In the last few paragraphs of Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” the author seems to make a break in the satire, calling to attention the very real and dire situation of Ireland’s economy. By emphasizing the necessity for his proposed remedy, one “of no expence and little trouble” for the country, the author reveals that at the heart of his idea is a civic-minded program, one that would hope to foster patriotism and change, “full in [Ireland’s] own power, and whereby [Ireland] can incur no danger in disobliging England”. The author also directly addresses those opposed to his “scheme”, and urges them “maturely to consider” — and perhaps acknowledge — just how bad things have gotten in Ireland. When the author finally reveals in his last statement that he has no personal interest in his own proposal (being that he does not have children), he underlines the central idea of his idea: economic benefit.
The author’s Ireland is a nation plagued by extreme debt and shortage of food. After proposing his own solution to these problems, the social planner also agrees to entertain other remedies “proposed by wise men” — as long as they actually address the problems at hand in as “innocent, cheap, easy, and effectual” a way as the author’s does.
After all, I am not so violently bent upon my own opinion, as to reject any offer, proposed by wise men, which shall be found equally innocent, cheap, easy, and effectual. But before something of that kind shall be advanced in contradiction to my scheme, and offering a better, I desire the author or authors will be pleased maturely to consider two points. First, As things now stand, how they will be able to find food and raiment for a hundred thousand useless mouths and backs. And secondly, There being a round million of creatures in humane figure throughout this kingdom, whose whole subsistence put into a common stock, would leave them in debt two million of pounds sterling, adding those who are beggars by profession, to the bulk of farmers, cottagers and labourers, with their wives and children, who are beggars in effect; I desire those politicians who dislike my overture, and may perhaps be so bold to attempt an answer, that they will first ask the parents of these mortals, whether they would not at this day think it a great happiness to have been sold for food at a year old, in the manner I prescribe, and thereby have avoided such a perpetual scene of misfortunes, as they have since gone through, by the oppression of landlords, the impossibility of paying rent without money or trade, the want of common sustenance, with neither house nor cloaths to cover them from the inclemencies of the weather, and the most inevitable prospect of intailing the like, or greater miseries, upon their breed for ever.
At the end of this passage, the author goes so far as to assert that these “hundred thousand useless mouths and backs” may have been better off dead than as to have endured the suffering placed upon them by a miserable Ireland. If one accepts that a life of suffering is in fact not a life lived, then the author’s proposal seems quite modest after all.
1. Who is the author talking about when he refers to the country “which would be glad to eat up our whole nation without” preservatives? What is the author really saying?
2. The author urges those opposed to his proposal to consider two important issues: what do these issues primarily concern? What do they reveal about the state of Swift’s Ireland?
3. What does the author’s disinterestedness in his own proposal (due to his lack of children) reveal to the reader?
Swift, Jonathan. "A Modest Proposal."
Last modified 2 February 2011