A modest proposal
These two texts are very different in many aspects. Not only in form, style and structure, but also in content. They show obvious differences with reference to family relationships. ‘Hamlet’ focuses on a single family with severe problems needing research into psychoanalysis to make these truly clear, whereas a ‘A Modest Proposal’ shows the problems of families in an Irish Society in the 18th Century, namely those of the poorer classes. The similarity between them is singularly that the families portrayed are unhappy and certainly not stereotypical.
Swift’s society is portrayed as miserable and in need of political help, Shakespeare’s protagonist family, and indeed other more minor ones are crying out for help which they never get, and may have been far beyond. It is the way in which they are presented by the writers which needs further analysis. Swift’s satirical taint on ‘A Modest Proposal’ makes it difficult to take much of the contents too seriously. However, his acute observations on society as a whole, and the way that we treat each other are both profound and sensible. He shows us a society which is impoverished and in dire need of help from it’s government.
He is trying to make clear the full horror of Ireland’s economic situation at the time through satirical attack. As a whole it would be implausible to view it as a literal argument, but its representation of families at this time may hold more truth. He seems to be urging families not to allow the brutality of their circumstance to influence their treatment of one another, and specifically calls upon parents to protect their children. In the first 11 lines Swift has already addressed the idea that parents are perhaps not being the disciplining, guiding figures they should.
The narrator states with no qualms that their “helpless infants” shall certainly “either turn thieves for want of work, or leave their dear Native Country to fight for the Pretender in Spain, or sell themselves to the Barbadeous. ” Not a promising prediction for the generation of the future. He goes on to comment that these children are “a very great additional grievance. ” However this is almost a contradiction, as their parents are obviously devoted enough to them to beg on the streets to obtain food to feed them.
Although parents may certainly view their children as an irritation at time, surely parental love would prevent them from being reduced to merely another grievance. Another worrying point he makes in line 18 is that he sees necessary to make these children “sound useful members of the commonwealth”. Although he does not specify when exactly he hopes this to happen, he does comment in line 67 that children above the age of six can often make themselves useful by earning a living by stealing. This then raises the question why can children not just be children?
They should by all rights be allowed to be helpless and supported without being thought of as a burden, rather than be expected to be providers themselves. In this case, the blame lies not solely on the family. Circumstances were such that any means of extra income was greedily received. This dire poverty-stricken situation made only worse by the inadequacy of lame proposals made by superficial governments. However the preservation of a child’s innocence must rest on its parents and supporting family.
Perhaps more disturbingly still is the narrators argument in the paragraph form lines 41-47 which deals with the “voluntary abortions” which mothers were having in order to preserve their own well-being. He indicates that the reasoning behind these abortions was for money rather than to avoid shame, although this may be a slight fabrication on his part to support his argument. What this would imply in terms of family relationships is that the structure of the family was simply not strong enough, nor supportive enough.
He seems to miss the crucial point that arguably the most important way to provide for a child is through love and nurturing rather than the provision of material things. Also his mention that these aborted children are “bastards” is an insinuation that they are the products of unmarried parents and possibly of unloving sexual relations. This would then tie into the later point that he later makes, that his proposal “would be a great inducement to marriage which all wise nations have either encouraged by rewards or enforced by laws and penalties” (lines 229-331).