Jonathan Swift, in his "A Modest Proposal," argues that not only would selling babies as food be a way to counter the overpopulation and poverty problems facing his native Ireland, but it would also be a way to start a new culinary craze.

Whereas the maintainance of an hundred thousand children, from two years old, and upwards, cannot be computed at less than ten shillings a piece per annum, the nation's stock will thereby be increased fifty thousand pounds per annum, besides the profit of a new dish, introduced to the tables of all gentlemen of fortune in the kingdom, who have any refinement in taste. And the money will circulate among our selves, the goods being entirely of our own growth and manufacture. . . ."

This food would likewise bring great custom to taverns, where the vintners will certainly be so prudent as to procure the best receipts for dressing it to perfection; and consequently have their houses frequented by all the fine gentlemen, who justly value themselves upon their knowledge in good eating; and a skilful cook, who understands how to oblige his guests, will contrive to make it as expensive as they please."

Although he ostensibly is concerned with the poor and unfortunate of Ireland, his tone and content imply that he is writing for an educated, upper-class audience. In this particular passage, he takes the hard-sell approach, challenging his wealthy peers to object to his plan. His implication is that those people "who have any refinement in taste" must support his plan simply on an aesthetic level, for the culinary delights that they would otherwise be missing out on by dismissing his solution. In contrast with some of his other justifications, such as a deep want to eradicate poverty, brutal abortions, unclothed starving children, spousal abuse, etc., this reason is purely pleasure-based, ie, baby-eating for baby-eating's sake.

Some Questions

1. What kind of class-consciousness is revealed in Swift's appeal to the gourmand in his reader? Does it make it abundantly clear what type of reader he is addressing?

2. Is the language he uses on child-as-meal preparation ("a young healthy child" is "a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked or boiled") targeted toward a specific gender? Ie, does it sound to you like an article from Ladies' Home Journal?

3. Is this argument an effective one compared with some of his other justifications for eating babies? Why or why not?


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Last modified 8 September 2003