Surprising Effect in Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Aug 13th, 2020

A Modest Proposal is a Juvenalian satirical essay written in 1729 by Jonathan Swift (Moore, 2010). It purported to provide a much-needed solution to the problem of poverty and hunger in Ireland. From the very beginning, the writer expressed his concern for the plight of the poor, which was central to the whole story. Swift made an attempt to resolve the economic difficulties of the Irish by proposing a new strategy: impoverished families could sell their infants to rich people as food (Moore, 2010). According to Moore, A Modest Proposal can be regarded as an attempt of intervention in the economic debates of 1729 (2010). Swift made a mockery of the financial policy attempting to restrain consumption. The writer did not surprise me by introducing the calendar for infanticide as a viable strategy for solving economic problems. However, I was astonished to realize that the implicit assumption in the essay was that all proposed economic strategies of the time Swift ridiculed were aimed at promoting the well-being of the ruling class only.

The plan that Swift put forward was gothicaly dark and grotesquely meticulous simultaneously. He made an approximate calculation of the birth rates of Irish children and pointed out to the fact that due to their young age, both employment opportunities and stealing as a form of last resort were closed to them. Much to my surprise writer offered the only logical solution in his opinion— to consume those kids when they reach the appropriate age. Swift believed it was the age of one year, and his very “worthy” friend argued that even fourteen-year-old kids could potentially be served as food (Swift, 2008). The writer dismissed the idea, and cynically persuaded the reader that only one-year-old infants are suitable for consumption. He argued that the flash of a teenage boy was too lean and that the teenage girls were potential “breeders themselves” (Swift, 2008).

The writer was extremely successful in convincing the reader to accept the idea of the final revelation. He went to great length to support his proposal by developing six elaborate arguments for it; thus, making the reader believe that the narrator was the outsider to the Irish community who was only motivated by greed. The first argument in support of the infanticide surprised me the most: it would significantly reduce the number of Catholics who were highly dangerous. The second argument stated that the impoverished Irish would “acquire” some property they could sell (Swift, 2008). The third argument was the economic one. Swift claimed that eating babies would improve national well-being by removing the financial burden of the children’s upkeep. The fifth argument defended the proposal on the grounds of cultural enrichment by new gourmet foods that could be appreciated in culinary circles. The final argument took a swing at the lamentable state of the institution of marriage. The writer claimed that since babies would become a commodity, they would receive better treatment from their families (Swift, 2008).

The last paragraph of the essay was extremely surprising. It was due to the fact that the prejudice against the people with low socioeconomic status was the main theme of the story, yet in the end, it was shown that the narrator was not an outsider but rather a loyal Irishman. Moreover, he was a citizen who was genuinely concerned with the plight of his people, and the only thing he wished for was to make them happy (Swift, 2008).


Moore, S. (2010). Swift, the book, and the Irish financial revolution. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Swift, J. (2008). Modest Proposal: A Webster’s Bulgarian Thesaurus Edition. San Diego, CA: ICON Group.

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