tablesetting complete with forks, knives, and spoons, and a baby on the plate in the center above the words "A Modest Proposal"

A Modest Proposal

by Jonathan Swift

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Why doesn't Swift end the sentence after "food" in paragraph 9 of "A Modest Proposal"?

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A normal person would end this sentence after the word food, because he would have the sensitivity not to get too graphic about his proposal. However, the fact that the narrator actually adds that the babies will be tasty

whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled, and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or ragout

shows how tone deaf and clueless he is. The images these words create are repulsive as we imagine a cooked human baby brought to the dinner table.

However, beyond wanting to characterize the narrator as clueless, Swift also wants us to feel how horrible and barbaric this baby-cooking cannibalism is. The more we can visualize it, the more we are likely to feel horrified and have our emotions fully aroused.

The narrator wants us to see him as humane person trying to solve the problem of poverty in Ireland. He even suggests a statue should be erected to a person like him. However, his description of what he is proposing has the opposite effect, showing him to be a callous individual who doesn't see the poor as wholly human.

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After the word "food" in paragraph 9, Swift adds the words "whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled." He is referring to the way in which healthy children make good food for discerning eaters. By adding these words describing the way the poor children should be cooked to be more delicious, Swift enhances the exaggerated quality of his point. The description of the way in which children are to be consumed is grotesque and some might consider it humorous in a dark way. This touch of humor makes his proposal ridiculous and enforces Swift's overall point—that not caring for the poor of Ireland is cruel. He must exaggerate his points so that they are ridiculous to drive home the idea to his readers that the current situation in Ireland, in which the poor are starving, is in itself ridiculous and untenable.

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I take it you are referring to the paragraph where Swift finally presents his idea, based on the report of an American of "his acquaintance." It is actually the eighth paragraph in my book, but it could be that you have a slightly different edition.

What is important to note is the way that the series of modifiers after the word "food" in this paragraph move this shocking idea to being one that is completely hilarious through a long list of different ways in which an Irish child can be cooked. Consider how Swift achieves this:

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, noruishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled, and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or ragout.

Swift uses exaggeration here to highlight the immense humour of what he is suggesting. In addition to proposing cannibalism, he then goes on to list a number of different ways in which the children can be consumed, going as far as presenting himself as something of a food expert, not merely restricting himself to common ways of cooking, but also mentioning such methods as creating a "fricassee, or ragout." Swift is obviously increasing the satire of his suggestion by pretending to present an Irish child as the latest "must-have" food and suggesting a number of different ways that it could be consumed. To suggest the idea of canniballism itself would be shocking enough, but then to go on and identify a number of different ways of preparing the Irish child for consuming makes it even more shocking.

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