Short Story Analysis A Modest Proposal Jonathan Swift once remarked, “We have just religion enough to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another” (Conditions). 1729 was a time where both economic and religious struggles raged between Ireland and England. Jonathan Swift’s motives for A Modest Proposal were driven by influence, oppression, and poverty. This brutal yet ironic satire demonstrated Swift’s frustration in regards to English and Irish politics.
His mocking tone was to shock Ireland out of its weary state, and at the same time humiliate England. In the years prior to A Modest Proposal, Swift was a lobbyist for the Irish clergymen. Swift supported a religious group called the Tories for the reason that they backed the Church of Ireland’s position regarding taxation. He didn’t believe it to be fair that English clergymen were exempt from paying taxes, while the Irish church was forced to pay “first fruits and twentieth parts” (Critical Companion).
He pokes fun at the anti-Catholic audience with the statement, “…there are more children born in Roman Catholic countries about nine months after Lent, the markets will be more glutted than usual, because the number of Popish infants, is at least three to one in this kingdom, and therefore it will have one other collateral advantage, by lessening the number of Papists among us” (Modest Proposal).
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When the Whig government took over with King George I, he was left with no opportunity to advance his political involvement, so he felt forced to return to Ireland. “To Swift this meant for the time the fall from unique authority to absolute insignificance” (Life). This treatment that he received only fueled his anger and influenced his annoyance toward England’s neglect of Ireland. Oppression is defined as the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner.
Jonathan Swift implies in his writing of A Modest Proposal that England is full of greed and pays no regard to how their political actions may affect another country as shown in this excerpt from his satire, “But as to myself, having been wearied out for many years with offering vain, idle, visionary thoughts, and at length utterly despairing of success, I fortunately fell upon this proposal, which as it is wholly new, so it hath something solid and real, of no expense and little trouble, full in our own power, and whereby we can incur no danger in disobliging ENGLAND.
For this kind of commodity will not bear exportation, the flesh being of too tender a consistence to admit a long continuance in salt, although perhaps I could name a country which would be glad to eat up our whole nation without it”(Modest Proposal). It is seen in history books of English laws that were strategically passed to cripple the Irish economy, because to England, Irish success meant competition for England farms and businesses.
The Navigation Act, The Cattle Acts and the Woolen Act of the 1600’s are examples of England’s plan to control all exportation of goods in Ireland (Conditions). Which he states this point “Secondly, The poorer tenants will have something valuable of their own, which by law be made liable to distress, and help to pay their landlord’s rent, their corn and cattle being already seized, and money a thing unknown” (Modest Proposal).
Swift’s satire was a feeble yet extreme attempt to solicit England for any kind of possible way to make money, since all other ways of trade or exportation have been taken over by the English parliament. In A Modest Proposal Swift takes on the facade of a troubled economist who suggests that, in order to battle the deprivation and overpopulation in Ireland, the children of the poor be sold as food to the wealthy.
Inundated with poverty, famine, and the streets infested with beggars, 18th century Ireland was a dreadful scene. In 1718 the Archbishop of Dublin had written a letter to a friend that “the misery of the people here is very great, the beggars innumerable and increasing every day…One half of the people in Ireland eat neither bread nor flesh for one half of the year, nor wear shoes or stockings; your hogs in England and Essex calves lie and live better than they” (Conditions).
Swift emphasizes on these conditions in with the very first paragraph of his satire “It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great town, or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and 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” (Modest Proposal).
Later in his story he goes on to say “Some persons of a desponding spirit are in great concern about the vast number of poor people, who are aged, diseased, or maimed, and I have been desired to employ my thoughts what course may be taken to ease the nation of so grievous an encumbrance.
But I am not in the least pain upon that matter, because it is very well known that they are every day dying, and rotting, by cold, famine, and filths, and vermin, as fast as can be reasonably expected” (Modest Proposal). Swift argues that not only will the population be reduced, and brought back to a respectable country but the income of the poor families in Ireland will increase as they sell off their children for consumption.
Jonathan Swift questions both England and Ireland in A Modest Proposal of just how poorly, whether it is the manipulator or the manipulated can be dehumanized, “Once the process of dehumanization gets underway, as it obviously is, in a country in which no one – not even the unfortunate themselves – seems to mind or object to the fact that tens of thousands of human beings starve to death each year, where can one calmly, sanely, and logically draw the line and say thus far and no farther? (A Modest Proposal: An Introduction). He was infuriated at the submissiveness of the Irish people for sitting by casually and doing nothing about the conditions and treatment of their country. Influence, oppression, and poverty drove Jonathan Swift to write one of the most infamous satires called A Modest Proposal. Bibliography Baker, Lyman A. "Conditions in 18th-Century Ireland (ca. 1729). " Conditions in 18th-Century Ireland (ca. 1729). N. . , 28 Mar. 1999. Web. 14 June 2012. <http://www-personal. ksu. edu/~lyman/english320/sg-Swift-18thC. htm>. Cody, David. ""A Modest Proposal": An Introduction. " "A Modest Proposal": An Introduction. N. p. , July 2000. Web. 14 June 2012. <http://www. victorianweb. org/previctorian/swift/proposal1. html>. DeGategno, Paul J. , and R. Jay. Stubblefield. Critical Companion to Jonathan Swift: A Literary Reference to His Life and Works.
New York: Facts on File, 2006. Print. Jokinen, Anniina. "The Life of Jonathan Swift (1667-1745). " The Life of Jonathan Swift (1667-1745). N. p. , 16 Oct. 2006. Web. 19 June 2012. <http://www. luminarium. org/eightlit/swift/swiftbio. htm>. Widger, David, and Jonathan Swift. "A Modest Proposal. " Www. gutenberg. org. The Project Gutenberg EBook, 27 July 2008. Web. 21 June 2012. <http://www. gutenberg. org/files/1080/1080-h/1080-h. htm>.
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