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Shocking the Sensibilities in A Modest Proposal

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Shocking the Sensibilities in A Modest Proposal

Two Works Cited Three years after Gulliver's Travels was published, Jonathan Swift wrote "A Modest Proposal," a work grounded in thoughtful satire. Swift describes the destitution that characterized the life of Ireland's poor in the 18th century then renders a brazenly inhumane solution to their problems. He shocks the sensibilities of the readers then leads them to consider the inhumanity of the destitution in the first place.

Although he was born in Ireland, Swift considered himself an Englishman first, and the English were his intended audience. Swift used the good reputation afforded him by previous works to expose an otherwise indifferent English public to the circumstances of Irish misery. Unfortunately, many of the English were so predisposed to hatred of the Irish that they would disregard the point of Swift's essay and might go so far as to endorse Swift's proposal. For the people of Ireland, "A Modest Proposal" built upon Swift's earlier Drapier's Letters and made Swift a national hero (Bookshelf).

"A Modest Proposal" begins with a description of the state of 18th century Irish life. Ireland was a place where children too often became beggars or thieves to sustain themselves or their families, women had abortions because they could not afford to raise children, few jobs were available to the workforce, and landlords abused poor tenants. As miserable as the picture Swift painted of Irish life was, the brushstrokes of history were even harsher. Actions of the English in the previous century had thrust the Irish people into a state of diaspora; tens of thousands had been ...

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...al footnote, not something that pertains to the present. Yet we need only look to poor children huddled on the streets of Brazil, or hear accounts of people who have resorted to using human flesh as sustenance to endure the North Korean famine, to realize that the misery of the world's poor has yet to be tempered by the progress of a modern age. "A Modest Proposal" could have been written yesterday; it might well be written tomorrow.

Works Cited

Swift, Jonathan. "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." 1729. Rpt. in Current Issues and Enduring Questions. Ed. Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedau. Boston, MA: St. Martin's 1996. 111-117.

"Johathan Swift." Bookshelf 1996-1997 Edition 1996.

CD-ROM. Redmond, WA: Microsoft, 1996.
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