“A Modest Proposal” is a satirical story written by Jonathan Swift in 1729. The story proposes to solve the problem in Ireland of tenant farmers who cannot feed their children because the owners are adamant about the lease. After discussing the problem, he suggests a new solution: parents should sell their children to rich landowners so they can eat them. Many Swift contemporaries did not understand the satirical intent of Swift’s essay and received criticism for his writing. The author’s objective was to confront Irish society with the deplorable conditions of day laborers and peasants in his country. His vehicles of transmission were sarcasm, irony, and black humor. The work has become an indisputable reference of the essay genre.
Swift’s proposal is to solve the misery of the poor peasantry of Ireland by accepting to eat their children, and thus improve the diet of the rich landowners, because, undoubtedly, these are people condemned to misery. Representing a form of political and social criticism of the values of modernity, references to this work have made it commonplace to represent sarcasm with political incorrectness, as a practical strategy of enunciation. Swift’s proposal plays with exacerbating the valuation of the human within the axis of possession of the land and work of the peasants, taking it to the radical extreme as if it were the relationship between meat and hunger. That is why I think he went too far. However, his discourse democratizes political criticism by giving access to the voice of the other, opening the field of political discourse to the interpellation of “those below” on the social reality imposed ‘from above.
One of the thoughts that stood out to me the most was about the doubt related to the human essence, which reinforces the moral sense of satire and demands a higher level for human nature. The fact that the children of the poor can be sold and eaten by the rich deliberately weakens the difference between human and non-human animals. In that sense, the piece opposes also social inequality, a topic that generates a lot of interest in me. The burlesque effect of the piece is the displacement with which the social structure is confused with an opposite structure, which reduces humanity to its natural aspects, in this case, from the most utilitarian point of view: as a food resource. Through the discursive ethos of the author who satirizes breaking with the general moral values that represent the Irish landowners, the contradictions of a social system orchestrated by their interests were exposed.