“A Modest Proposal” is a short satirical essay written by Jonathan Swift in the form of a pamphlet. The full name is “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burthen to their Parents, or the Country, and for Making them Beneficial to the Publick.” and at the first glance it looks like an another petition from the overly concerned citizen who wants to improve the society. But then we start reading further…
Under the cover of formal sentences Dr. Swift hides his razor-sharp sarcasm. He starts from the description of poverty one can see in the streets of Dublin and depicts miserable lives of women, burdened with four, five or six children, who can neither work nor raise their kids properly, so they often become thieves, thugs, prostitutes or drug dealers. And it was truth for that time - the description given by Dr. Swift is fairly realistic.
But then he, playing the same concerned citizen, proposes a simple yet very practical solution to make these kids useful for the society and country. We all await for some plan. Maybe, free education, or feeding programs, or kindergartens, or…
Why don’t we eat them?
While we are still reading the same words again, hoping that we misunderstood something, that the description of the weight of a one-year-old baby has nothing to deal with eating them - the author continues, proving his idea right in the ways that would make Dr. Mengele proud.
The kids are easy to grow. Actually they don’t demand anything except breastfeeding. So one healthy child will cost less then two shillings. It’s an easy money to get if their mother will bother begging or searching the food in trash piles. That’s what all the poor people do anyway, right? We all know that they all are no more than filthy beggars. So if the government will keep the prices for meat as high as they are now, the mothers of the babies will get decent profit.
Also, this will lower the rate of illegal abortion and infanticide. The kids born out of wedlock will no more considered a shame or burden, but rather a valuable investment. It’s so hard to see young women tricked, scorned and then killing their babies and themselves in despair (of course the society that ostracizes them and drives them to suicide is not to blame, we are all humane people here!). Now they will be treated with the same respect as farmers breeding their cattle. Also husbands will treat their pregnant wives with the same care they treat pregnant mares or cows. They won’t beat them or underfeed them afraid to cause a stillbirth which will lead to the loss of income this year.
The one-year-old kids are the most valuable ones. The slave traders admit that kids start bringing profit only after they turn six and only the girls and boys after twelve may be worthy items to sale to factories and brothels, but this business won’t be profitable also if one will raise the kids from the very birth. So at one year the baby has the best cost\profit ratio.
To prove this point Dr. Swift does some simple math. There are approximately one hundred and twenty thousand kids born in the poor families yearly. In most such families parents don’t have enough food to raise all their children, so why don’t they sell some to have quick money? The government isn’t interested in these children, it won’t provide them with homes, education and jobs, so putting them out of their misery will be a great benefit both for them and for the society. So one can take these one hundred and twenty thousand kids and turn them into cattle, butchering the 3\4 of males at once and leaving the rest to procreate. Mostly these kids are born out of wedlock so why bother with marriages? The ratio 1 male for 4 females works for cows, goats and sheep, it should work with humans also.
The last but not the least reason is quite simple: one man of wealth and taste once told Dr. Swift that babies and infants are very tasty. So why don’t the rich English men, who have already eaten alive the parents of these kids, taste the babies as a delicious meal?
The author understands that the kids are quite unusual and new meat on the market. So, to assist the cooks-to-be, he proposes some simple recipes for everyday and fancy meals, stewed, fried, roasted or boiled. He calculates the perfect weight of a baby needed for modest family dinner and for the main course of the gala event.
Another great side effect is reducing the potential Catholic revolutionaries by natural causes. Yet again, now in Ireland there is no food and no job and the British government doesn’t care, so, maybe, there are too many Irish people in Ireland. To hasten this process Dr. Swift also adds to his proposal the idea of his friend who said that the teenagers’ meat can substitute wildfowl that becomes rarer in Ireland.The children of parents who have nothing more to pay their rent with or have already died of starvation can become a source of such a valuable and luxurious resource.
Dr. Swift himself hesitates - this can be portrayed as almost cruel by society, so, maybe this initiative should be implemented later, when the people will get used to eating babies. But to prove the point of his friend he adds some information about some exotic customs from Formoza (nonexistent island from another author’s fiction story) where the bodies of convicted young girls were sold right after their execution. For example one plump fifteen-year-old girl, executed for the attempt to murder the Emperor, was immediately bought by Emperor’s court. Dr. Swift adds that he personally saw some plump young girls in the opera, who, without working a day, boast with incredibly expensive dresses and jewellery. They should be soft and sweet enough to be the finest meal, and the country won’t lose anything valuable with them eaten.
Author adds many more economical and practical reasons that prove his idea to be the great good for the whole English society. He also claims that the idea was so popular in some circles that he was already asked to develop another one about dealing with senior and disabled poor people. Dr. Swift is flattered with such a belief in his troubleshooting abilities, but he is sure that old and disabled will soon die out by themselves, the society has just to wait a bit.
The last words of the pamphlet are the proof that author is completely sincere - he says that his family won’t be able to benefit from this idea: his own children are too old to be edible. So he offers that not for personal profit but of sheer concern with the prosperity of his country.
So, reading this pamphlet, we go from hope, to disbelief, to shock, to rage and finally to understanding that this all is incredibly bitter sarcasm. Dr. Swift wrote this essay right after the great poverty in Ireland killed thousands of people and continued to kill more of them because British government just didn’t care. He mentions every major social problem: poverty, immigration, the frictions between Catholics and Protestants, domestic abuse and the miserable state of unmarried single mothers.
Author also refers to some fictional characters from other satirical books or leaves hints to the real historical events related to Irish poverty. But to find them we, as readers, need to calm down our unstoppable rage and read all the pamphlet again, now between the lines.
The strangest thing of all is that there were some people in Dr. Swift’s times (and there are now!) who took that pamphlet seriously. So, everything is fine with Dr. Jonathan Swift, but what’s wrong with the rest of society?