Study Guide

A Modest Proposal Inertia

By Jonathan Swift

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Part 2
The Proposer (Narrator)

But I am not in the least pain upon that matter because it is very well known that they are every day dying and rotting by cold and famine, and filth and vermin, as fast as can be reasonably expected. (18)

Sounding like fun yet? Notice how satiric jabs are mixed in with real details that highlight wealthy citizens' lack of action.

Some persons of a desponding spirit are in great concern about that vast number of poor people who are aged, diseased, or maimed, and I have been desired to employ my thoughts what course may be taken to ease the nation of so grievous an encumbrance. (18)

Yeah, right. If anyone were clamoring for solutions, Swift wouldn't have written numerous other tracts and sermons that got ignored. Check out "Causes of the Wretched Condition of Ireland (1726) and A Short View of the State of Ireland (1727).

Therefore I repeat, let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients till he hath at least some glimpse of hope that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them in practice. (29)

Like we mention in our "Summary," Swift had plenty of ideas to boost Ireland's economy. He was especially keen on encouraging agricultural development.

Supposing that one thousand families in this city would be constant customers for infants' flesh, besides others who might have it at merry-meetings, particularly weddings and christenings […] (27)

Ah, so now we get to the point. There may be some people who genuinely want to help the Irish, but a pretty big part of the population would just as rather dine on their flesh (that is, take their resources without saying sorry).

After all, I am not so violently bent upon my own opinion as to reject any offer, proposed by wise men, which shall be found equally innocent, cheap, easy, and effectual. (31)

Is this a call to action or just another dig at lazy people? Could it be both?

I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for the landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children. (12)

This is the first time Swift likens the actions of wealthy citizens to the act of eating. He gives readers plenty of time to get hooked before he lays blame on the landlords.

They cannot get work, and consequently pine away for want of nourishment to a degree that if at any time they are accidentally hired to common labour, they have not strength to perform it; and thus the country and themselves are happily delivered from the evils to come. (18)

No matter how much the Irish want to work for a living, the famine problem needs to get solved first. Priorities, people.

This I freely own, and it was indeed one principal design in offering it to the world. (28)

Swift says he's proposing this solution to "the world," but is he addressing an audience broader than Ireland and England? Who else might take interest in Ireland's problems?

But as to myself, having been wearied out for many years with offering vain, idle, visionary thoughts, and at length utterly despairing of success, I fortunately fell upon this proposal, which, as it is wholly new, so it hath something solid and real, of no expense and little trouble, full in our own power, and whereby we can incur no danger in disobliging England. (30)

Although Swift is mostly addressing wealthy Irish citizens, he doesn't let England off the hook. England restricted Irish trade, meaning that the Irish missed out on a major source of income.

I can think of no one objection that will possibly be raised against this proposal, unless it should be urged that the number of people will be thereby much lessened in the kingdom. (28)

Let's just say that Swift knows his audience. He's weeding out the people who care from the hardhearted majority.

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