Analysis for a Modest Proposal Essay

Alexis Du English 104 (Thur) Mr. Swaim 05/24/2012 Analysis for A Modest Proposal In the essay “A Modest Proposal”, the author Jonathan Swift proposes that 1 year-old infants born to impoverished Irish parents should be sold and cooked for the gourmet and luxury pleasures of the privileged people of England . Swift claims that because there are an enormous population of starved children, eating them would not only help control their population, but also contribute to the overall economic wellness of the country.

This essay will be dedicated to analyzing “A Modest Proposal” by observing the claim, warrant, and support present in the proposal, as well as evaluate the overall composition of the essay. According to Swift, he has “been assured by a very knowing American of [his] acquaintance… that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled” (356).

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From this, he draws the claim that “of the hundred and twenty thousand children, already computed, twenty thousand may be reserved for breed… [and] that the remaining hundred thousand may at a year old be offered in sale to the persons of quality and fortune through the kingdom, so as to render them plump and fat for a good table” (356). The claim that Swift is making here is a claim of policy, because he asserts that infants should be sold as food, which proposes a clear action of need, with an apparent plan and benefits laid out.

In order to buy into Swift’s plan of infant-cannibalism, there are several warrants that readers must buy into. First, readers must accept that too many un-fed children cause an enormous national problem. With this acknowledgment, readers are more likely to support the author’s claim. Second, readers must buy into the premise that the rich and privileged portion of the population is more superior than the poor Irish people. If this is not accepted, readers will be likely to take offense and quit reading.

Thirdly, to put this plan into action, readers must be convinced that wealthy people will in fact be willing to consume the flesh of human infants, because this is of the utmost importance in order for the proposal to succeed. Lastly, readers themselves must feel superior to the beggared, and think of eating their children as a form of mercy killing. All of these warrants are crucial for the readers to accept in order to buy into Swift’s argument, or readers will likely abandon the essay before they get to the end.

Swift also uses several types of support for backing up his claim. He uses statistics, expert opinions, and the appeal to need of safety to effectively support his claim of the problematic presence of too many hungry children, and the benefit of ridding them by cannibalism. The statistical supports that point to over-population include: 1) The country is “crowded with beggars of he female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for an alms” (354). ) About “twenty thousand children of poor parents annually born” (356). 3) There are about “two hundred thousand couples whose wives are breeders… [where only] thirty thousand couples who are able to maintain their own children” (355). 4) There will be a presence of a “hundred and seventy thousand breeders”, subtract by “fifty thousand for those women who miscarry, or whose children die by accident or disease within the year”, meaning that there will remain “an hundred and twenty thousand children of poor parents annually born” (356).

The statistics that support the benefits of selling children are: 1) It will help get rid of more “Papist” (Roman Catholic) children, for they are considered inferior to the rich English, since the number of “popish infants is at least three to one in this kingdom” (357). 2) Selling the children will gain the mothers “eight shillings net profit, [and she will]be fit for work till she produces another child” (357). 3) The selling of infants will increase the “nation’s stock… [by] fifty thousand pounds per annum… nd the money will circulate among ourselves, the goods being entirely of our own growth and manufacture” (359). Expert opinions are also used by Swift to support his proposal. These experts include his “very knowing American acquaintance in London, [who assured Swift] that a young child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled” (356). The same acquaintance also assured the author from “frequent experience that [the flesh of older boys] was generally tough and lean,” which may “taste disagreeable” (367).

Swift also mentions of a native of the island of Formosa, who told the American acquaintance that “in his country when any young person happened to be put to death, the executioner sold the carcass to persons of quality as a prime dainty” (358). This mention of personal experience from the Formosa native helps greatly in grounding Swift’s claim, helping it sound more real. Swift also appeals to his audience’s need of safety by commenting that if a child could be sold for profits, then the “men would become as fond of their wives during the time of their pregnancy… and less likely] to beat or kick them for fear of a miscarriage” (359). The overall structure of the essay is organized and effective. Swift leads his readers in with describing the current problem at hand, then provides the purpose of his argument immediately following the opening paragraphs. He then proceeds to support his thesis in the body paragraphs by listing them out with transitional words such as: firstly, secondly, and thirdly. The essay also has a satirical tone, where the author ironically cites his phrases, saying everything exactly the opposite of what he really means.

The amusing tone of faulty compassion also makes his argument an interesting reading experience for the readers. The most successful component of “A Modest Proposal” is the fact that although the author is proposing something that stretches outside of society’s acceptance of civilized behavior, he still manages to make his proposal sound reasonable due to its wealth of well-worded supports, and he also alerts average citizens of the serious problems present in their country at that time. I chose this essay for analysis mainly because of the ironic tone used by the author throughout the essay.

This particular argument is the masterpiece of sarcastic political fantasy in my opinion, which is what makes it a timeless classic. It could be applied to almost any situation where oppression of another population is present. This not-so-modest proposal drew my attention almost immediately when I found it while browsing through a collection of classical essays during an English class in high school. I may not have enjoyed this essay straight away, because I took it quite literally at first, convinced that the author was an uncivilized barbarian who actually advocated for infant cannibalism in his argument.

But, like the other students who read this essay without knowing anything about its background, I caught on quickly, and immensely enjoyed the meanings of this essay, backwards, that is to say. However, the knowledge that Swift had actually spent time pondering ridding children by eating them is still revolting to me to this day. I would recommend this essay to someone else because it is a thought provoking, somewhat disturbingly amusing educational read that is not to be taken light-heartedly. A Modest Proposal” is successful when it comes to persuading the audience to take immediate action against the plight of the Irish poor, although it may not seem so when reading the actual essay. When reading through the essay, it is important to take note of all the warrants and supports that Swift has laid out to promote his proposal, for it could help anyone wishing to make a successful argument in the future. Carefully scrutinizing the essay while writing this analysis has certainly made me appreciate the influential powers of a successful satire, and I look forward to the day when another proposal as captivating as this comes my way.