In "A Modest Proposal" Jonathan Swift ironically supports the consumption and sale of infants as a "swift" remedy to Irish poverty, outlining his rationale with both cost-cutting and moralistic advantages. However, his argument repeatedly contradicts itself; he stolidly assumes an impassive mother who would happily and willingly release her children into slaughter for the public and private good, yet simultaneously passionately asserts that the consumption of children

will prevent those voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas! too frequent among us! sacrificing the poor innocent babes I doubt more to avoid the expense than the shame, which would move to tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast [and] . . . would increase the car and tenderness of mothers toward their children, when they were sure of a settlement for life to the poor babes.

Questions

In what ways does Swift's diction vacillate between the emotional and the unemotional? the logical and the illogical?

How does this fluctuation highlight both his own radical notions and his criticism of Britain's hypocrisy and insensitivity to Ireland's plight?


Website Overview Screen Before Victoria Jonathan Swift Reading Questions Neoclassicism

Last modified 7 September 2003