Johnathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” is a satirical essay that is meant to criticize Irish society’s derision of the poor, British policies against Ireland, and rationalist economic policies that disproportionately affected the poor.
The proposal in the title, of course, is that poor Irish should sell their children as luxury food items to the rich. The following excerpt best illustrates the shocking, matter-of-fact tone Swift uses to make his point:
A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled.
Therefore, using dehumanizing terms like breeders, males, and females when describing the poor Irish has an ironic effect. These are animalistic words that imply poorer people are subhuman, an idea that Swift is mocking. The hyperbolic vocabulary and seriousness with which the speaker suggests his solution to social problems serve to alienate and horrify the reader. This persuades the reader that prejudiced attitudes toward the poor are harmful, even if they aren’t as extreme as Swift’s cannibalism proposal. Consequently, the reader is forced to ponder real, humane solutions to the poverty crisis.