A Modest Proposal Characters

This Study Guide consists of approximately 15 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of A Modest Proposal.
This section contains 690 words
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The author proposes that Irish society begins a trade of selling children for meat. He argues beggar women fill the Irish streets and although they earn some money, they have to spend most of it on their children. The majority of those children grow up to become criminals and a problem to society.

A friend of the author states that he knows children under the age of six who are already proficient in the art of stealing. Abortion in a Catholic society such as Ireland is out of the question.

The author proposes a better idea that would help the economic situation, the parents, and the children where society should breed children for meat. The mother's would not only benefit financially from the sale of their child, but they would become fit enough to work. In addition, their husband would stay at their side, happy in the knowledge they will both profit from the child's birth. Farmers who breed the children could sell a child for a big profit while the laborers that prepare and sell the children for consumption would earn enough to develop a pride in their work. They would no longer look for shortcuts.

In this respect, Swift's satirical piece presents the child as a commodity. To solve problems in a way that benefits capitalist society one needs to ensure society profits from it. In this case, children are the problem and selling them for meat is the solution.

Of course, the author only proposes the sale of poorer children. He claims his children at nine years old are well past their "sell by date" age.


The author's pamphlet satirically makes the point that in an impoverished capitalist society the present is more important than the future. The adults, made up of laborers, mothers and leaders are the only people who can keep the economy and therefore society running. Therefore, by right, society should preserve and maintain their lives, and not the lives of their children.

According to Swift, the Irish economy is kept down by the children. So why not kill them and sell them for their meat? It would create a new industry and as beggar women will be the first to profit, rid the streets of its homeless. With the money they earn, they may even get themselves fit enough to join the workforce.

When society is again running like a well-oiled machine the happiness of adults will benefit society. Husbands will start taking pride in a national product and children will be killed before they turn into criminals.

Nevertheless there is a hint the author's proposal would benefit the richer adults. He is it seems interested in keeping the status Quo, talking about the only the beggar woman as breeders. Towards the end he states the flesh of poor maidens over the age of twelve is either too tough or due to starvation there is not enough of it. Society may as well also keep them until they are old enough to breed.

The American

The author states that his American friend told him that children, fried, roasted, boiled or grilled, make a wholesome and nutrious dish. The same friend also told him that the meat of schoolboys and young maidens is too tough.


The author states that his American was given the idea of eating children by George Psalmanazar, a native of the island Formosa. Psalmanzar was a real person in the 18th century famous as an imposter. He once pretended he came from the island of Formosa, writing a book about the benefits of cannibalism.

Swift's reference to Psalmaazar is intended to ridicule him.

The Pretender in Spain

The Pretender in Spain refers to James Stuart who felt he had claim to the Scottish and English thrones. Swift makes a reference to the Catholics taking advantage of the Protestants' absence and handing the country over to the Pretender.

The Author

Jonathan Swift uses his position as a writer and a doctor to give the essay an authoritative an add bite to the satire. At times, it is difficult to know if his proposal is serious or not.

This section contains 690 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
A Modest Proposal from BookRags. (c)2017 BookRags, Inc. All rights reserved.
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