A King Is An Animal That Feeds On Human Flesh Swift’s Criticism of Society in "A Modest Proposal"

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Swift’s Criticism of Society in "A Modest Proposal"

“A Modest Proposal” by the Anglo-Irish writer Jonathan Swift (published anonymously in 1729) is a powerful political satire on the economic and social conditions of the poor in Ireland under British rule. The essay is rich in references to political events in England and Ireland in the 18th century. Swift takes ‘irony’ as the best weapon to attack all kinds of vices and injustices prevailing in society. Now we will see how Swift criticizes society in his essay.

Before entering upon our discussion, we must know something of the wretched condition of that Ireland. In fact, Ireland’s disaster begins when, in 1541, the Irish recognize Henry viii of England, a Protestant, as king of Ireland. Protestant landlords own almost ten percent of the estates. Meanwhile, a law was passed restricting the rights of the Irish to hold government offices, purchase, real estate and education. Consequently, many Irish people flee and those who remain live in poverty and hunger.

The essayist, from the beginning of the essay, expresses the miserable economic condition and social picture of Ireland under British rule. As the author says:

“It is a melancholy object to those who walk through this great city, or travel in the country; when they see the streets, avenues, and booth-doors crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all with rags, and obliging every passenger for alms.”

Moreover, the author fears that, when the babies of these beggars grow up, “they either turn thieves for want of work; or leave their dear native country, to fight for the Pretender in Spain, or sell themselves to Barbadoes “.

This miserable situation is actually a consequence of the indifference of the English administration and the oppression of the owners. Instead of solving the problem, the British government shows great indifference to repeated calls to feed those hungry mouths.

Now, quickly, how an English patriot discovers a “Fair, free, and easy method of making these children sound and useful members of the commonwealth.” He wants to come up with a proposal in such a way that he says:

“…as if, instead of being a payment to their parents, or the parish, or wanting food and clothing for the rest of their lives; they will, on the contrary, contribute to feeding, and partly to clothing, many thousands.”

Swift criticizes the authority by asking that this scheme “will prevent those voluntary abortions, and that horrible practice of women killing their bastard children,” which is “too frequent among us.” His criticism of the English administration becomes clearer when he suspects that poor innocent babies are killed “more to avoid expense than shame”. The author mocks the intellectuals and policy makers of the time by proposing his grotesque proposal in the most formal way with great weight. As the essayist comments:

“Therefore, I will now humbly propose my opinions, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.”

Now we will see his proposal. In his proposal Swift suggests that a significant proportion of Irish children should be slaughtered and their carcasses sold to the rich as well as landlords so that the poor parents would benefit economically and be relieved of the burden of maintenance. The essayist criticizes the brutal mentality of the authorities, as they never considered the Irish as human beings. To show their meanness, the essayist uses such words that are more appropriate for the animal and not for the human. He uses the word, for example, ‘carrion’, the remains of dead animals dressed up by butchers, to refer to the remains of children prepared as meat.

Again, the essayist equates the oppressors with butchers as they mercilessly snatch bread from Irish children and lead them to their deaths. As the author says:

“…and the butchers we can be sure we won’t want”

The essayist also criticizes the landlords for their aggressive attitude towards the poor Irish. As Swift notes:

“I GRANT this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very suitable to the owners; who, having already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.”

Swift takes a stab at the authorities for their mistreatment of the Irish poor claiming that they will be quite happy to eat human flesh after they have lost their senses.

“I can name a country that would be happy to eat our entire nation without it.”

The author also criticizes fashionable ladies and the so-called gentle folk of society. As he says:

“THOSE who are thriftier (as the Times must confess) may dispose of the dead body; the skin of which, artificially dressed, will make admirable gloves for ladies, and summer boots for good gentlemen.”

Swift, to criticize society, ironizes the six benefits of the proposal.

First: it will reduce the total number of Catholics, the enemy of Protestants.

Second: the poor parents will get some money with which they can pay the landlords’ rent.

Third: money will circulate among Irish people and increase the national income.

Fourth: mothers will get rid of the obligation to keep children after the first year.

Fifth: empty taverns will be full of a large number of customers.

Finally: it will be a great encouragement for marriage and will increase the mother’s care and tenderness towards their children.

In fact Swift’s proposal shocks every reader even the cruel barbarian cannot think of such a cannibalistic idea of ​​eating human flesh. Everyone with common sense can easily understand that out of extreme agony the essayist makes such a suggestion. He seeks under this proposal to say that the government should accept this proposal if it cannot immediately solve the problem.

At the end of the essay, the bitter criticism is clear when the essayist concludes the proposal by assuring the reader that he has no small interest but the public good of his country. As he says:

“I have no children, with whom I can propose to take a single penny; the youngest is nine years old, and my wife is past child.”

Swifts, in this way, very successfully attracts the attention of authorities as well as readers. Robert Phiddian wrote an essay titled “Have you eaten yet” after reading this essay.

Some scholars argue that, A Modest Proposal was largely influenced by Tertullian’s Apology. James William Johnson emphasizes the same central theme in both essays. Both essays are similar in their tone and use of irony.

Finally, it may be said that Jonathan Swift uses his powerful pen very successfully against the English oppressors by ridiculing their so-called vanity, as the writer knows that, the devil is bold in the face of threat, hard of heart before tears, and unprotected. only in the Achilles heel of his vanity.

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