Although much of Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" is spent lambasting his contemporaries' attitude towards the Irish poor, he also covertly advocates the reforms that he really does want implemented. However, he does this by creating a long list of societal improvements and then dismissing them, using reverse psychology to support his actual views. Because Swift has created such a disagreeable narrator, the audience sides against him, and views Swift's actual proposals as sensible and prudent. The contrast created by such sensible solutions with the absurdity found in the rest of the piece highlights the virtues of these actual proposals. Thus, "A Modest Proposal" not only serves as a criticism of his society, but also invites the reader to come up with real solutions to the problem of poverty and overpopulation in their country.
"I can think of no one objection, that will possibly be raised against this proposal, unless it should be urged, that the number of people will be thereby much lessened in the kingdom. This I freely own, and 'twas indeed one principal design in offering it to the world. I desire the reader will observe, that I calculate my remedy for this one individual Kingdom of Ireland, and for no other that ever was, is, or, I think, ever can be upon Earth. Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: Of taxing our absentees at five shillings a pound: Of using neither cloaths, nor houshold furniture, except what is of our own growth and manufacture: Of utterly rejecting the materials and instruments that promote foreign luxury: Of curing the expensiveness of pride, vanity, idleness, and gaming in our women: Of introducing a vein of parsimony, prudence and temperance: Of learning to love our country, wherein we differ even from Laplanders, and the inhabitants of Topinamboo: Of quitting our animosities and factions, nor acting any longer like the Jews, who were murdering one another at the very moment their city was taken: Of being a little cautious not to sell our country and consciences for nothing: Of teaching landlords to have at least one degree of mercy towards their tenants. Lastly, of putting a spirit of honesty, industry, and skill into our shop-keepers, who, if a resolution could now be taken to buy only our native goods, would immediately unite to cheat and exact upon us in the price, the measure, and the goodness, nor could ever yet be brought to make one fair proposal of just dealing, though often and earnestly invited to it."
1. Why does Swift choose to bundle his real suggestions into "A Modest Proposal" instead of stating them outright? Does this make them more effective?
2. This passage is perhaps the most blatant of Swift's criticism in the piece. "Of quitting our animosities and factions . . . of putting a spirit of honesty, industry, and skill into our shop-keepers . . ." Do you think it's too heavy-handed, or does it fit in well with the rest of his piece?
3. Swift suggests several economic policies here such as a 25% tax and favoring English-made products over imports. Where else in "A Modest Proposal" does he suggest economic reforms?
4. How does Swift transition from his satirical absurdist tone to the serious tone of his real proposals?
Swift, Jonathan. "A Modest Proposal."
Last modified 31 January 2011