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Swift's "A Modeste Proposal" Essay

2011 words - 9 pages

Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”


English 301

December 3, 20xx

In “A Modest Proposal” (1729), Jonathan Swift used satire for a double purpose: to attack those that he considered responsible for the financial situation of Ireland, and in the same time, to push those who were in a position of power to take rational measures against poverty in Ireland. In his poem, Swift made use of the image of the Projector; a character whose role is that o designing plans that would lead to some improvements being made in the society. Swift’s narrator in “A Modest Proposal” is an Economic Projector who imagines the entire plan from the point of view ...view middle of the document...


Swift thus was inspired by the economists of his time in his construction of the cold, insensitive projector that proposes the cannibalistic strategy of enhancing Ireland’s economic situation. However, though it is clear that Swift did not agree with the economists’ ideas, which is obvious in his sarcastic impersonation of the projector, there is not a common understanding of Swift’s real intention regarding his narrator.

According to Thomas Lockwood (1979), there are two contrasting views in regards to Swift’s object of criticism in the poem. Apparently, some argue that Swift intended to criticize objectors by ironizing the way in which a projector would solve Ireland’s economic problem whereas according to another view, Swift only intended to criticize the situation itself. Lockwood argued in this respect that swift’s purpose was not that of attacking projectors though he was rather disappointed with them , “not because off their inhumanity or moral blindness, however, but rather their stupidity and ignorance in basing their schemes of reform on general economic theories”(p.255). This shows that Swift did not intend to realize a satire of the projectors, despite the fact that he did not necessarily like them, and did not consider that they hold the responsibility for what is going on in the country. Rather, the guilt was that of landlords who abused the poor and o the English government’s policies (Lockwood 1974).

Jonathan Swift is a writer, and the cause for which he fights is of personal interest to him. In Richardson’s view, Swift realized “a parody of abstract economic parody” as well as “a reflection, albeit exaggerated, of the real world” (2001, p. 405). He uses satire throughout his “Modest Proposal” in order to draw attention upon an important social issue and in order to argue that something must be done for the poor of Ireland, who are ripped from all means of subsistence. His arguments are directed against the rich Irish landowners, as well as against wealthy Englishmen who rip the skin of the poor people of Ireland. He thus proposes to literally do that to children of poor families: if their families sold them and the rich bought them, in order to use their skin for clothing, and eat their flesh, the economy would flourish. His argument is not controversial in shape. It is controversial in nature.

In order to understand the poem as swift intended it to be understood, one must first distinguish between the author’s voice and the narrator’s voice. According to Robert Phiddian, “the interpretation of the proposal has always involved awareness that it is not a ‘straight’ piece of economic projection, and that swift is operating independently of the narrator, in a covert manner”(1996, p.608). This means that the readers must interpret the poem in two different ways, as an economic proposal and as a political pamphlet. In other words, the narrator’s reality is not the same with the author’s reality. The...

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