A Modest Proposal

. . .first ask the parents of these mortals whether they would not at this day think it a great happiness to have been sold for food at a year old in the manner I prescribe, and thereby have avoided such a perpetual scene of misfortunes as 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 to cover them from the inclemencies of weather, and the most inevitable prospect of entailing the like or greater miseries upon their breed for ever(Swift 388).

The Ireland of 1720 was not a pretty place. It was a place where the pain of life was so great that it overcame any moments, however minuscule, of the joy and happiness that made life worth living to the rest of the world. As a deeply religious man, the collective attitude that the life endowed by God upon the Irish peasantry was not worth living profoundly disturbed the conscience of one man in particular, that of Jonathan Swift. How could a person, much less a group of people, be so consumed by the pain of the sin-filled world that they could not feel any of the magnificence with which God had created the world? In answering this question, Swift discovered a series of social vices and injustices that perpetuated the painful poverty of the Irish peasantry, and due to his resulting anger felt that it was his God-given job to do something about them. "’What I do is owing to perfect rage and resentment, and the mortifying sight of slavery, folly, and baseness around me, among which I am forced to live’"(Keach et al 372). Thus, Jonathan Swift’s career as a political satirist and social reformer truly began. Throughout his career, Swift wrote political pamphlet after political pamphlet, discussing the issues and methods of improving the lives of the Irish and the Anglo-Irish. In this multitude of pamphlets, Swift often condemned the Irish peasantry for their unwillingness to change their limiting beliefs and rise up and out of the filth that they had wallowed in for so many years. However, he also recognized that England’s mercantilist economic controls of Ireland and her condescending attitude toward the Irish people had greatly induced the wretchedness of the Irish situation. Because of this, many of his pamphlets addressed sensible methods of weakening England’s control over the Irish economy. Angered by the failure of his other proposals, Swift redoubled his efforts and created an immensely powerful attack upon the Irish situation and its roots in the "’folly and baseness’"(Keach et al 372) of the Irish and the Anglo-Irish. The result of this endeavor was the moving political satire "A Modest Proposal" (or more formally "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 Publick"). But, what makes this satire so moving, so poignant, so powerful? The basis for this essay was to determine the answer to that question, and through much thought and analysis, it was concluded that the magnificence of this piece dwells in its captivating use of the situational irony that a nauseating proposal for child cannibalism was rationally more moral than the Irish situation of that time. Through this situational irony, Swift’s writing seizes the mind and the soul of the reader and meticulously crafts a "biting morally indignant exposé of evil and corruption"("Satire") in the style of Juvenalian satire that leaves Swift’s past proposals as the only sane solutions to the horrifying Irish situation.
But what is this irony, this situational irony that gives "A Modest Proposal" its energy, its flare? It is the comparison between the worst and the worse than worst. Swift first shows the reader a "melancholy object"(Swift 383) , the never-ending poverty of the Irish: with its beggars crowding the streets, with its kids so narrow-minded in their choice for occupation that they only become either thieves, traitors of Ireland, or slaves in the Caribbean, with its women who are so wretchedly poor that they must abort their babies due to the cost yet still bear the terrible guilt on their conscience, and with its elderly,