A Modest Proposal A Critical Reading English Literature Essay


One of the “ Tory authors, ” “ a gifted ironist ” ( Abjadian 87 ) , Jonathan Swift was born on November 30, 1667, in Dublin, Ireland. His father-an Englishman who had moved to Ireland-died before that twelvemonth. Receiving fiscal aid from relations, Swift attended a good school for his basic instruction and graduated from Trinity College in Dublin in 1686. He lived off and on in England, became an Anglican reverend, and finally was appointed dean of St. Patrick ‘s Cathedral in Dublin, although he had lobbied for a place in England. His writing-especially his satires-made him one of the most outstanding citizens in Great Britain, and he worked for a clip on behalf of Tory causes. His most celebrated work is Gulliver ‘s Travels, a book of sarcasm on political relations and society in general. “ Despite wellness issues, Swift continued to compose prolifically-especially on issues refering Anglo-Irish dealingss and the church. He decried what he viewed as England ‘s subjugation of Ireland in ‘A Modest Proposal ‘ ” ( deGategno and Stubblefield 8 ) Swift died in Dublin on October 19, 1745.

“ A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Bing a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick, ” normally named as “ A Modest Proposal, ” is a Juvenalian satirical essay written and published anonymously by Jonathan Swift in 1729. The essay was originally printed in the signifier of a booklet.

At the clip of its publication, 1729, a booklet was a short work that took a base on a political, spiritual, or societal issue-or any other issue of public involvement. A typical booklet had no binding, although it sometimes had a paper screen. Writers of booklets, called pamphleteers, played a important function in inflaming or deciding many of the great contentions in Europe in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, every bit good as in the political argument taking up to the American Revolution. In add-on to “ A Modest Proposal, ” Jonathan Swift wrote many political booklets back uping the causes of the Tory political party after he renounced his commitment to the Whig party.


“ A Modest Proposal ” is an essay that uses sarcasm to do its point. A sarcasm is a literary work that attacks or pokes merriment at frailties, maltreatments, stupidity, and/or any other mistake or imperfectness. In Abjadian ‘s words, “ sarcasm is frequently considered as a disciplinary agencies of human frailty and folly ” ( 11 ) . Sarcasm may do the reader laugh at, or experience disgust for, the individual or thing satirized. Impishly or sarcastically, it criticizes person or something, utilizing humor and cagey wording-and sometimes makes hideous averments or claims. The chief intent of a sarcasm is to spur readers to rectify the job under treatment. The chief arm of the ironist is verbal sarcasm, a figure of address in which words are used to roast a individual or thing by conveying a significance that is the antonym of what the words say.

Readers unacquainted with its repute as a satirical work frequently do non instantly recognize that Swift was non earnestly suggesting cannibalism and infanticide, nor would readers unfamiliar with the sarcasms of Horace and Juvenal- ” the two distinguished Roman ironists ” ( Abjadian 13 ) -recognize that Swift ‘s essay follows the regulations and construction of Latin sarcasms.

“ The all right satiric scheme in A Modest Proposal ” ( Williams 26 ) is frequently merely understood after the reader notes the allusions made by Swift to the attitudes of landlords, such as the followers: “ I grant this nutrient may be slightly beloved, and hence really proper for Landlords, who as they have already devoured most of the Parents, seem to hold the best Title to the Children ” ( Swift 1080 ) . Swift extends the metaphor to acquire in a few shot at England ‘s mistreatment of Ireland, observing that “ For this sort of trade good will non bear exportation, and flesh being of excessively tender a consistency, to acknowledge a long continuation in salt, although possibly I could call a state, which would be glad to eat up our whole state without it ” ( 1084 ) .

Historical Background

Over the centuries, England bit by bit gained a bridgehead in Ireland. In 1541, the parliament in Dublin recognized England ‘s Henry VIII, a Protestant, as King of Ireland. In malice of repeated rebellions by Irish Catholics, English Protestants acquired more and more estates in Ireland. By 1703, they owned all but 10 per centum of the land. Meanwhile, statute law was enacted that badly limited the rights of the Irish to keep authorities office, purchase existent estate, acquire an instruction, and progress themselves in other ways. As a consequence, many Irish fled to foreign lands, including America. Most of those who remained in Ireland lived in poorness, confronting disease, famishment, and bias. It was this Ireland-an Ireland of the tyrannized and the downtrodden-that Jonathan Swift attempted to concentrate attending on in “ A Modest Proposal ” in 1720.

