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A Paper Examining the Symbolism in a Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

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A Not So Modest Proposal

During the late seventeenth century, there were many pleas made for the people of Ireland to the government of England and to the people themselves. Unfortunately, those pleas either fell on deaf ears or were ignored because of inconvenience. After many failed attempts, Jonathan Swift decided to write a proposal that would be a final solution for the situation the people of Ireland were in. Swift saw that conventional proposals were not working so he decided he would write a proposal that was so ridiculous that it had to get the people's attention. Many people thought that Swift was being serious when he wrote "A Modest Proposal", but Swift clearly shows us that he is not being serious through his tone, his insincerity and the rhetoric.

In his proposal, Jonathan Swift does not blame the Irish people for their deficiency. He says that the Church, the English Government, and all the people of Ireland were to blame for the poor state that Ireland was in. In the proposal Swift says that if the infants of the poor survived their childhood, they would "leave their dear native country to fight for the Pretender in Spain" or "they would sell themselves to the Barbados," as indentured servants (Lawall 341). Here, Swift is saying that even the ones who left the country are to blame because they did not have any pride in their country or any sense of nationalism.

Swift also shows us a sense of his resentment towards the Roman Catholics, which he referred to as "papists" in "A Modest Proposal". Swift states, in the thirteenth paragraph, that more Catholic babies are born nine months after Lent, which inconveniently floods the market of newborns. Further into his essay he says his proposal "will have one other collateral advantage, by lessening the number of the papists among us" (Lawall 343). At that point Swift reveals his animosity towards the papists by showing his desire to decrease the number of their children and therefore reducing the number of Catholics in Ireland. Another conclusion can be made by the fact that Jonathan Swift was an ordained Anglican priest (Lawall 289). Swift's obvious animosity towards the Catholic Church may have not only stemmed from its influence in Ireland's economy, but also from the ever-present conflict between Catholics and Protestants.

Swifts irritation with the numerous confrontations between England and Ireland was also something that Swift points out in his essay. During this time period, England was in control of neighboring Ireland. The English government forced several heavy taxes upon the Irish as well as plundered their land for resources and produce. In his essay, Swift specifically points out exactly how the Irish were being exploited by the English. He calls for a tax on all absentee landlords and encourages the people of Ireland to boycott all foreign goods, especially those coming from England. He tells them to support their own country by buying goods made by their fellow Irishman and to have a sense of national pride. He implores that they stop fighting among themselves and band together to help solve the poor state that Ireland was in (Lawall 346).

Not only does Swift speak for a stand against English opposition and a sense of Irish "self-determination", but he also attacks America. He refers to the Americans as cannibals. Swift says "a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London" assured him "that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food" (Lawall 342).

Swift not only blames outside parties for the state of poverty that Ireland was in; he also exaggerates the situation in order to magnify how disgusting and poor Ireland really was. He accomplishes this at the beginning of the essay by making his tone one that is not serious. He uses his insincerity and dishonesty to his advantage in the underlying point of his proposal (Phiddian 614). Swift comes across as this way throughout his entire essay because of how ridiculously absurd the proposal is. He proposes that the solution to the current state of Ireland is for the people to eat their poor helpless children. It is hard to believe that anyone who would suggest something like that was actually being serious, but of course Swift was not. However, Swift throws the proposal out there as if he was having a normal conversation about something absolutely normal. This tone makes the reader think he is untrustworthy and insincere (Baker 219).

Further into his essay, Swift becomes even more insincere when he says that he "[has] the least personal interest" in slaughtering Irish children for food. He does not think that "endeavoring [them] to promote this necessary work" of "the public good of" Ireland by the advancement of their "trade, providing for infants, [and] relieving the poor" (Lawall 347). Jonathan Swift, at another instance, brings on a sense of insincerity when he says that he does not have any personal attachment

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