"A Modest Proposal" Discussion


hey class what I'd like to do in this

sound file is go over a modest proposal

by jonathan swift the thing about this

essay is it still gives quite a few

students kind of a fit when they're

trying to understand exactly what he's

trying to do here he is trying to be

persuasive but the odd thing about this

he's not trying to persuade people about

his solution because and hopefully this

is kind of clear when you read it he

doesn't really want anyone to eat babies

okay he's being very sarcastic in his

solution he's not really trying to be a

genuine monster here the solution is

purposefully monstrous and that's

because the purpose of this essay that

he writes his proposal isn't really to

convince people to do the solution he's

talking about he's trying to convince

his audience to see a problem that he

sees he's writing here to the English

people about the Irish and the

starvation that they're facing and just

he's very aware that the English

audience overall doesn't really care

much about the situation facing the

Irish and the starvation that not only

the adults are facing but their children

are also unable to eat and so they have

Irish families who are forced to kind of

watch their families starve and there's

really nothing they can do about it it

really bothered Swift who his background

he was Irish and so he felt it he felt

pressed to awaken a giant apathetic

audience about a problem that he saw he

was very troubled by and I think the

essay does a pretty good job of that I

mean the essay when you get down into

some of the details and how he spends

his solution and the way he talks about

the solution how it makes the problem

much more problematic for an apathetic

audience I think he does overall a

pretty good job now feel free to

disagree in fact one thing you've got to

understand which you probably already do

sarcasm is not for everyone I enjoy

sarcasm but I've also in using sarcasm

before been burned by

when you have an audience that's not in

on the joke some of you may empathize

with this where you've been sarcastic

before but that sarcasm didn't quite

come through to the audience and so one

of the initial struggles I have when I

teach this is I have a pretty big

population of students who think he's

being sincere that he really thinks that

we should eat babies not only just eat

babies but that parents should nurture

their child for a year and then add a

year old because that's the perfect age

of weight and tenderness of meat versus

the initial investment in the product

that they should sell their child to the

aristocratic society as kind of dislike

delicacy like this new caviar or tender

meat that that will just show how

wealthy they are so I do think that will

point to a few things in this essay that

I think helped make it a little make it

make a little more sense we'll look at

some of the techniques he's using here

that I think work pretty cool but if you

have further questions about this of

course feel free to reach out and email

me so if we look here at the I've got

some things I've bolded here in his

proposal I think it's cool here that

right on the first page he makes a point

of saying let's all agree on what this

problem is and the problem is that we

see these huge groups of kids these

little dirty ragamuffins that are

hanging on their parents and it's just a

problem it says this is in the present

deplorable state of the kingdom a very

great additional grievance and therefore

whoever could find out a fair cheap and

easy method of making these children

sound useful members of the Commonwealth

would deserve so well of the public as

to have a statue set up for a preserver

of in the nation so here this goes with

the immediately kind of the tone of

sarcasm here he's saying you know what

somebody who could solve the problem of

these little ragamuffin street urchin

kids who are starving if somebody could

figure out a way that these kids could

be productive members of society we

should even build statues for these


and of course his solution to making

these kids productive members of society

as having them raised and sold as meat

so there's you know he's of course not

being serious that's kind of a

backhanded parody that he's trying to

use here so if we go down a little bit

more we have a good clarification of

exactly what his I guess you could say

before we get to his thesis he's kind of

holding his hand close to his chest here

he doesn't quite want to say yet what

his solution is and of course we know

the solution that he proposes is so

horrible that it makes sense that he's

kind of building up to it here he

doesn't want to shock his audience quite

yet notice he does something here on

this page I have up it's something that

you'll want to try to do if you can in

your own presentations he's able to

connect his solution here to actually

solving more than just the one problem

he's identified he's able here to and

he'll do this elsewhere he connects to

multiple ways that this solution will

solve various problems he says there's a

lot like why is another great advantage

in my scheme that it will prevent those

voluntary abortions and that horrid

practice of women murdering their

bastard children alas too frequent among

us sacrificing the poor innocent babes I

doubt more to avoid the expense than the

shame which would move tears and pity in

the most savage and in human breast no

really this should beat us over the head

