In the mid 1700’s, Ireland was an impoverished kingdom, controlled by
wealthy English landowners. Many Irish, especially the Roman
Catholics, were unemployed, malnourished, and most Irish families had
four or more children. In response to the plight of his country,
Jonathan Swift created for the people A Modest Proposal. His
proposal, although tongue-in-cheek, was somewhat ill-received by the
public, as well it should have been. The proposal, had it been
more than just political satire, would have reduced the famine two
fold. First, by creating more food and second, by reducing the number
of hungry mouths and hungry stomachs.
What was Swift’s proposal? That the Irish eat their own
children. And fashion from their skin ladies’ gloves and summer
boots for men. The full title for this proposal, which was
produced in 1729 as a political pamphlet, was A Modest Proposal for
Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burthen to their
Parents, or the Country, and for Making them Beneficial to the
Publick. Swift, through his proposal, argues for a way to turn
the problem of Irish children, predominately Catholic children,
underfed and often without proper clothing, into its own
solution. He uses economic reasoning as well as a self-righteous
morality to bring his “solution” to light.
His proposal of selling year old infants into a meat market does not
only serve to solve the problem of famine but also the problems of
overpopulation and massive unemployment as well.
If considered as
serious, the suggestion of using the children of the impoverished Irish
peasants as food would save their families the cost of rearing them,
not to mention offering them an income they didn’t have otherwise.
Swift put into his proposal a great deal of planning. He answers
the question of how many children will be sold, the price of each child
depending on weight, and how many meals could be taken from each child.
He also explains how his proposal will help families in the long run,
in more ways than just financially. Husbands will be more
respectful and sympathetic to their wives. Parents, both poor and
wealthy, will value their living children more in the future than they
knew they could at the time the proposal came out to the public.
The ultimate message contained within Swift’s Modest Proposal is that
implementation there of will do more to solve Ireland’s social,
political, and economic problems than anything suggested up to that