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A Modest Proposal
In 1729 Jonathan Swift anonymously published a short work titled A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being a Burden to their Parents or the Country, and For Making Them Beneficial to the Public. The essay began innocuously by discussing the problem of numerous starving beggars and homeless children in Ireland. But then it proposed a radical solution: Ireland's large, impoverished population could be turned to its advantage by feeding the unwanted babies of the poor to the rich. Swift noted, "A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout."

Swift did not actually intend to promote class-based cannibalism. His point was to use satire in order to dramatize how the rich exploit and dehumanize the poor. However, many readers failed to recognize this.

Swift's short work is one of the most celebrated examples of satire in the English language. It has subsequently lent its name to a genre of satirical hoaxing that uses the same method. The satirist pretends to advocate an idea that people find shocking or disgusting. But the true goal of the satire (at least, according to the satirist) is to raise awareness of a social problem.

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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.