Modest Proposal

Criticisms in Jonathan Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’ A satire is a literary
work in which human foolishness and vice are criticized. Satire employs humor
and wit to ridicule human institutions or humanity itself, in order that they
might be remodeled or improved (Random House). A Modest Proposal, by Jonathan

Swift is a prime example of a satire. Throughout the piece it is difficult to
know exactly whom and what Swift is criticizing. This is because Swift
criticizes three groups of people and uses metaphors to make the satire work.

Swift ridicules the English for economically oppressing the Irish, the Irish for
being passive and allowing the English to oppress them, and the reader of the
piece for representing all the wrong doings in society. Many of the images that

Swift paints for the reader are images that he witnessed firsthand while he was
in Ireland. He was able to feel what the people were going through and he put
that feeling into his work. The main group of people that Jonathan Swift indicts
is the English. Swift blames the English for creating the environment that the

Irish are living in. He witnessed the Irish people living in poverty while their
absentee landlords were acquiring great wealth. "The poor 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" (Swift). Swift illustrates how the British
politicians were making laws, to govern the Irish, from afar. Rather than
directly accusing the English of economically oppressing the Irish, Swift
implies it. He uses metaphors to convey his thoughts. The entire and
significantly horrible idea of cannibalism is a metaphor that Swift uses. The

British felt that the laws that they were passing were good and just laws, when
in actuality all they were doing was making the landlords gain more wealth. "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" (Swift). This is an example of the distancing effect
that Swift puts on the metaphor. He distances the reader from the actual
feelings that he should be experiencing. The vocabulary that Swift employees,
forces the reader to focus on economic opportunities rather than the necessities
of the poor. In the same way that Swift felt the English had been doing all
along. Using the word "devoured" is very powerful and it goes beyond the
ordinary language associated with economics. It demands that the reader
interpret the text in the manner that Swift has decided he should. The cruelty
of the text continues on throughout the quote. This reader is shocked by the
violence that is created by the economic situation. It makes the landlords
appear as if they are actually devouring their tenants rather than protecting
them. By using language Swift is able to go a step further and create double
meanings out of the words. For example in the last quote from the proposal, the
word "dear" can be taken two ways. The first meaning, as it appears, a
precious thing. The second meaning of the word dear can be taken as a key to the
value of money, something the English keep taking from the Irish. By selling the
children, economic gains can be made to profit the English and Irish alike.

Swift choose his word carefully in order to convey what he witnessed in Ireland.

The English were devouring the Irish and sending them into devastating depths of
poverty. The second party that Swift criticizes is the Irish. By saying that the

Irish can sell their children on the market for money implies two things: One
that the English have oppressed them beyond a limit of rationality and two that
the Irish are letting the English take advantage of them. Swift paints the Irish
as a group of pushovers that would sell their children for money rather than
stand up for their rights. Swift makes the point that the Irish have been so
harmed by the laws that they take more care in their livestock than their
families. Swift indicts the Irish when he says that if the children were put to
market, men would treat wives with more respect and child would have better
care. "We should see an honest emulation among the married women, which of
them could bring the fattest child to the market. Men would become as fond of
their wives during