Literature And Society In Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal

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Literature and Society are intrinsically dynamic. Jonathan Swift illustrated this with his depiction of a dystopic society in his work, A Modest Proposal. He drew the line where dystopia met reality by resonating the conflict of overpopulation within the story to the Irish commonwealth in the 1700s. When poverty, abortion, hypocrisy and inequality, and many other issues rose during his time, Swift used satire to criticize the way that the current government was handling the aforementioned problems.

After a careful study, one realizes that the prescriptions of the proposer should not be taken at face value. It should be obvious that people are already far beyond the barbaric notions of eating one’s child even if it did solve the public’s issues. On the contrary, what should be taken at face value is the proposer’s cold-hearted logic. He objectified people by reducing them to mere numbers for economic commodities that seem to only benefit those that are rich.

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Poverty and class struggle was very much apparent in this story. In fact, ‘the roads and cabin doors [would be] crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags, and importuning every passenger for an alms.” To lose one’s right to basic needs is already painful, but to lose one’s sense of morality to compensate for the lack of basic needs should strike as a more painful blow to one’s self. The act of eating infants to solve hunger is a demonstration of the greed of the rich. The irony of this act is inhumane and it violates morality. It should blatantly strike the public as an act that the government should obviously not implement in order to address the issue of poverty. However, instead of addressing these problems with equality, the rich prioritize their own well being since the poor are not aware of the socio-political laws. When the poor are not educated, their suffering becomes a lifestyle. That is not solving the problem; that is only making it worse.

With regard to the issue of abortion, the proposer is shameless and cold-hearted. He addressed the problem by using infants as commodities and coining it as a ‘great advantage’ as it will ‘prevent voluntary abortions and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children’. He claims to have solved the issue regarding abortion by using the infants for commodities such as food and clothing. However, much like his solution for poverty, it only does the contrary because it caters to the problems faced by the rich while the poor succumb to more problems.

The proposal being made here is not merely to use the infants as commodities, instead, it is to give up one’s humanity to survive. It is to go back to the savagery that there was back in the caveman era. In essence, humans devolve back into a society where it is driven by carnage and greed. Indeed, the proposal of Swift shows his anger towards the indifference of the government towards the poor during his time. He clearly showed it by writing a dystopian society that draws close similarities with reality. It is appalling to see how brutally synonymous the dystopic society, illustrated by Swift, is to the Philippines. Both are a nation where criminal acts are normalized and the poor have no voice.

To illustrate, extrajudicial killings due to Duterte’s war on drugs did not solve the drug problem here. One may kill the people who practice an ideology, but for as long as the ideology persists, there will be people who will practice it. This is in parallel with the ideology of the addiction to drugs. Objectively speaking, killing someone for taking illegal drugs demonstrates authority and will show fear to people who take these drugs. However, it will not stop them because this approach does not address the issue by the root, instead, it takes it by the leaves where there is room left for other leaves to grow in other areas. Clearly, this is one of the reasons why Duterte’s war on drugs is a failure. He has promised to solve this problem two to three months after his taking of oath as the president, yet 3 years after, the problem on illegal drugs still is prevalent and is worse than it used to be.

Duterte’s war on drugs and extrajudicial killings always used to be on the headlines of new articles and news reports on the television. However, it seems that news stations have come to let them pass as if it is something that is not newsworthy because of how normalized these cases have become. It is horrific how this is a reality because it is a society where manipulating and killing the poor is not wrong. It is as if the Duterte administration had seen the proposal of Swift and failed to see how it was supposed to be satire. As the administration continues to claw on people and lives are involuntarily taken without due process, none of the problems in the Philippines will be solved. Eating infants, or for the Philippines case, killing drug lords will not solve anything.

I analogize the issue on illegal drugs and overpopulation in the Philippines using a claw machine because much like the stuffed toys, we Filipinos, especially the poor, are powerless and silenced as individuals against the criminal acts of the Duterte administration. We are already lucky enough to have news reports which tell of stories of a few cases of extrajudicial killings. However, it is certain that these cases are only a few among thousands of other cases that have not been reported on. If we do not address the issues of the current administration, then we will only end up like the stuffed toys, waiting to be clawed to our demise.


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