Have you eaten yet? The reader in "A Modest Proposal"
Phiddian, Robert Andrew
Johns Hopkins University Press
In Swift's "A Modest Proposal", the Proposer discusses recipes for stewed baby. If Swift's plan for the readers was first to trick us into temporary assent to the proposal, and then to follow this with an instructive catharsis when we recognise our error and revise our view of the political situation, it would seem that Defoe was a more skillful parodic ironist than he. The "Modest Proposal" is simply too aggressively alienating to be successful as a hoax, and Phiddian suggests that we should not try to read it that way. The text does not make a serious attempt to lull us into a false sense of security. Rather, it attacks us; everywhere it makes us vulnerable. We are exposed to the vicissitudes of moral choice, stretched between the polar claims to authority made, on the one hand, by the delinquent and lunatic Proposer, and, on the other, by an angry but fugitive Swift. What Phiddian aims to do in this essay is to look carefully at how we readers are positioned in the text and in relation to these polar authorities.
Phiddian, Robert 1996. Have you eaten yet? The reader in "A Modest Proposal". 'Studies in English Literature', vol.36, no.3, 603-621.