Tertullian ‘s Apology

Some bookmans have argued that A Modest Proposal was mostly influenced and inspired by Tertullian ‘s Apology. While Tertullian ‘s Apology is a satirical onslaught against early Roman persecution of Christianity, Swift ‘s A Modest Proposal addresses the Anglo-Irish state of affairs in the 1720s. James William Johnson believes that Swift saw major similarities between the two state of affairss ( 563 ) . Johnson notes Swift ‘s obvious affinity for Tertullian and the bold stylistic and structural similarities between the plants A Modest Proposal and Apology ( 562 ) .

In construction, Johnson points out the same cardinal subject ; that of cannibalism and the feeding of babes ; and the same concluding statement ; that “ human corruption is such that work forces will try to warrant their ain inhuman treatment by impeaching their victims of being lower than human ” ( 563 ) . Stylistically, Swift and Tertullian portion the same bid of irony and linguistic communication. In understanding with Johnson, Donald C. Baker points out the similarity between both writers ‘ tones and usage of sarcasm. Baker notes the eldritch manner that both writers imply an dry “ justification by ownership ” over the topic of giving children-Tertullian while assailing heathen parents, and Swift while assailing the English mistreatment of the Irish hapless ( 219 ) .

Purpose of the Proposal

Fleet appears to propose in his essay that the destitute Irish might ease their economic problems by selling kids as nutrient for rich gentlemen and ladies. By making this he mocks the authorization of the British functionaries. This is when Britain had taken over Ireland and put heavy limitations on their trade, smothering their economic system. The essay has been noted by historiographers as being the first documented satirical essay. A critic ( qtd. in Williams ) in Journal Anglais, in 1777 provinces,

To roast those strategies for reform with which the populace was inundated at that clip, and which frequently insulted the wretchedness to which they affected a desire to convey solace. It will be noticed that Swift has imitated the common looks and the insinuating tone of the writers of these undertakings ( 199 ) .

He wrote “ A Modest Proposal ” to name attending to maltreatments inflicted on Irish Catholics by comfortable English Protestants. Swift himself was a Protestant, but he was besides a indigen of Ireland, holding been born in Dublin of English parents. He believed England was working and suppressing Ireland. Many Irishmen worked farms owned by Englishmans who charged high rents-so high that the Irish were often unable to pay them. Consequently, many Irish farming familiesA continually lived on the border of famishment.

In “ A Modest Proposal, ” Swift satirizes the English landlords with hideous wit, suggesting that Irish babies be sold as nutrient at age one, when they are chubby and healthy, to give the Irish a new beginning of income and the English a new nutrient merchandise to bolster their economic system and extinguish a societal job. He says his proposal, if adopted, would besides ensue in a decrease in the figure of Catholics in Ireland, since most Irish infants-almost all of whom were baptized Catholic-would terminal up in frets and other dishes alternatively of turning up to travel to Catholic churches. Here, he is satirising the bias of Protestants toward Catholics. Swift besides satirizes the Irish themselves in his essay, for excessively many of them had accepted abuse stoically instead than taking action on their ain behalf.


Sing the manner used in the essay, William Monck Mason provinces,

The cold, phlegmatic manner [ in A Modest Proposal ] of a political projector, who waves the consideration of all the finer feelings of humanity, or makes them subservient, as affairs of little minute, to the general advantages proposed in his program of fiscal betterment, is laudably good satirizedaˆ¦ . The cool, ‘businesslike ‘ mode, in which the computations are stated, is every bit admirable ( 340 ) .


… ..In “ A Modest Proposal, ” Swift uses a standard essay format: an gap that presents the subject and thesis ( the “ modest proposal ” ) , a organic structure that develops the thesis with inside informations, and a decision. In the gap, the writer states the job: the distressing economic and societal conditions that impoverish the Irish and forestall them from supplying equal attention for their kids. Before showing the thesis, he inserts the undermentioned transitional sentence: “ I shall now therefore meekly suggest my ain ideas, which I hope will non be apt to the least expostulation ” ( Swift 1080 ) He follows this sentence with the thesis, and so presents the inside informations in the organic structure of the essay.