like a WWE chair to the back of an

opponent's head right just the amount of

sarcasm he's using here notice that he's

saying like alas these poor children

moving to pity and tears this is someone

who's about to say hey the way we saw

this is we should eat babies we should

sell babies for meat we should

cannibalize are young and so here this

is I love the word choice he gives here

that he's really you can tell he's

having a good job he's having a good

time writing this in the way he's riding

it he sets up he's already built himself

up as worthy of a statue and here he

kind of embraces that

the virtue of protecting our babies and

here of course in order to protect the

babies he's basically saying we should

sell them for food now the next

paragraph we have I believe finally a

clear indication of exactly what his

thesis is and so here notice that he he

starts to do some math in this one of

the really scary things about this essay

and some of you may know people who are

very sarcastic but there's a darkness

and that sarcasm which I find

fascinating i like that i like kind of a

dark sarcasm a dark comedy where you

have to laugh to keep from crying notice

there are several parts here where the

logic that swift uses is very very

detailed logic and also its Carolee

makes sense as far as like for example

here he does some math and this is some

of you guys may want to use statistics

and your presentations especially when

you're trying to get us to view a

problem as problematic statistics can be

very good at that notice here Swift is

crunching some numbers for us he starts

to do some math and basically by the

time he's done with his mat he ends up

with 120,000 children of poor parents

annually born and there's 120,000

children basically that we don't know

what to do with these children we can't

feed them they're not productive members

of society so here he's establishing a

huge number of children that are kind of

this hopeless group of children that

these would be the starving children

children that their parents could not

afford to feed these children if we

scroll down a little more here we

finally have this is what does is on

page 4 of 10 so quite far into the essay

we we have what what is a final clear

thesis statement I guess he says the

remaining hundred thousand may add a

year old because I think 20,000 he says

these are breeding stock but it's that's

on purpose as well

keep kind of he draws an equal sign

between children and livestock and that

we would look at children as livestock

is very critical of his British

apathetic audience saying you know shame

on you for not looking at the starving

suffering children and families as

humans you're looking at them as animals

in fact at one place he says we're

looking at them a little less tenderly

than we do animals so here in the thesis

he says the remaining hundred thousand

may at a year old and the reason why he

chooses a gyro it's because it's another

example of scary logic a year old is

basically a child can be completely

raised by mother's milk so there's not a

big initial cost and feeding a child

that's one year old and also the weight

in that one year gets to a point where a

child a baby would be appropriate for a

few meals at a dinner table a few dishes

for the dinner table so it's another

example of where you know he's used math

here he's using the scary time frame

that a year old would be the perfect

time to sell a baby because you have the

smallest amount of initial costs that

the parent has in raising up this

livestock versus the amount of food this

livestock will yield but anyway to get

back he says at a year old be offered in

the sale to the persons of quality and

fortune through the kingdom always

advising the mother to let them suck

plentifully in the last month so as to

render them plump and fat for a good

table a child will make two dishes at an

entertainment for friends and when the

family dines alone the four or

hindquarter will make a reasonable dish

and season with a little pepper or salt

will be very good boiled on the fourth

day especially in winter so here one

thing he does very important here that

some students don't pick up on he's not

saying here for the poor class to eat

their own children he is saying here the

poor should sell their children to the

rich aristocracy and we'll find out here

why the rich aristocracy is such a

target in fact just a little bit further

down we have 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 this

is for audience who've not really woken

up yet that there are teeth in this

essay biting the audience who's

listening to and he's not meaning here

to criticize the Irish this is

definitely a criticism towards the

English and towards the the aristocracy

who are metaphorically growing fat off

of the poor here he's just saying well

instead of you know metaphorically

growing fat I'm just saying we should

literally grow fat off of the poor so

here we have a very biting condemnation

of the landlords who he sees I think as

a major problem for this situation when

you find my place again yeah okay so

notice here in this next bolded section

we have another kind of hyper logic this

hyper sense of math this again where

it's you do want to have logos in your

presentations in fact if you can have

logos pathos and ethos as you know

that's the best to have all three I

think that this essay does a really good

job maybe even too well at the logos as

far as the facts and the statistics

