Arguments in Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.”

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A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift is a satirized literary work that delves into the deplorable circumstances in Ireland in the early eighteenth century. The publishing of the novel coincided with the arrival of the New World and the slave trade, in which people were commodified into commodities. Furthermore, Ireland, as a British colony, was subject to a harsh British regime that, evidently, hampered decent living conditions for the Irish. Understandably, Swift knits these anecdotal nuances into a witty and humored story that does explicate not only the unenviable Irish state but also the deficiencies of the internal and external interventions to the common social and economic apathies. As a result, Jonathan Swift’s rhetorical use of satire exposes Ireland as an incapacitated nation-state that cannot adequately solve its social and economic challenges.
Jonathan’s Swift’s first argument is that Ireland is an economic and socially failed nation-state. The narrative opens with ghastly images of mothers and children crowded along the streets of Dublin and begging their way for sustenance and livelihood. Right from the first paragraph, he alludes to the sartorial state of Ireland as he intimates of “Beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags” (Swift 502). Apparently, Ireland is incapable of controlling its glaringly massive overpopulation, unemployment, and resource inadequacy, which is driving its citizenry into begging. According to Zastrow (537), overpopulation portends economic problems, too little food, crowding and resource shortages, among other issues. The failures in Ireland’s economic and social policies have borne the vicious elements of poverty and state neglect, envisaged by the miseries experienced by the mothers and their children. Perhaps this grim reality is what drives the author to propose that to survive, the Irish poor should make food of their own children, as an immediate escape from poverty, crowding and depleted economic and social amenities (Allen and Hunt 67). Additionally, the story reveals yet other aspects of the deplorable conditions: “Helpless infants growing up and turning into thieves…leaving their dear country for Spain…selling themselves to the Barbadoes…voluntary abortions…and women murdering their bastard children.” These practices are reminiscent of failed nation-states. As a result, “A Modest Proposal” is one of Jonathan’s Swift’s angry protests against the wretched state of Ireland (Yankauer 985), demonstrating its economic and welfare inadequacies.
In as much as Swift argues that Ireland is a failed state, he also contends that the country and its wealthy, upper-class citizens are exploiting the poor. Swift resorts to economic cannibalism in exposing the intricate involvement the country and its privileged citizens in exploiting the poor (Chowdhury 133). For instance, the politicians are engaged in economic pamphleteering on behalf of the poor masses. Swift (506) writes of being weary of the political manipulations whose exploitative ideas “puts the country’s subsistence into a common stock, leaving Ireland in debt two millions of pounds in sterling…” Apparently, the author’s indignation towards these political machinations rests on the way they are visionless and ineffectual, coupled with their unnecessary expenses, which deplete money from the circulation and cause further impoverishment. Because the politician’s proposals keep eating into the little public coffers, their actions are synonymous with economic cannibalism (Chowdhury 133). The recommendations focus on the opportunities for the wealthy, rather than the necessities of the poor (Phiddian 609); hence, creating avenues for the enrichment of the wealthy and the poor citizens pushed further the drain. Besides the politicians’ actions, the noble folk and wealthy citizens find proper avenues to extort the poor. For instance, Swift intimates that landlords have no mercy towards their tenants when he suggestively says “They have already devoured most of the parents, and seem to have the best title for the children…” From this observation, it is undoubtedly true that parents pay exorbitantly for rent, thereby matching the cannibalistic parodies landlords obtain in the text. The shopkeepers are also not immune to these flesh-eating antics when Swift (505) refers to them as “lacking a spirit of honesty, industry, and skill [because] they unite to cheat and exact upon us in the price…” This way, the children of the exploited parents spend their entire lives paying for the shopkeepers and the landlords’ mercilessness on price inflations, therefore, demonstrating the pervasive exploitation of the poor.
Apart from these two arguments, Swift also posits that the Irish are the architects of their problems and the solutions to those challenges. Several anecdotes exhibit the Irish people’s inability to mobilize resources and work towards the promotion of their economic and social well-beings. The opening of the paragraph where, apparently, “four, five or six children trail their begging mothers along the Dublin streets” (Swift 502), signifies the Irish inability at population control. Zastrow (537) observes that population growth if left unchecked, would outstrip the food supply, as evidenced by the incessant begging. The author acknowledges that “the prodigious number of children [are] a very great additional grievance” (502). Perhaps if the Irish regulated their population patterns, the burden on the limited resources would be less severe. Besides, the mothers prefer begging to work. Swift (502) writes of “Mothers, instead of being able to work for their honest livelihoods…stroll to beg for sustenance for their helpless infants.” This premise suggests that begging is systemic, and has transcended into a cultural pandemic that has hindered mothers from seeking sustainable options of providing for their children. As a result, available interventions should address this behavioral menace if Ireland intends to improve its social and economic strength. Another trait evident in the proposal is the reliance on imports and the prevalence of limited locally manufactured goods and services. The proposer intimates of “Using neither clothes nor household furniture except our own growth and manufacture… [And] refusing instruments and materials that promote foreign luxury” (Swift 508). From these constructs, it appears that Irish problems are behavioral and culture-related, which, as the proposer hints, if abolished, could see Ireland becoming a prosperous Kingdom. These realities drive his recommendations of boosting local productions and manufacture, curing pride, laziness, vanity, and other undesirable practices among women, as well as mercy and compassion among shopkeepers and landlords. In as much as the proposals are Irish-based and effectual, they are of no expense and little trouble compared to the vain, idle and visionary ideas of the political elites (Swift 509)
Conclusion
Economic and social apathies are brought by behavioral and cultural patterns that entrenched in societies. In Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” The Irish are the architects of the problems explicated in the essay, as evidenced by their inabilities to mobilize resources and work towards economic and social well-being. The solutions to their patterned lives can be reversed through dynamic shifts in those practices, as they seek to implement measures targeting behavior changes. As a result, Swift’s use of satire parodies the occurrences in the text and aids in the exposure of the hypocritical aspects of the state and its citizens towards Eighteenth-century Irish failures.
Works Cited
Allen, Rodney and Ian Hunt. “Debate: A modest proposal for the new millennium.” Australian Journal of Social Issues, 36.1(2001): 67-78. Print.
Chowdhury, Ahsan. “Splenetic ogres and heroic cannibals in Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal.” English Studies in Canada, 34.2-3(2008): 131-157. Pint.
Phiddian, Robert. “Have you eaten yet? The reader in A Modest Proposal.” SEL 36 (1996): 603-621. Print.
Swift, Jonathan. “A Modest Proposal.” The Writings of Jonathan Swift. Ed Robert Greenberg and William B. Piper. New York, NY: Norton, 1973. 502-509. Print.
Yankauer, Alfred. “The use of irony.” American Journal of Public Health, 69.10(1979): 985. Print.
Zastrow, Charles. Introduction to social work and social welfare: Empowering people (11th Ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks Cole, Cengage Leaning, 2014. 537. Web. 18.02.2017.

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