In the decision, he states the benefits that would accrue from his proposal. He begins with the following two sentences: “ I have excessively long digressed, and hence shall return to my capable. I think the advantages by the proposal which I have made are obvious and many, every bit good as of the highest importance. ” He following lists the advantages, utilizing transitional words such as secondly and thirdly to travel from one point to the following. ” He ends the decision by explicating why his proposal is superior to other redresss. Keep in head that throughout the organic structure and decision Swift makes his statement with sarcasm, saying the antonym of what he truly means.


The dominant figure of address in “ A Modest Proposal ” is verbal sarcasm, in which a author or talker says the antonym of what he means. Swift ‘s consummate usage of this device makes his chief argument-that the Irish deserve better intervention from the English-powerful and awfully diverting. For illustration, to indicate out that the Irish should non be treated like animate beings, Swift compares them to animate beings, as in this illustration: “ I instead recommend purchasing the kids alive, and dressing them hot from the knife, as we do roasting hogs. ” Besides, to indicate out that disease, dearth, and substandard living conditions threaten to kill great Numberss of Irish, Swift cheers their quandary as a positive development:

Some individuals of a desponding spirit are in great concern about that huge figure of hapless people, who are aged, diseased, or maimed, and I have been desired to use my ideas what class may be taken to ease the state of so dangerous an burden. But I am non in the least hurting upon that affair, because it is really good known that they are every twenty-four hours deceasing and decomposing by cold and dearth, and crud and varmint, every bit fast as can be moderately expected. And as to the immature labourers, they are now in every bit hopeful a status ; they can non acquire work, and accordingly ache away for privation of nutriment, to a grade that if at any clip they are by chance hired to common labour, they have non strength to execute it ; and therefore the state and themselves are merrily delivered from the immoralities to come ( 1082 ) .

In “ Sarcasm and Irony in Jonathan Swift ‘s A Modest Proposal, ” a critic, sing the sarcasm in the essays, maintains,

One of the voices that is present throughout the narrative is that of sarcasm. The narrative itself is dry since no 1 can take Swifts proposal earnestly. This sarcasm is clearly demonstrated at the terminal of the narrative ; Swift makes it clear that this proposal would non impact him since his kids were grown and his married woman unable to hold any more kids. It would be instead absurd to believe that a rational adult male would desire to both suggest this and partake in the feeding of another human being. Therefore, before an analyzation can go on, one has to do the premise that this is purely a fictional work and Swift had no purpose of prosecuting his proposal any farther.


There are some allusions in the essay including Barbadoes ( Barbados ) : Easternmost West Indies island, settled by the British in 1627. When Swift published “ A Modest Proposal ” in 1729, the island ‘s plantation proprietors used slaves to bring forth sugar for European ingestion ; Dublin: The Irish metropolis mentioned in “ A Modest Proposal. ” It is the capital of Ireland ; Formosa: Lusitanian name for Taiwan, a Chinese-inhabited island off the sou’-east seashore of China ; Mandarin: High-level Chinese functionary ; Papist: Roman Catholic ; Pretender: James Francis Edward Stuart ( 1688-1766 ) , boy of King James II, who ruled England, Ireland, and Scotland from 1685 to 1688. James II was a Catholic, as was his married woman, Mary of Modena. After his accession to power, Protestant cabals continually maneuvered against him in the background. When Mary became pregnant, these cabals worried that the birth of her kid would set up a line of Catholic male monarchs. Consequently, they plotted to throw out James II and replace him with Dutchman William of Orange, whose female parent was the girl of an English male monarch, Charles I, and whose married woman was one of James II ‘s ain girls. When William marched against England, many Protestants in James II ‘s ground forces deserted to William, and James had no pick but to fly to France. After he died in 1701, the Gallic male monarch so proclaimed James II ‘s immature boy, James Francis Edward Stuart, to be the rightful male monarch of England. The English Parliament so enacted Torahs designed to forestall siting another Catholic male monarch. Nevertheless, in wining old ages, James Francis repeatedly attempted to recover the throne, and the British finally nicknamed him the Old Pretender.A Psalmanazar, George: Gallic forger and imposter who traveled widely under different characters. In one of his most celebrated strategies, he pretended to be from Formosa ( contemporary Taiwan ) , of which small was known in the Europe of his clip. In London, he published a book about Formosa in which he wrote that Formosan jurisprudence permitted a hubby to eat a married woman if she committed criminal conversation. Psalmanazar had ne’er visited Formosa ; the whole book was made up. Nevertheless, many Englishmen believed what he had written.


