- Author: Johnathan Swift
- Genre: Satirical Essay
- Publication date: 1729
A Modest Proposal is a satirical essay written by renowned Irish author and playwright, Oscar Wilde. Through this essay, the author wants to highlight the plight of Irish population and the apathy of the Irish policies and authorities. It is widely regarded as the greatest examples of sustained irony in the history of English literature. The essay was published in 1729 anonymously and through it, the author proposes a rather unconventional way of tackling the issues facing Irish economy. He announces that, “In order to minimize the burden on parents and improve their financial condition, they should sell their children as food to the rich.”
Though it sounds outright repulsive, the idea is used as a scathing remark on the then British government and the rich landlords. He justifies his opinion by meticulously listing the economic benefits reaped from such transaction and even suggests different ways to prepare the tender human meat. He then launches into a tirade of criticism of two of the most influential personalities of that time. The writer employs “Shock and awe” style of writing which follows in the steps of Latin Satires. He begins by drawing the reader’s attention to the starving Irish beggars, living on the streets, a wretched miserable life. And then, he springs a surprise in the form of the mentioned outrageous solution.
A naive, gullible reader may be lead to believe that the writer is advocating cannibalism or infanticide when he reads lines such as ” a year old is most nourishing and wholesome and can be enjoyed roasted, stewed, backed or boiled “. However, true realization dawns upon them, when the author starts taking shots at the parasitic attitude of the landlords, such as:
“I grant this food may be somewhat dear and therefore very proper to the Landlords, who as they have devoured most of the parents seem to have the best title to the children.”
The writer doesn’t stop at this and goes on to deride England for overlooking the problems faced by Ireland:
” 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 whole nation without it. ”
Oscar Wilde’s plan was twofold, to make the narrator sound as abominable as possible and garner sympathy for Ireland. He achieves both with his unorthodox technique. The phrase, “A modest proposal ” is used to allude to this particular style of Satire.