What is the rebuttal in "A Modest Proposal"?

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Swift's narrator seems to anticipate possible rebuttals to his proposal toward the end of the essay . He outlines a number of other suggestions that people might make rather than submit to the proposal: "let no man talk to me of other expedients." He allows that some might suggest "taxing...

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Swift's narrator seems to anticipate possible rebuttals to his proposal toward the end of the essay. He outlines a number of other suggestions that people might make rather than submit to the proposal: "let no man talk to me of other expedients." He allows that some might suggest "taxing our absentees at five shillings a pound": in other words, landowners who do not live in Ireland could be taxed to raise money to support the poor. Further, the country could outlaw the use of goods that are not produced by their "own growth and manufacture." People could endeavor to exercise less "pride, vanity, [and] idleness," conserving money for necessities instead of luxuries; this money could help the poor. People could learn to exercise more "parsimony, prudence and temperance," and begin to put the needs of their country first, loving it as other people love their own countries; they might help their fellows rather than themselves. Landlords could develop "at least one degree of mercy towards their tenants," and so on and so forth. There are lots of rebuttals anticipated by the speaker. However, the narrator says,

let no man talk to me of [other] expedients, 'till he hath at least some glimpse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice.

In other words, the speaker feels it is so unlikely that any of these other practices could actually be adopted and they, therefore, do not even bear discussion.

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Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" is a satirical essay that deals with the improper treatment of poor and famished children in Ireland. When Swift "proposes" to eat the fattened babies in order to save them from starvation (while, of course, singlehandedly solving the food crisis), he does so in satirical jest. In reality, Swift is suggesting that these more unfortunate Irish folk should be taken care of by those who have the capability of doing so. In an eerily timely reading of this essay, one can bring about the question as to how any individual in a shared society could allow their peers to starve while they themselves prosper!

Swift's own point becomes more clear when his rebuttal is introduced; in this rebuttal, Swift suggests that there are a large number of ways in which society can be improved while taking care of the unfortunate. Swift mocks the condescension and imagined superiority that the wealthy impose upon the poor. He suggests that by offering mercy, leniency, care, and general tolerance, the poor can be properly taken care of and society can consequently become a more pleasant place to live.

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In “A Modest Proposal,” Swift is proposing that in order to solve the problem of starvation in his native land, they begin eating babies. He structures his essay in such a way that he defines the problem (poor women and their children, begging on the street), he makes a proposal (to begin eating babies), he then gives all the reasons we should eat babies and also lists some interesting ways to eat babies. He talks about which group will eat babies and how they should be cooked. After all this, he gives a refutation and addresses the problems people will have with his plan. One refutation has to do with his certainty that people will object because “the number of people will be thereby much lessened in the kingdom.” Swift says he knows this, and it was his chief reason for saying it. He then lists all the proposals he thinks people will make to him, such as: “of teaching landlords to have at least one degree of mercy towards their tenants,” and he says he does not want to hear about them unless people are prepared to actually act upon them. He also reminds them that it will be difficult to “find food and raiment for a hundred thousand,” and tells them to ask the poor whether they “would not at this day think it a great happiness to have been sold for food at a year old.” Swift’s main point is that there are starving women and children in Ireland, being ignored not only by the English government, but also by their own people.

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