A Modest Proposal and Other Satires

Why does Swift focus on the benefits of his plan before giving us the details of it?

"A Modest Proposal" by Dr. Jonathan Swift
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If you do not realize that this proposal is satirical, you have no sense of humor or irony. It is impossible to imagine a serious proposal for eating children. Yet, it is not enough simply to indulge one’s outrage over the argument or to smile at the jokes. Is Swift just having fun, or does he have something serious to say?

Stereotypes against Irish Catholics make it easier for Swift to use them as the subject of his satire. The stereotypes are present in both the reasons for the proposal and the language used. The narrator’s argument that something must be done with infants because they are too young to steal implies that this is a common employment of Irish Catholics, even while it is humorous apart from the stereotype. The overall idea of overpopulation comes from the stereotype that Catholics tend to have a lot of children. The first reason Swift’s narrator gives for adopting his proposal—that it will lessen the number of Catholics—is perhaps the best example of satire of religious prejudice in the piece. Furthermore, he uses the word “papists” in the offensive sense of anti-Catholic rejection of the Pope. In Protestant England, many people might share the stereotypes but would never go so far as the speaker suggests about eating children.

The theme of prejudice against the lower classes is revealed in suggestions such as the idea that the carcasses of the poor children could be used for clothing, women’s gloves. Swift suggests, with this extreme example, as well as his declaration that the landlords have already “devoured” the poor infants’ parents, that the rich live at the expense of the poor. By referring next to another figure, “a very worthy person” (who is meant to represent a member of the upper, learned classes), Swift furthers his satire of the upper classes by implying that there are people so disconnected from the lower classes that they might agree with this outlandish proposal.