notice here that he does some more math

as far as trying to figure out the

profit margin that the the poor would

get for selling a child basically he

says okay well I've already computed the

charge of nursing a beggar's child in

which list I reckon all Cottagers

labourers and four-fifths of the farmers

to be about two shillings per per year

rags included and I believe no gentleman

would were kind to give 10 shillings for

the carcass of a good fat child so here

he's basically saying you know what for

a two shilling investment you're going

to get an eight shilling profit and he

says that this eight shillings would be

enough for the family to live on while

the mother produces another child that's

pretty dark those who are more thrifty

this is where it gets even darker as I

must confess

the time require may play the carcass

the skin of which artificially dress

will make admirable gloves for ladies

and summer boots for fine gentlemen

notice here he's saying stretch your

profit margins we're not only you

selling the flesh but you can also sell

the skin the hide of the baby can be

used to make clothing for the admirable

gloves for ladies so this is kind of a

condemnation of women in high society

who would spend so much money on fashion

while there's so many people who don't

even have food to feed themselves or the

families he's condemning this excess

spending on clothes this vanity shown by

much of the British audience he's

targeting here by saying you know what

you will have clothes so much and this

is a sign of how rich you are just think

of how beautiful the carcass the skin of

these babies can be dressed up to be so

again very good at targeting his

audience rather than the problem he's

discussing trying to get the audience to

see the problem for what it is we've got

here another example of Swift if he's

pointing to another problem basically

here he wakes up for a bit he says you

know some of you may be thinking about

the other poor people out there not just

the babies and you may be wondering what

am I going to do about the age the

disease the main people the the street

urchins not just the babies and he says

here some persons of a desponding spirit

are in great concern about that vast

number of poor people who are age

diseased or maimed so not the babies

that he's been talking about and I've

been desired to employ my thoughts what

course may be taken to ease the nation

or so Grievous an encumbrance so here

this is instead of these people being

seen as a plight a group to help he's

able to call these people you know an

encumbrance to the nation I'm not in the

least pain upon that matter because it's

very well known that they are everyday

dying and rotting by cold and famine and

filth and vermin

fastest can be reasonably expected I

love here he's able to say you know some

people may be worried about all these

older street urchins we have and they

may be wondering what my solution is for

them well guess what I don't have a

solution because nature is working

perfectly on killing them off as quickly

as could be expected so this should be

another kind of jab at the audience of

oh wow so we have a high number of

people dying daily that he's pointing

out here that basically humans couldn't

do a better job the Nature has already

do and we'll scroll down I think to just

a couple more points I wanted to point

out to you okay so here we have I think

one final bite and it's a bite that

really does kind of pierce the skin I

would think where he kind of is aware

for just a moment of the the perceived

savageness of his solution and he seems

aware that some of his audience may hear

this solution of selling children for

for cannibalistic consumption and he

understands for a moment that some

audiences may find this cruel he says I

desire those politicians who disliked my

overture who don't like what he say it

may perhaps be so bold as to attempt an

answer that they will first ask the

parents of these mortals whether they

would not at this day thinking a great

happiness to have been sold for food at

a year in the manner i prescribed and

thereby have avoided such a perpetual

scene of misfortune as they have seen

since through they have since gone

through by the oppression of landlords

the impossibility of paying rent without

money or trade the want of common

sustenance with neither house nor

clothes covered them from the inclement

seas of weather and the most inevitable

prospect of entailing the like or

greater miseries upon their breed

forever here he's saying basically you

know what if you think that my solution

is cruel you go ask the children be the

parents of the children that I'm talking

about if they would have preferred

living the life that they've lived or

being sold for

for consumption at one year old they

would I bet pick to have been sold as

meat when they were a year old and

that's just one more way that Swift is

able to drive home hopefully to the

heart of the audience the just the

seriousness of this plight that

generally they've been just ignoring to

this point so I hope you enjoy the essay

maybe you got a chuckle out of it I

admit that it's kind of dark to chuckle

about but he here is again trying to be

sarcastic in his tone here he's not

really wanting the solution the proposal

he offers is really just to shake his

audience awake from what he perceives to

be a just a terrible slumber or a

insistent refusal to look at a problem

that he sees facing the world