There some subjects explained and referred to in the essay. The subjects like the development of the downtrodden. Beneath Swift ‘s brave sarcasm is a serious subject ; that English masters are unashamedly working and suppressing the destitute people of Ireland through unjust Torahs, high rents charged by absentee landlords, and other injustices.A Another subject is the bias: At the clip of the publication of “ A Modest Proposal, ” many British Protestants disdained Roman Catholics-especially Irish Catholics-and enacted Torahs restricting their ability to boom and thrive. One of import subject of the work is the Irish Inaction ; Swift ‘s satirical linguistic communication besides chides the Irish themselves for non moving with house resoluteness to better their batch. Another subject is, as Barnett refers to, “ the subject of unwelcome reproduction are the wretchedly hapless female parents of Ireland in A Modest Proposal, whose kids, as the caption informs us, are ‘a Burden to their Parents or Country ‘ ” ( 121 ) .


It has been argued that Swift ‘s chief mark in A Modest Proposal was non the conditions in Ireland, but instead the can-do spirit of the times that led people to invent a figure of unlogical strategies that would supposedly work out societal and economic ailments. Swift was particularly insulted by undertakings that tried to repair population and labour issues with a simple cure-all solution. A memorable illustration of these kinds of strategies “ involved the thought of running the hapless through a joint-stock company ” ( Wittkowsky 85 ) . In response, Swift ‘s Modest Proposal was “ a burlesque of undertakings refering the hapless ” ( 88 ) that were in trend during the early eighteenth century.

A Modest Proposal besides targets the calculative manner people perceived the hapless in planing their undertakings. The booklet marks reformists who “ regard people as trade goods ” ( Wittkowsky 101 ) . In the piece, Swift adopts the “ technique of a political arithmetician ” ( 95 ) to demo the arrant absurdity of seeking to turn out any proposal with cold-eyed statistics.

Critics differ about Swift ‘s purposes in utilizing this faux-mathematical doctrine. Edmund Wilson argues that statistically “ the logic of the ‘Modest proposal ‘ can be compared with defence of offense ( arrogated to Marx ) in which he argues that offense takes attention of the otiose population ” ( Wittkowsky 95 ) . Wittkowsky counters that Swift ‘s satiric usage of statistical analysis is an attempt to heighten his sarcasm that “ springs from a spirit of acrimonious jeer, non from the delectation in computations for their ain interest ” ( 98 ) .


Robert Phiddian ‘s article “ Have you eaten yet? The Reader in A Modest Proposal ” focuses on two facets of A Modest Proposal: the voice of Swift and the voice of the Proposer. Phiddian stresses that a reader of the booklet must larn to separate between the satiric voice of Jonathan Swift and the evident economic projections of the Proposer. He reminds readers that “ there is a spread between the storyteller ‘s significance and the text ‘s, and that a moral-political statement is being carried out by agencies of lampoon ” ( Phiddians 6 ) .

While Swift ‘s proposal is evidently non a serious economic proposal, George Wittkowsky, writer of “ Swift ‘s Modest Proposal: The Biography of an Early Georgian Pamphlet ” , argues that it in order to to the full understand the piece, it is of import to understand the economic sciences of Swift ‘s clip. Wittowsky argues that non adequate critics have taken the clip to straight concentrate on the mercantile system and theories of labour in eighteenth century England. “ [ I ] f one regards the Modest Proposal merely as a unfavorable judgment of status, about all one can state is that conditions were bad and that Swift ‘s sarcasm brightly underscored this fact ” ( Phiddians 3 ) . At the start of a new industrial age in the eighteenth century, it was believed that “ people are the wealths of the state ” , and at that place was a general religion in an economic system which paid its workers low rewards because high rewards would intend workers would work less ( 4 ) . Furthermore, “ in the mercantilist position no kid was excessively immature to travel into industry ” . In those times, the “ slightly more humanist attitudes of an earlier twenty-four hours had all but disappeared and the labourer had come to be regarded as a trade good ” ( 6 ) .

