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A Modest Proposal
March 10, 2011 - Regina Gonzalez
Jonathan Swift’s 1729 essay, “A Modest Proposal,” deals with food in an abstract albeit clever way. One could say it is more in tune with eating or devouring than actual food. Jonathan Swift was an Irish writer, and he wrote this satirical essay during a time of oppression in Ireland. “A Modest Proposal” was written to mock the British policy in Ireland and the way the upper class looked down upon the poor. Since the upper class controlled the government, the poor weren’t being assisted in any way. Basically, they were left to deal with their own plight and were seen as problems in themselves. In the essay, Swift presents an unconventional solution to the economic problems of Ireland‘s poor. His solution? Selling their children to upper class families as food.
This may seem down right outrageous, but that was Swift’s aim. Although the “food” in “A Modest Proposal” is not actually food, it still serves as an important symbol. It is meant to represent value. Children are not things to be bought and sold or treated like objects. Just like the poor of Ireland are not lesser people simply because they are poor. The essay’s off-the-wall proposal represents Britain’s disregard for common human decencies like value and compassion. The shock that the reader gets from the mere suggestion of the essay is meant to represent Swift’s outrage at the condition of the time. Morals are cast aside in his modest proposal as well as in the British policy in Ireland. Swift even offers a variety of ways a child might be served best and thwarts possible objections to his suggestion.
Children as food in “A Modest Proposal” serves the purpose of bringing a blunt yet valid truth to light. Although the message may seem pigeon holed to fit the time and situation in which the essay was written, it is applicable outside of that. In this instance food is used almost as a tool of rebellion. Swift had something to say and he choose the radical route and wrote this essay. They say you are what you eat, does the consumption of children make for the best politicians?
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