In “A Modest Proposal”, Jonathan Swift takes aim at the common perception of the poverty stricken class in Ireland in the 1700s. Swift’s solution to the problems of economic strife faced by the lower class is to resort to infanticide and cannibalism upon the first birthday of any child born to a poor family.
Obviously, Swift’s true motive for writing “A Modest Proposal” is not to encourage society to sit down to a dinner of stewed infant, but to show how the lower class is unfairly perceived by society in general.
One of the most common views of the population in Ireland during this time period was that in which people were not individuals, but mere commodities by the government. Several times throughout this proposal, Swift makes subtle but clear jabs at the Irish government and upper class, obviously voicing his discontent with their treatment of those less fortunate.
There are several passages in Swift’s proposal that show his discontent with the people who he felt were ruling society in an unfair way. The landlords in Irish society wind up in the crosshairs of Swift’s barrage of attacks, “I grant this food may be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for Landlords, who as they have already devoured most of the Parents, seem to have the best Title to the Children.” Obviously, Swift felt that the landlords were taking advantage of the lower class citizens, “devouring” what little money and other personal effects they may have had.
Another example of Swift’s attack on upper class is the one he makes on the government, “Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: Of taxing our absentees at five shillings a pound: Of using neither clothes, nor household furniture, except what is of our own growth and manufacture”. This passage obviously shows Swift’s lack of sympathy for governmental policies that existed at this time.
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