The Child Cannibalism Reasoning

J’Lillian Mello

British Literature

Blog Project

11 February, 2016

The Child Cannibalism Reasoning

     A Modest Proposal discusses a proposition of child cannibalism to improve Ireland’s problems economically, socially, and politically. This piece of work that was written by Dr. Jonathan Swift in 1729 was a very popular satire. As this satire brought a ton of attention and shock to its peers as any satire piece of work does, it brings up a lot of debate. Some interpretations of this satire essay is that it’s full of political statements about the Irish and the English. Also some other interpretations is that the essay is highlighting some values of the author or values in general. To understand some of these interpretations, the whole essay needs to be evaluated and broken down.

     Swift brings up whose idea of child cannibalism it really is. Swift mentions in the essay, “I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust,” (Swift 142). In this part of Swift’s essay it’s obvious that child cannibalism is an Americans idea. Also Swift goes into detail that there’s many ways to eat a baby and also that he agrees it would be a delicious meal. Swift is trying to show that other countries are practicing the act of cannibalism and that is another way of Swift trying to persuade his audience. Swift not only mentions that babies are a tasty plate, they can also be used in many other useful ways. In this part of the essay Swift says, “Those who are more thrifty (as I must confess the times require) may flea the carcass: the skin of which, artificially dressed, will make admirable gloves for ladies, and summer boots for fine gentlemen,” (Swift 143). In this part of the essay Swift is dehumanizing and utilizing the babies. This is important in a satire that he is using his shock value to his advantage and it makes it easier for some of his statements to come across.

     When Swift is bringing up his six points of why child cannibalism is a good idea and will solve many problems like overpopulation of Papists, he also not only dehumanizes the babies but demoralizes women. In this part of the essay Swifts says, “The constant breeders, besides the gain of eight shillings sterling per annum by the sale of their children, will be rid of the charge of maintaining them after the first year,” (Swift 144). Basically Swift implies that babies are a burden. Also this part of the essay shows a little bit of the economic part that he brings into the satire. Swift’s implying that this would also help or solve the economic issues of Ireland. Swift’s last point that he makes is that socially this is a good proposal for Ireland.

     The first part of the point Swift makes is, “It would increase the care and tenderness of mothers towards their children, when they were sure of a settlement for life to the poor babies, provided in some sort by the publick, to their annual profit instead of expence,” (Swift 144). In this part of his essay he’s trying to prove that this would improve the mother’s attitude towards her children, because they would be making money instead of children costing them money. The second part of the sixth point is, “Men would become as fond of their wives, during the time of their pregnancy, as they are now of their mares in foal, their cows in calf, or sow when they are ready to farrow; nor offer to beat or kick them (as is too frequent a practice) for fear of a miscarriage,” (Swift 144). In this part, Swift is implying that men would treat their wives better for bearing a child that they could profit from.

     Swift implies political statement like the lack of Irish political leadership on these issues. Swift mentions, “For this kind of commodity will not bear exportation, and flesh being of too tender a consistence, to admit a long continuance in salt, although perhaps I could name a country, which would be glad to eat up our nation without it,” (Swift 145). He’s mocking in a way that England was invited by Ireland but that ended up with the English politically taking over. With all of these points that Swift made he concludes with, “I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavouring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the publick good of my country, by advancing our trade, providing for infants, relieving the poor, and giving some pleasure to the rich,” (Swift 146). The ending of the essay plays an important part of concluding his thoughts. He’s just saying that he’s putting his country in front of his personal interest. That this is their last resort to solve these problems.

     The discussion in British Literature class clarified some of the relations of this writing to the Restoration Period. Obviously, this writing is a satire and in class it was discussed what a satire is and why this essay is one. Swift wants these problems to be solved and or improved so he proposes this drastic idea of eating babies. He makes this a believable idea by supporting his points and even including statistics about how this would change the population and economics in Ireland. Also the class discussed a little bit of the author. Dr. Jonathan Swift was anti-war and anti-imperialist. He also was catholic, which is ironic in a way because he wrote in his essay that it would lessen the number of Papists. He actually was a priest and was obviously very religious with strong beliefs and ideas. Overall, Swift wrote a dramatic satire in the Restoration Period and has been and will be a very important strong piece of British Literature.


Image source: (Jonathan Swift).

1061 words


Barber, Rupert. Jonathan Swift (shown without wig). 1745. National Portrait Gallery,London. Wikipedia. Web. 12 February 2016.
Swift, Jonathan. A Modest Proposal. Currents in British Literature II Course Packet. Comp. Ann McClellan. Plymouth, NH: 2014. 1-152.


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