a complete mystery to me. I don’t like the idea at all, but it is a necessity in this world of poverty, ignorance, and overpopulation. Thanks for visiting. PS, Charles Dickens made some interesting points about the attitude of the wealthy Victorians to welfare and poverty in A Christmas Carol which I also read this holiday.

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  1. This book sounds about as dark as black humour can be. I’m a fan of dark humour. It is quite effective in challenging many a person’s thoughts.
    I didn’t know about this book, but I am glad I do now. My heritage is part Irish, and I know my father’s side of the family came over to Canada in the mid/late 1800’s because they were impoverished and hungry.
    It seems the Irish never caught a break.
    I might not read the book, as I am already a full of empathy for the world’s poor.
    I am SO lucky!
    Although very different, this has made me think about the movie “Soylent Green” Based on, Make Room! Make Room! 1966 novel by Harry Harrison.

    The evolution of man is fascinating, wonderful and sickening all at the same time.
    Great post, Roberta!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Resa, I am glad I could introduce this essay to you. It is quite short and tightly written, but a ‘hard’ read. My dad is of Irish descent too. I do know the movie Soylent Green and the idea of eating human flesh is similar but the concept behind it is very different. I agree that mankind is a strange and mysterious species. Our biggest issue is that it is the people who have our worst characteristics of power hungriness, greed, and selfishness that always look for leadership and power and that is a bad thing for society. Anyhow, a new year so onwards and upwards. Cheers!

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    1. Hi Mae, I have always wanted to revisit this essay and I finally got around to it. I am pleased it did, it was completely fascinating and I understood a lot more of the underlying message now than when I read it as a youngster. It would not be for everyone, it is a ‘hard’ read.

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    1. Hi Jacquie, I have never forgotten the description of how the children should be served – baked or boiled, etc. I read it when I was 12 and never forgot it. I wanted to revisit it so I did. It was even more fascinating than I remembered and, sadly, still relevant.

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  2. I read of a football player who will receive $425 million for a two-and-a-half-year contract. I have no idea how much that man donates to charity but I bet if it was $400 million he would, one: remain a very rich person from previous signing-on fees etc, etc and, two: the rest of the world would know about it. There is poverty in every country on every continent. It remains a testament to how self-centred some people are and how ready to turn away from reality others are.
    This is a wonderful post of yours, Robbie.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This sounds like such an interesting book, Robbie. A wonderful use of hyperbole and sarcasm to get a point across. Life is exactly like this in the US right now, half of the country coming up with the cruelest and most heartless ideas possible. I have to agree with Bernadette that they’d take Swift’s suggestions seriously.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I had not heard of this pamphlet/book before and it sounds frightening, even though it is sarcasm. Unfortunately, too many of our children and youth in North America are living in terrible and poor conditions. Not my cup of tea, but it sounds like an important read. Not much has changed and I agree with Diana.

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  5. Swift could do sarcastic incredibly well, and he knew how to win experts using their own tools and arguments, although yes, it is horrifying to think that we haven’t come as far off as we’d like to think. Thanks for the recommendation, Robbie.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Charles, my grade 4 teacher read an extract from this book to the class and I never forgot it. I read it then (I was ten and didn’t fully understand it, but got the point). I found it equally compelling and horrifying when I re-read it recently. I’m glad you enjoyed this post.


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