Study Guide

A Modest Proposal Greed

By Jonathan Swift


Part 2
The Proposer (Narrator)

Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: […] of utterly rejecting the materials and instruments that promote foreign luxury; of curing the expensiveness of pride, vanity, idleness, and gaming in our women (28)

In this passage, Swift specifically addresses greed in women. Why would this be of particular interest to him?

For this kind of commodity will not bear exportation, the flesh being of too tender a consistence to admit a long continuance in salt, although perhaps I could name a country which would be glad to eat up our whole nation without it. (30)

The narrator alludes to the fact that children would have to be consumed rapidly, since they don't keep well. Spoiled children, anyone?

Many other advantages might be enumerated: for instance, the addition of some thousand carcasses in our exportation of barreled beef; the propagation of swine's flesh (26)

It doesn't look like the wealthy differentiate between types of meat. Beef, swine, child—all are precious commodities in A Modest Proposal.

I desire those politicians who dislike my overture […] that they will first ask the parents of these mortals whether they would not at this day think it a great happiness to have been sold for food at a year old in the manner I prescribe, and thereby have avoided […] the oppression of the landlords, the impossibility of paying rent without money or trade (34)

In the final paragraphs, Swift reminds us of specific examples of greed. How does this impact your final impression of A Modest Proposal?

I grant this food will 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. (12)

Swift alludes to an all-encompassing greed that includes both people and resources. In fact, people are viewed as resources in this context.

First, as things now stand, how they will be able to find food and raiment for one hundred thousand useless mouths and backs. (32)

A Modest Proposal is written almost entirely in two voices: Swift's and the anonymous narrator's. In this passage, the narrator imagines how his readers might react to his proposal. Can this be interpreted as a third narrative voice?

Supposing that one thousand families in this city would be constant customers for infants' flesh (27)

Since the narrator has already estimated the number of children for sale, it stands to reason that he would estimate the number of greedy families. Notice the relatively small number of wealthy families (1,000) compared to children designated for food (120,000).

Secondly, the poorer tenants will have something valuable of their own, which by law may be made liable to distress and help to pay their landlord's rent, their corn and cattle being already seized, and money a thing unknown. (21)

Irish tenants frequently had to find alternative methods of paying rent, since money was scarce.

Thirdly, […] the nation's stock will be thereby increased fifty thousand pounds per annum […] and money will circulate among ourselves, the goods being entirely of our own growth and manufacture. (22)

Swift raises an interesting point: are children the only "goods" entirely owned by Irish peasants, since they can't lay claim to their own land?

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