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Cannibalism; an Economic Approach to Poverty and Overpopulation

Updated on November 30, 2016

Jonathan Swift's Modest Proposal

Jonathan Swift, a minister in 16th century Ireland, published a pamphlet proposing a way to improve the widespread poverty witnessed in Ireland. In this pamphlet, Modest Proposal, he suggested fattening the poor undernourished children and feeding them to the rich. Swift also explained that this would solve overpopulation and relieve the burden put on their parents. Although Swift’s proposal was written in a satirical context the descriptive details may promote increased discomfort. After reading his proposal I began to think of his purpose in writing this literary piece. Swift’s reasoning in writing this graphic proposal was to cause a reaction in the people of Ireland. During this time, Ireland was dealing with overcrowding due to the lack of birth control, as well as the poor having more children than they could financially handle. These are problems that many countries still face today.

Swift's Purpose in His Proposal

I believe that Swift was attempting to mock similarly themed pamphlets of this time. By proposing an outrageous approach to solve the world’s problems, he would allow the public to come to an epiphany; the sudden realization that the overpopulation and unemployment would not be solved unless there was a change up in the economic classes of the English people. By including the suggestion that the rich landowners could use a poor child’s skin to keep them warm suggested some underlying hatred towards the rich. Swift grew up in a modest household due to the early death of his father. Swift possibly felt that writing the proposal would make people think about the author and learn about his upbringing. Swift became a successful member of society even with his modest upbringing. In his pamphlet, Swift mentioned that the poor children would grow up to become useless members of society by not learning the skills to find a job. I believe that Swift was trying to make the public realize that these poor undernourished children were not put there by choice. Swift may have been trying to decrease the stigma that was put out by politicians at the time by the sight of impoverished families. The poor children may also grow up to be successful members of society such as himself.


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