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A Summary and Analysis of 'A Modest Proposal' By Jonathan Swift

Sai Kardile May 4, 2019
Jonathan Swift's inflammatory and biting wit suffused essay, A Modest Proposal is most likely to disturb humorless folks. His impassive approach meshed with caustic raillery definitely stirs an otherwise complacent reader as well as dares to expose the flaws pertinent to the society.

Behind the Mask

By virtue of his ironic representation of political and societal flaws, many of Jonathan Swift's work had to be published either anonymously or under pseudonyms.
Jonathan Swift's writing style is influenced by the Juvenalian style of satire that employs weapons of satire and sarcasm to bring forth the incompetencies and flaws of society and politics.
Originally titled as 'A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick', this essay makes bizarre assertions to direct attention to the apathetic as well as abusive approach of the English towards the Irish.
Known as one of the most famous English satirical essays, A Modest Proposal was published anonymously in Dublin in 1729 as a short pamphlet.


  • First let's get you oriented with the premise of the essay. There's remotely nothing modest about 'A Modest Proposal' as the essayist mentions of cannibalism and infanticide with a vapid tone; but satire is meant to be like that.
  • Jonathan Swift starts the essay by describing a melancholic sight of riled women environed by an assemblage of ragamuffins. These gnawing bunch of kids not just pose a problem to their parents who have to think about ways to keep their gobs munching, but are a major contributing factor for the kingdom's undoing.
  • A mother can still brook up with the one-year-old kids, as they make the sucklings. However, with nature's sadistic (in this context) rule of growth, providing grub for the growing ones becomes disproportionately troublesome.
  • Swift then does some frigid reckoning with the number of babies needed, number of Irish couples capable of breeding, number of little gobs that can be fed by their parents, etc., and arrives at an astonishing 100,000 babies that can be used as meat for the rich.
  • Yes, this is Swift's grand proposal of easing pecuniary problems―to slaughter children to appeal to the riches' taste buds. The meat of the human babies may be a bit difficult to swallow.
  • But Swift goes on to add that a certain gourmet American gentleman suggested that a well-fed child can make for ambrosial food that can be easily boiled, baked, stewed, or roasted as well as lend themselves scrumptious in a ragout or fricassee.
  • He then goes on to tell about the profits that mothers can reap from their children and continue increasing their financial wherewithal.
  • He counts the many benefits that will ensue from his proposal―from the reduced number of the dangerous Catholics, to the easy availability of valuable commodity in the form of meat, to the booming of the tavern business to the consolidation of the sanctuary of marriage.
  • Swift later goes on to say that he sees the poor either growing up and becoming thieves or fighting for the Pretender in Spain or sell themselves as bound workers in the plantations in the West Indies. He believes that his proposal's sole intention is to abate the crisis of the poor and gratify the rich.


  • Throughout the essay, Swift makes use of apathetic, insincere, and sarcastic language to refer to the faults of society, politicians, and people of Ireland.
  • When he begins with the essay, he comes across as a social scientist, as if presenting an emphatic picture of the fettle of women and children in Ireland. However, his sensitive side soon transmogrifies as he directs his satirical attack on the papists and politicians.
  • Those whose eyeballs popped out in horror and disgust with Swift's suggestion at treating human babies as delicacies can restore them back as he is only making use of this savage proposal to draw readers' attention to the arrogance showed by the English toward their Irish subjects.



Despite being a Protestant, Jonathan Swift is critical about his own religion. While he doesn't make efforts to overtly instill sympathy toward the Catholics, his caustic style of writing does make ample sarcastic and outrageous comments that allude his concern for them, however fleeting or humorous it may seem.
He builds the overall idea of overpopulation as a result of Catholic breeding, thus, proving the effective nature of his proposal.

A Savagely Ludicrous Solution

Swift's frightening and imbecile calculation that he supports with statistics and logical reasoning, is the central idea of the proposal. People who treat humans as mere figures and the ones who fail to view them with compassion and humanity wouldn't shy away from actuating Swift's proposal of looking at babies as livestock.


Children are one of the most unfortunate characters in this essay. From boiling to baking to roasting, they have been subjected to all sorts of cooking methods.
The ease and indifference with which he discusses the suggested usage of kids as meat is shockingly immoral. He says that the sole purpose of the parents should be to rear their kids only to have them butchered and earn their livelihood.
Parents, landlords, laborers, etc., are the people who are encumbered by children. This proposal only regards the interests of the adults and discusses how it would positively impact the lives of parents.
A sound economy necessitates adults and not kids, and when kids are contributing to the economy by lending themselves as meat, they are, in a way, affording assistance to the society.
Jonathan Swift's wordplay is grotesque, graphic, and very sarcastic; nonetheless, with 'A Modest Proposal', he manages to prove his argument using his effective skills at polemic literature.