Study Guide

A Modest Proposal Foreignness and "The Other"

By Jonathan Swift

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Foreignness and "The Other"

Part 1
The Proposer (Narrator)

'Tis true, a child just dropped from its dam may be supported by her milk for a solar year (4)

The narrator doesn't want kids to mooch off of wealthier folks. Note the degrading language used to equate a child to an animal.

But my intention is very far from being confined to provide only for the children of professed beggars; it is of a much greater extent, and shall take in the whole number of infants at a certain age who are born of parents in effect as little able to support them as those who demand our charity in the streets. (3)

The narrator implies that poor parents don't deserve children, even suggesting that there should be a wealth cutoff. We're getting into dangerous territory, and we haven't even gotten to the proposal yet.

They can very seldom pick up a livelihood by stealing […], although I confess they learn the rudiments much earlier, during which time they can however be properly looked upon only as probationers […] as I have been informed by a principal gentleman in the country of Cavan (7)

The narrator draws a distinct boundary between "a gentleman" and the rapscallions who learn to steal from birth.

The number of souls in this kingdom being usually reckoned one million and half, of these I calculate there may be about two hundred thousand couple whose wives are breeders (6)

Referring to someone as a "breeder" might not get you past a first date. Used in this context, the word is meant to be dehumanizing.

I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their mothers, and frequently of their fathers, is, in the present deplorable state of the kingdom, a very great additional grievance. (2)

Children should bring joy, right? Not these kids. By suggesting that poor children are little more than a grievance, the narrator distinguishes them from wealthier and more accepted children.

Part 2
The Proposer (Narrator)

I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food (10)

The "knowing American" has been read as a Native American with knowledge of exotic foods. Why does Swift include this reference?

It would increase the care and tenderness of mothers toward their children, when they were sure of a settlement for life to the poor babes, provided in some sort by the public, to their annual profit instead of expense. (25)

At several points, the narrator suggests strategies to improve the mothering skills of poor Irish women. His solution, as always, is to throw money at them.

I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration that of the hundred and twenty thousand already computed, twenty thousand may be reserved for breed, […] which is more than we allow to sheep, black cattle, and swine, and my reason is that these children are seldom the fruits of marriage, a circumstance not much regarded by our savages (11)

Is the expression "our savages" meant as an endearment? Let's hope not.

Those who are more thrifty […] may flay the carcass, the skin of which, artificially dressed, will make admirable gloves for ladies and summer boots for fine gentlemen. (15)

The narrator likens Irish children to exotic animals wanted for their skins.

For first, as I have already observed, it would greatly lessen the papists, with whom we are yearly overrun, being the principal breeders of the nation (20)

Here come some more animal comparisons. This time, the narrator suggests that the Irish Catholics are swarming the countryside like vermin.

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