In his essay A Modest Proposal Jonathan Swift adopts the persona of an economist who is making a proposal of how to make Ireland a better place by getting rid of all of the orphan and pauper children. Through his use of Juvenalian Satire, Swift uses this type of cold-hearted, money minded businessman, to make a convincing argument as he explains the benefits this proposal would bring Ireland if followed, but gives little regard to its de-humanizing, immoral and inhumane characteristics.
The tone of this essay is harsh, cold and callused. This persona exhibits little respect for the lives of children who aren t fortunate enough to be born to a family who has wealth and means to financially support them. Instead he is more concerned with the state that his country is in and how to benefit Ireland rather than to try to take care of and provide for the children as stated:Order now
I think it is agreed by all parties that this prodigious number of children in the arms, or on the backs, or at the heels of their mothers, and frequently of their fathers, is in the present deplorable state of the kingdom a very great additional grievance: and, therefore, whoever could find 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 his statue set up for a preserver of the nation. The undeniable lack of respect for human lives is clearly evidenced by his intolerance for others who may have been less fortunate regardless of their age.
His thoughts state very clearly that unless these orphans and paupers can be useful and contribute to the good of the country then they have nothing to offer and are only a nuisance. In this essay, Swift s use of Juvenalian satire is at its peak when he starts revealing the actual proposal. Juvenalian satire has been defined by Robert Harris as follows: harsher, more pointed, perhaps intolerant satire often attacks particular people, sometimes thinly disguised as fictional characters. While laughter and ridicule are still weapons with Horation satire, the Juvenalian satirist also use withering invective and a slashing attack (1).
Swift s persona continues this attack on these orphan and pauper children as he describes his proposal of fattening up these children and selling them to be eaten. He has gone into much detail analyzing how much money it would take to take care of these children for a year before they could be sold to people for food as stated in the following: I have already computed the charge of nursing a beggar s child (in which list I reckon all cottagers, laborers, and four-fifths of the farmers) to be about shillings per annum, rags included: and I believe no gentleman would repine to give 10 shillings for the carcass of a good fat child (175).
He continues by justifying the benefits of lessening the number of papists; increasing money for the poor; providing fine food for the rich; and would discourage domestic abuse. De-humanizing the children and referring to them as a carcass and later comparing them to cows and other animals further perpetuates the attack. Not only does he insist that the children would be most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food (174) but he also claims that their skin could be used to make gloves and boots for fine ladies and gentleman.
Another reason his persona uses to justify this horrible act, is that he feels that many beggars would have rather been sold for food at 1 year of age instead of living like paupers and having to live through all of the misfortunes that were sure to come their way. He assumes that those people are unhappy with their lives and also makes the mistake of believing that all of those mothers would rather have the money than have the love of their children. I ask you, what kind of mother could nurse her child for a year and sell it to be slaughtered?