“ Peoples are the wealths of a state ”

Louis A. Landa presents Swift ‘s A Modest Proposal as a review of the popular and undue axiom of mercantile system in the 18th century that “ people are the wealths of a state ” ( 161 ) . Fleet presents the desperate province of Ireland and shows that mere population itself, in Ireland ‘s instance, did non ever intend greater wealth and economic system ( 165 ) . The uncontrolled axiom fails to take into history that a individual that does non bring forth in an economic or political manner makes a state poorer, non richer ( 165 ) . Swift besides recognizes the deductions of such a fact in doing mercantilist doctrine a paradox: the wealth of a state is based on the poorness of the bulk of its citizens ( 165 ) . Swift nevertheless, Landa argues, is non simply knocking economic axioms but besides turn toing the fact that England was denying Irish citizens their natural rights and dehumanising them by sing them as a mere trade good ( 165 ) .


Charles K. Smith argues that Swift ‘s rhetorical manner persuades the reader to hate the talker and commiseration the Irish. Swift ‘s specific scheme is twofold, utilizing a “ trap ” to make understanding for the Irish and a disfavor of the storyteller who, in the span of one sentence, “ inside informations vividly and with rhetorical accent the crunching poorness ” but feels emotion entirely for members of his ain category. Swift ‘s usage of gripping inside informations of poorness and his storyteller ‘s cool attack towards them creates “ two opposing points of position ” which “ estrange the reader, possibly unconsciously, from a storyteller who can see with ‘melancholy ‘ withdrawal a topic that Swift has directed us, rhetorically, to see in a much less degage manner ” ( Smith 136 ) .


A Modest Proposal, A ( 1729 ) , a booklet by Jonathan Swift on Ireland, written during the summer of 1729. In signifier and tone it resembles a conventional philanthropic entreaty to work out Ireland ‘s economic crisis, but Swift ‘s anon. talker suggests a brutal program, to cannibalise the state ‘s kids. It is a chef-d’oeuvre of rhetorical sarcasm, a upseting fiction which marks the terminal of Swift ‘s pamphleteering function on national personal businesss after a decennary of passionate engagement.

The essay depicts the hideous conditions of Ireland and the lives of the Irish people in 1729. The writer portrays and attacks the cruel and unfair subjugation of Ireland by its oppressor, the mighty English and ridicules the Irish people at the same clip. However, Swift ‘s resistance is indirectly presented. Jonathan Swift is able to make so by utilizing the character, sarcasm, and humor in order to expose the singular corruptness and debasement of the Irish people, and at the same clip show them with operable solutions to their unscrupulous and hapless lives. The writer uses a sarcasm to carry through his aim non merely because he is able to hide his true individuality but besides because it is the most effectual manner to wake up the people of Ireland into seeing their ain corruption.

Swift creates a fictional character because by concealing his true individuality he is able to convert the readers of the significance of Ireland ‘s job and let them to see truth and world. The character is a concerned Irishman who is really intelligent, sound, and serious. He appears to be a beast and a monster for suggesting something evil and immoral really calmly as if it is normal to devour the flesh of another human being. What makes his proposal to be even more perverse is that he proposes to eat the babes. The character declares, and at precisely at one twelvemonth old that I propose to supply for them, in a such a mode as, alternatively of being a charge upon their parents, or the parish, or desiring nutrient and array for the remainder of their lives, they shall, on the contrary, contribute to the eating and partially to the vesture of many 1000s. The character justifies his proposal with legion grounds.

Besides the bar of voluntary abortions and infanticide, it will besides forestall the loss of money for care of kids and the maltreatment of adult females and kids. The figure of Papists would be reduced and the kids will non go mendicants, stealers, or cocottes. The proposal will help in the addition in the position of the peasantry, promote love, and attention from the female parents towards their kids. However the character entirely is unequal to do the storyteller seem excessively plausible. The character must use sarcasm and humor in order for his essay to be more efficacious. In fact, harmonizing to deGategno and Stubblefield, it is “ the sort of indurate indifference toward kids that Swift parodied and criticized in “ A Modest Proposal ” ( 69 ) .

A Modest Proposal is so effectual and appealing because of the writers ‘ voluminous utilizations of sarcasm throughout his essay. The rubric itself is decidedly dry. It provides the reader with false outlooks of decency and esthesia on the portion of the author. The abattoir of guiltless babes and the usage of their tegument for vesture is manner beyond being modest. It is barbarous and insane. The proposal is intended to floor and throw the reader off balance. The storyteller besides ridicules the Irish. Swift impelled and inspired the Irish into arising by showing them with executable solutions to discontinue the torment of Ireland ‘s people.