As one reads the first lines of “A Modest Proposal,” feelings of sympathy seem to be overwhelming. It is easy for the reader to begin to identify with the speaker within the first few lines of the text. The speaker here shows immediate passion for his society, but does he have his reader fooled?
“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 doubts that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.” (Swift) I had to read this sentence several times to ensure that I was reading him right. Eat the children? How heartless? So, I had to search for answers. Was this driven by passion? No, it was not. Was it driven by reason? Yes. While I do not believe it is reasonable to eat your babies, I do, however, believe that the speaker is sincerely using reason to try to fix the unfixable issues within his society. In this text, and in many of the others which I have studied written during the Enlightenment, reason is not always reasonable. In many cases, in the attempt to build a “perfect” society, we give this dreamland so many characteristics that cannot exist in a world where imperfect human beings abide. As I thought through this, I began to realize that Swift, himself, was not suggesting that the reader eat his or her babies, but in fact, was making a statement about the trouble his society was in. He makes this clear in his remarks referring to how people treat each other, how people too often indulge, and how people have allowed immorality to overtake the Ireland. It is a cry for help! It is a man who is longing for his society to wake up and see that they are eating away at themselves. Swift makes a shocking, yet comical, story out of the state of his beloved country. At the heart of this essay is a man looking to save his people from themselves. Now that is passion!