A Modest Proposal Summary
A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift
This essay, written by Jonathan Swift in 1729, is a satire in which he outlines suggestions for helping the poor people of Ireland in ridiculous ways. Although the problem he describes is real, he chooses to deal with it in a mocking manner because the government is not taking the poverty issue seriously or doing anything to relieve the problem. He hoped that this essay would grab their attention.
He begins by honestly explaining the problem that Irish families are facing. Parents are unable to feed their children. Mothers have to beg or sell themselves in order to provide for their families. He explains that they need to find a fair, inexpensive, and quick way to assist these people who are lacking basic necessities.
Since children are basically nourished through their mother's milk for the first year of their lives, he has a suggestion for what they should do with infants once they reach the end of their first year of life. He lists some approximate numbers of people in Ireland leading to the conclusion that approximately 120,000 children are born there each year. Therefore, they need to find something to do with this vast amount of children who are too young to work or provide anything to their families.
He claims that he knows an American who assured him that children make delicious meat when served in stews or other tasty dishes. Therefore, he suggests that they keep around 20,000 children for breeding purposes, and the remaining 100,000 be sold to people of high quality for food. Infant flesh would always be in season, moreso around Lent because people tend to procreate more in the nine months after the end of their time of abstinence has ended. He suggests the skin of these children could be sold separately to be made into such things as gloves or boots.
He realizes there will be objections to this practice, relating to the cruelty or the fact that it doesn't help the hungry teenagers or the feeble elderly who already are wasting away in Ireland. He believes many of them will die off soon, and no longer be of concern. He wishes to focus on the advantages of his solution rather than fixate on the minor problems with it.
First, it will lessen the number of Papists in their country as they are the principal breeders. Second, it will give the poor something of value, which they may sell to pay their bills. Third, it will provide a product which the countrymen can produce themselves. Fourth, it will relieve the burden of the parents for having to care for these children after their first year. Fifth, it will bring new culinary delights to their restaurants. Sixth, pregnant mothers would become revered and prized by their husbands.
He admits that it will result in a decrease in the number of inhabitants of Ireland, but he believes this practice will unite the people that remain due to the improved conditions and pride they take in the improvement of their nation. He asks that if anyone have a better suggestion for solving the poverty problem that they come forward and let it be known.
He sums up by saying he has no personal stock in enacting this system as he has no young children, and his wife is past childbearing age.
A Modest Proposal Quiz
A Modest Proposal begins by lamenting the sad fate of the poverty-stricken Irish who have to spend all their time looking for food to stuff in their kids' mouths. Luckily, the author has come up with an excellent way to put the brats to good use: raise them as food for wealthy citizens. Really, it all makes perfect sense. If you aren't entirely convinced right away, he proceeds to spell out the benefits.
It's all good, because only 100,000 Irish children out of the population will be set aside for dinner. If you're not sure how to cook a child, don't worry. A friend of the author passes on some very helpful suggestions regarding stewing, roasting, baking, and boiling methods. Even better, the author calculates exactly how much a child should weigh to serve the maximum number of guests.
Best of all, raising children for food will give the Irish economy a substantial boost. These kids are delicacies, after all, and delicacies don't come cheaply. Not only can parents make a tidy profit on their youngsters, but the culinary experience will make Ireland a hot spot for tourists.
The author insists that the only objection anyone could possibly have to this plan is that fewer people will occupy Ireland. But see, reducing the population makes it easier for the great and noble England to deal with their unruly subjects. If you have any residual doubts that the plan won't work, he argues, ask the parents whether they'd be happier with a whiny kid or a couple dollars in their pockets. It's a no-brainer.
And just so you know that the author isn't biased, take this into account: he can't possibly profit from the brilliant scheme, given that his kids are too old and tough to fetch much money.