Jonathan Swift's Rational Arguments in"A Modest Proposal"

Katherine Reynolds, English 171 Brown University, Autumn 2003

It is only when one steps back and summarizes Swift's argument in "A Modest Proposal" to raise children for the purposes of breeding and eating that it seems absurd. He does an extremely effective job of pulling the reader into the details and why they make sense by appealing to our monetary desires. If we want to save money, have more food and fewer nuisances why don't we kill our own children and eat them? It is an attack directly at the consumption craze that seems to be taking over. The satire here comes from the extremist point of view that Swift is arguing for with such normalcy. He writes as though people think of these things everyday or at leas they should. Society is made fun of at its own expense; using financial terms surely every businessperson is familiar with. Human beings become only expenses in a budget, the product is that the nation's stock will rise with an almost entrepreneurial new dish, of children. In order to bring monetary happiness to the world, which swift is saying is all that people seem to think matters anymore, he suggests this simple solution of eating children. The reader is taken step by step so carefully that the proposal makes sense until one realized that these are human beings Swift is talking about.

Whereas the maintainance of an hundred thousand children, from two years old, and upwards, cannot be computed at less than ten shillings a piece per annum, the nation's stock will be thereby encreased fifty thousand pounds per annum, besides the profit of a new dish, introduced to the tables of all gentlemen of fortune in the kingdom, who have any refinement in taste. And the money will circulate among our selves, the goods being entirely of our own growth and manufacture.


1. What aspect(s) of Swift's writing allows him to be such an authority on this topic?

2. What makes the Swift's writing in 1729 spurred by poverty in Ireland still relevant and funny to us today in the US?

3. How is Swift able to get his reader on board with his plan of raising children to eat? Is he really able to do so? Does he really expect to do so?

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Last modified 7 September 2003