A Modest Proposal and Other Satires

A Modest Proposal and Other Satires Summary

A Modest Proposal and Other Satires contains six satirical pieces, the most famous being "A Modest Proposal," in which Swift ironically suggests that the people of Ireland should eat their young.

A Tale of A Tub, a religious satire, is the longest piece in the work; not only does Swift parody the three Western branches of Christianity (their history, their excesses their hypocrisy), but he also parodies trends in literary, philosophical, and medical thought. A father, representing God, has three sons, each representing one of the branches. They work hard to reinterpret their father's will in order to get the results they want as they spruce up their coats, until finally it is time for reform and the difficult task of undoing the baubles caught up in the coats.

"The Battle of the Books" is an extended allegory of the intellectual and poetic battles between the Ancients and the Moderns, with send-ups of many of Swift's contemporaries as pitifully weak compared with ancient writers. The Ancients definitely have most of the advantages, but some Moderns do fairly well, particularly those who make best use of the enduring value of ancient writings. The story, which reads a lot like Homer's Iliad, ends unfinished, with two of the modern critics stabbed to death.

"An Argument Against the Abolishing of Christianity" and "A True and Faithful Narrative" have religious themes. The former examines and rejects several arguments that have been put forth for abolishing Christianity, and explains the disadvantages of getting rid of it in England. The latter is a fairly straightforward tale about religious hypocrisy. There is a prophecy that a comet will strike; the people temporarily reform and come clean about their sins; the comet fails to strike and the people return to their old ways.

"A Meditation Upon a Broomstick" is almost entirely a literary parody. It turns out that man is very like a broomstick, often being upside-down and irrational, sweeping up and raking up dirt as people criticize one another, and becoming soiled in the process.

"A Modest Proposal" purports to address the problems of poverty and overpopulation in Ireland with a simple economic solution: the Irish should eat their babies when the infants become one year old. While some serious alternatives are provided, the piece at least involves a humorous method of getting people thinking about the real issues and how they might be solved in a way other than cannibalism.