Nowhere did Jonathan Swift show his capacity for satire than in his work, 'A Modest Proposal', for preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to their Parents or Country, and for making them Beneficial to the Public. Jonathan mentions within this work, "the streets, the roads, the cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by there, four, or sic children," and these children, he stated, would all be dressed in rags, and, being hungry and starving, beg for food to fill their stomachs. Their mothers, too, would be forced to stroll through the streets, in search of alms, so that they may feed their infants and children. These poor deprived children would, inevitably, become thieves as they became older, for want of any other work. Otherwise, Jonathan says, they would leave their dear native country, and then have to fight for the 'Pretender' in Spain, or even have to ultimately sell themselves to the 'Barbadoes'. (a Modest Proposal)
Thereafter, Jonathan goes on to state his own solution to this grave problem, after having thought about it very seriously indeed for a great number of years, and given the number of 'breeders, or in other words, women, there would be at the very least, a hundred and twenty children born to parents who are much too poor to provide sustenance and bring them up in the manner that they deserve to be brought up. A "young healthy child...a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food," whether the child has been roasted or stewed, or boiled or even baked, would be an excellent meal, and would be able to provide sustenance for those poor parents who have to beg on the streets for food, according to Jonathan's American friend. This would serve to be an excellent idea for those landlords, he says, who have already 'devoured' most of the parents, and would therefore not hesitate to devour the children of these unfortunate parents, and pay a good price for such nourishing "food," in the bargain. The 'skin' and other body parts of the child would also be useful, because it can be used for making gloves and hats and other accessories for "fashionable ladies," and also make summer boots for "gentlemen." (a Modest Proposal)
When Jonathan Swift states that an American acquaintance of his had recommended that a "young, healthy Child, well nursed, is at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food," one does not know whether to laugh, or to cry, at this prospect of actually eating a well-fed baby, a human child, when it is but one-year-old. The laughter cannot be said to be a funny or a humorous appreciation; rather, it is about a sense of release, and, in fact, Jonathan Swift himself stated that all he wanted to or desired to do was to "vex the world rather than divert it." (Have you Eaten Yet? The Reader in a modest proposal) This satirical essay by Jonathan Swift is grotesque and horrifying, and the satire within it touches the soul of the reader in its simplicity as well as its complexity rolled into one. The feeling that it brings in to the reader is one of unease and extreme discomfort, and not any type of pleasure or joy. It is, unsettling and disconcerting and upsetting, and when the reader feels that he cannot possibly take any more, Jonathan swift goes on to detail the various culinary methods in which the infant can be cooked before he is eaten. (Have you Eaten Yet? The Reader in a modest proposal)
What Jonathan Swift attempts to do is to induce an awareness among people, of the state of the poor in their own country, where the rich and tyrannical landlords have all but eaten up the poor, and he states at the very beginning that he is in fact giving a 'modest proposal' wherein the idea is "for preventing the children of poor people in Ireland from being a burden to their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the public." (Jonathan swift: Description of a City Shower and a modest proposal) Jonathan Swift therefore satirically promotes and encourages the eating, after cooking them, the one-year-old, healthy and well-fed children, and the primary purpose being to eliminate the growing number of poor people in Ireland. The usage of a certain kind of savage irony by Jonathan Swift indicates the level of anguish and frustration that he must have felt towards the poor of his country, at the time of writing the essay, especially when he advocated the consumption of tiny babies, so that the problem of the poor could be solved with ease, an everyone involved, including the parents, the rich landlords, and 'gentlemen' would be able to reap benefits form this dubious scheme of eating their own children. Maybe, critics feel, Jonathan Swift saw fit to utilize this type of irony to depict the inhuman conditions that the colonized Irishmen were living in at the time, as well.
Part of the effect of the satire in the essay works so very well because of the fact that it works fully and thoroughly on the basic metaphor used, that is, the eating of small babies, in the essay, and how all the various propositions are built up on this one single metaphor alone. In fact, the metaphor can be directly related to the state of affairs in Ireland, wherein the English devouring innocent sweet babies can be compared to the way in which the several wealthy but absentee landlords were continuing to devour and ruin the Irish economy. Therefore, the metaphor can be literalized, or, in other words, the butchery, and the sale and the final consumption of the 'product' are worked out in figures and statistics by the author, and this strategy adopted by Jonathan Swift had been used by Jonson in 'Volpone', and also by More in 'Utopia', wherein satire was used to discuss the welfare of the society in which he lived. (Jonathan swift: Description of a City Shower and a modest proposal)
This masterful satire by Jonathan Swift, entitled "A Modest Proposal," mocks at man, and at the rich, and also, mockingly, and sardonically proposes to solve the problems being faced by the common man in Ireland by selling the excessive numbers of children that poor parents tended to produce, and who would be reduced to begging on the streets form a tender age, or to thievery and robbery at a slightly older age, by selling these children to the rich people, who would enjoy them as a 'meal'. The narrator or the projector recounts the many ways in which they may be eaten, and treats them as being of no more than livestock. However, towards the end of the essay, Jonathan Swift attempts to state the numerous ways and means in which the country may be helped form its current dismal position of extreme poverty into something better, and these reforms change their tone, because of the fact that while the earlier modest proposal was meant for the poor, so that they may be better off if they were to sacrifice their own children, here the rich would have to sacrifice at least some of the luxuries and comforts that they had been used to all their lives. (Satire and Significance in Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal")
After having read the a Modest Proposal, one tends to contemplate on whether the apt and correct place for keeping up with the overflow of poor children can really be our own stomach, and this is the main argument that Jonathan makes in his essay. When he states that he would be able to solve the problems of the poor, as well as of the rich landlords, who anyway manage to eat up the poor workers of the country, and proposes that the rich can eat the children of the poor, one is both aghast and amazed at the same time, and even though, at the outset, the proposition seems to be absurd, and even evokes a few laughs and quite a lot of amusement, and disgust at the same time, one has to pause and think whether what the narrator is saying is true, and whether this was the real state of things at that time in the history of the world. (Satire as a means of Social Change in a Modest Proposal)
Therefore, it can be said that not only does Jonathan Swift use the medium of satire for evoking societal change, and proving that the rich are actually eating the poor, with their atrocities on the poor, but he also uses satire to tell the truth, if only in a different manner. Jonathan Swift seems…