The following sample essay on A Modest Proposal Essay discusses it in detail, offering basic facts and pros and cons associated with it. To read the essay’s introduction, body and conclusion, scroll down.
Swift creates a narrator in order to satirize the intellectual hypocrisy, arrogance, and moral depravity of the landlords who “paper over” greed and prejudice with “scientific” rationalizations about the causes of Ireland’s poverty. Englishmen of that era frequently attributed Ireland’s poverty to its “backward” Catholic faith, not to English policies.
Swift’s narrator mocks, of all things, Irish eating habits and cites a French physician who attributes the seasonal “surplus” of Irish infants to the Catholic practice of eating fish during lent which “the expert” claims make Catholics more fertile.
He claims that this “backward” Catholic practice of fish-eating can actually be turned into a financial “windfall” because the Irish children can be butchered and eaten during religious holidays and after christenings. It never even occurs to the narrator that eating human beings is more barbaric than eating fish.
And this is where the similarity becomes evident. For in ‘Alive’, Read has made it reasonable to eat flesh, and in a similar manner to Swift, uses impersonal vocabulary, such as ‘carcass’ rather than body.
Although there is a strong moral tone throughout, the text remains neutral and dispassionate in ‘Alive. ‘ In both, the authors have not tried to make their voices sensational, but rather like arguing their cases by presenting evidence. We can see this on page 62, where the survivors are still indecisive.
Both sides of opinions are given, one perhaps slightly stronger than the other, and the reader is allowed to decide for himself what is right. I think most readers, due to the biased nature of the script, and the conditions mentioned before hand, tend to agree with the eventuality.
P P Read has taken care to point out via his characters, that social taboo is not a sin of God, and differentiates between sin and physical revulsion. No one of the survivors proclaims that what they are doing, or might do is “wrong! ” but each argues for himself, for personal reasons. Read suggests that there is no moral indecision, as there is in Swift’s Modest Proposal, but there is a distinction between what is accepted by social conventions and what is right in the name of God. As well as using motives and social issues, there are a variety of literary techniques used by both the narrator in A Modest Proposal, and P P Read.
The narrator’s well structured, almost business like approach, in A Modest Proposal, that has the posterity of a politician’s, such as, “I propose to provide for them,” and careful selection of words, “nutrient” rather than ‘food’ is one example or “yield” to compare human flesh to crops to be harvested, becomes apparent only when the article is understood for its real meaning. This mix of both an apparently shielded, as well as a grotesquely open approach to cannibalism, for example, “a healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, wholesome food,” in A Modest Proposal, confounds the reader.
Read, often to make a point, will isolate sentences, such as “The truth was incontestable,” and like Swift, writes his piece in a detached manner. Although he does sometimes generate empathy, for example from the letters that were never sent home, it is interesting to note that the detail and description is economised, saved for particular occasions, for example, the crash itself, or as the survivors watched as a far away, disorientated ‘Valeta’ stumbled down a valley: “his body slithered helplessly down the side of the mountain… ”
There is also a regular use of short, sharp sentences that are used for a similar effect as the above. Combined with very minimal writing, P P read presents an argument that is guided by him, yet is left to the reader- one that seems sensible, scientific, and pragmatic. With a similar purpose, although with a contrasting approach, Swift too teaches his confused readers an important object lesson about how easy it is to be “taken in,” about how easy it is to become perplexed and morally confused when faced with clever, but false, reasoning.
For example, while most readers will recognize that Swift is not seriously advocating cannibalism, many will mistakenly attribute the narrator’s anti-Catholic ravings to the Anglican clergyman, Swift. Perhaps Swift wants to show readers that their own religious prejudices make them easy targets for manipulation and make their reason an unreliable instrument for clearly differentiating between the rationalizations of Swift’s morally degenerate narrator and a truly enlightened Christian perspective (his own?
)- In the same way that Read questions whether the fact that the survivors of the Fairchild are Christians make them differentiate between society and religion, or whether they become cannibals because of their own instincts, in mind of the Survival of the Fittest. In a similar way, Read approaches religion almost dismissively, yet takes it into special account. His story is very much about spirituality, and throughout, the characters are often speaking the Hail Mary, but continuing to eat flesh, in religious confusion. The barren lifeless environment that they inhabit seems to give them a particular closeness to God.
Yet, they challenge century old ideas of respect for dead bodies, of the linkage of body and soul, and their thoughts of the dead as simply ‘meat’ is a very radical idea in the Christian world. Whether the survivors of the Fairchild convince themselves or actually believe in what they are doing is another matter. It is clear to me that Read has used wine in particular to signify the Holy Communion in connection to the blood of Christ, yet this time, it seems that they have taken a step further, substituting bread for the body itself.
Another survivor, Delgado: “we thought to ourselves, that if Jesus at His last supper had shared His flesh and blood with his apostles, then it was a sign to us that we should do the same – take the flesh and blood as an intimate communion between us all. ” Although Swift’s grotesque narrator, with his ‘reasoned’ proposal for cannibalism, his suggestion that children’s skin be manufactured into ladies’ gloves or gentlemen’s boots, and his grisly recipe collection is probably the literary antecedent of Hannibal Lecter, he states his piece so calmly, that one can sometimes wonder where the blood and gore has gone.
The narrator’s moral confusion is also mirrored in Swift’s readers. Swift entangles not only his narrator, but also his readers, possibly deliberately, in faulty reasoning. To most readers, the “reasonable” narrator appears completely irrational in suggesting cannibalism as a “modest” and “reasonable” solution to the problem of Irish poverty. Yet this cannibal professes Christianity and concern for the poor; he champions “progress. ” An effective technique that Swift uses is verisimilitude.
He quotes scientific “experts” such as a French doctor, and another cannibal, Psalmanazar, and manipulates “reason and science” to justify not only cannibalism, but ignorance, unemployment, exploitation, and anti-Catholic bigotry. However, the conditions which Swift or Read describes are not hyperbole, for the Great Potato Famine ravaged Ireland, and the moral dilemmas faced by the Argentinean Rugby Team were ones that had never been addressed in the society of the day. Only, in Modest Proposal does the projector exaggerate, and perhaps only a little.
Instead, Swift has used savage irony to wield his powerful writing skills, and here lies the success of his article. By writing of cannibalism and its meaning in society as an antithesis, in an masterminded satirized form, Swift makes his work all the more poignant, while his projector appears cold, mechanical, his thoughts computed and wicked, his words spoken, rather, with the banality of evil in mind. However, in Alive, the reader learns that decisions of an extreme nature shall always have opposition, whichever answer is given.
The author, while remaining detached and reporting only through the survivors’ journey and speech, I feel creates a similar ‘narrator’ as in A Modest Proposal, only not quite as directly. There is certainly the voice of Pier Paul Read in the book, and although he is not quite as direct or inhumane as his counterpart in A Modest Proposal, his detachment creates a sense of fear and bewilderment in the reader, as they envision what they themselves might have don in a similar situation.
When ‘Alive’ and ‘A Modest Proposal’ are compared, although I found this difficult considering they are not easily paralleled, I preferred Jonathan Swift’s satirical piece, for this reason. It was short, ridiculous, and although not originally intended, humorous in it’s madness. On the other hand, I found Pier Paul Read’s work tedious and too questioning of a topic, cannibalism, that many today have made their firm minds up about, and of decisions that may only be changed if they were faced with such terrible situations.