A Modest Proposal Themes

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 862 words
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Prostestants vs Catholics

Although Jonathan Swift was an active member of the Church of Ireland, meaning he was a protestant, he is scathing towards his own religion. While this essay is not supporting the Catholic faith, it is sympathetic towards the plight of its people.

He begins by stating that it is cruel for mothers to have an abortion. Although at the early stage when he makes this statement, the reader will think he is making a serious point, they will later reread this as irony. If most of the poor are Catholics and society can't afford to look after their children, wouldn't it be beneficial for the mother to have an abortion? He makes the point that is barbaric for a mother to abort her child, but he later underlines this as irony and when he talks about selling the children to raising them like cattle, his point is equally if not more barbaric.

Writing from the perspective of a protestant gentleman, he paints the picture that Irish Protestants are rich hypocrites eager not just to promote their own strand of Christianity, but their own status. At every turn he puts down Catholics in very dramatic ways. For example he suggests that Catholics could easier take advantage of the absence Protestants, fighting abroad for their king, by delivering the kingdom to the very people the Protestants are fighting. He even calls the Catholics "our most dangerous enemies." His biggest argument is that killing poor children for meat would significantly lower the Catholic population.

Yet by the end of the essay it is clear to the reader that his agenda is to preserve the status quo and by doing do preserving his own lifestyle. With his own children over the age of nine and his wife past breeding age, the author's proposal could only benefit his family and himself. Most likely it would be he and friend he would enjoy the taverns and dinner parties that he talks about. The laborers would be, in this respect working for him and his friends.

In conclusion, the proposal is designed to keep Catholic population down and the Protestants in power.

Finding the Simple Solution

The author talks about finding a quick, simple solution to the problem of poverty. His essay does make it sound exceptionally easy. If one subtracts this number of people from that number and then does that at a certain age everything will work fine. Poor people will have disappeared streets, everyone would be in work, and enjoying their work and the rich would be pumping money into the economy. Ireland would become a Utopia.

Unfortunately, this line of thinking is nothing more than a quick fix to benefit the people in the present. It has no thought for the future. How will selling human affect human relations for example? What happens when poverty disappears and the industries are all running well?

The worse aspect of his proposal is that doesn't take human beings and their feelings into consideration. How would a mother feel about society taking away her children?

The presumptions that he makes about people he knows nothing about are ludicrous. For example, the author has no doubt that given the choice poor people would have wanted to have been taken off the streets at the age of one and killed. The people he uses to back up such ideas are rich Americans and merchants. He has no real grasp of the situation.

Of course the Swift uses the narrator's voice for satirical effect. In this respect the satire works to show that even though the commonsense solution would be for upper echelons of society to provide shelter and education for the poor, they refuse to do so. They are paranoid that they ruin the luxury of their lives. As the author says at one point the Catholics, the majority of people he wants to kill for meat, are the king's worse enemy.


By the end of the essay, the reader understands the author is acting under self-interest. He doesn't want to rid the streets of poverty because he cares about people in poverty. Instead, he wants to preserve his own lifestyle where he frequents the best taverns and has dinner parties with friends. He tries to claim his proposal will help the poor, but this assumption seems to be made on the basis that anything that promotes the interests of the status quo can only help society in general. On a fundamental level his proposal amounts to ethnic cleansing and genocide. He wants to kill for meat, 100,000 children, a majority of which will be Catholics or the enemy of the state. The other children he claims will only grow up to become criminals.

Of course for people like him, his arguments could be very persuasive. If there was, as we can presume, great poverty in Ireland at that time then people would want a quick fix. If rich and powerful people were the only ones in the position to make these decisions then any solution would most likely benefit them.

The author's proposal would rid them of the nation's enemy and pump money into the economy.

This section contains 862 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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