Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Swift Wants to Fry Up Your Baby and Make Sweet Bacon!

During the early 1800's, a general strife was ongoing in Ireland, if one can deduce such facts from the allusions in Jonathon Swift's "A Modest Proposal". In the beginning of his satire, Swift draws in the reader by lamenting about the conditions of his town and country, "see the streets, the roads, the cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for an alms," (Greenblatt, et al, 2006). Apparently, the Irish countryside was flooded with beggars, many of them mothers with children in tow. Not only that, but the children born and raised in the degradation of perpetual poverty would only rise up to 'serve abroad' or likewise become beggars themselves. A last choice for the poor children of Ireland was to be a thief.

If the children truly wanted to aid society, Swift reasoned the only way for them to do that was to become a food source for the rich. The selling of children to the rich would help the oppressed people and made sense because, "this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children," (Greenblatt et al, 2006). In humorous tones, Swift goes on to describe the problems that the selling and eating of children would solve, such as 'lessening the number of papists [priests]', help tenants pay their rent, cause mothers to value their children even more (the ones they intend to keep at least), and it would cause men to appreciate their wives more because they would be more valuable as breeders, like cows, (Greenblatt et al, 2006).

All humor aside, what Swift really would have liked to have seen solved was taxes, pride, vanity, nationalism, fair dealings among merchants and shopkeepers, empathy from landlords towards their tenants, and an all encompassing goodness of man that would not so easily sell out his country or fellow man for nothing, (Greenblatt et al, 2006). His arguments were given more meaning because of the flippant way he made fun of them to begin with. There was truth in his humor and passion in his ending arguments that could not be denied.

Revolutionary writing like "A Modest Proposal" is necessary because it serves the purpose of illuminating the wrongs of society. It may not illustrate how to correct them, but by articulating the problems, change can occur over time once people begin to understand what is wrong and how it can be amended.

Greenblatt, et al. [Eds]. (2006). The norton anthology english literature (8th ed.). New York NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

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