Satire in “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift Essay

February 17, 2022 by Essay Writer

Updated: Aug 24th, 2020


It is imperative to note that “A Modest Proposal” is one of the most well-known satirical works by Jonathan Swift. The author provides a suggestion that would help to improve the economy of the country. The idea that poor children can be sold for food is quite shocking and could not be taken seriously. However, Swift wanted it to sound comprehensive and used numerous approaches to keep the attention of readers. It would be beneficial to analyze utilized writing techniques to get a better understanding of how he tries to convince the audience.


The essay starts with a serious tone, and the author discusses critical issues that families had to deal with at that time, and one could think that it is an actual proposal. The first surprise is the solution to the problem that is listed. One could believe that the author would switch the style immediately once it has been revealed. However, he tries to sound humorless and does not change the style. The fact that he provides numbers and calculations is also intriguing and increases the comedic value of the work. He may mock some of the proposals that were made and absurdity of given solutions. Moreover, it is known that he published it anonymously to ensure that the reader is not aware of what to expect from this proposal.

Another surprise is that the author has switched from one tone to another before the end of this piece. He addresses politicians directly by pointing out that it is their fault that such issues are present. He lists problems such as unfair treatment by landlords, incredibly high prices for rent. Also, he states that they are not protected from the outside environment and have nowhere to go. Furthermore, I have realized that Swift provides real solutions to the problem in this paragraph. He believes that the government should develop a broad range of policies that would improve the living conditions of these people. Also, he suggests that particular shelters should be available, so they do not have to sleep on the streets (Swift, 1729).

The consumption of children can be viewed as a metaphor for oppression, and Swift pointed out that it was happening (Sayre, 2011). He changes the tone yet again in the final paragraph where he tries to appear completely innocent and states that he has no personal interests. It is necessary to note that such a surprise ending was not expected, and one could think that Swift is leading to a particular twist. However, he does not change the initial statement and achieves comedy through being serious about something that may not be regarded as reasonable. He criticizes approaches utilized by politicians and suggests that they are not interested in resolving this problem.


In conclusion, it is possible to state that the author has managed to ensure that the readers accept the surprise ending. It was not what I expected because I thought that Swift would continue to pressure politicians and would reveal that the idea to eat children was a joke in the end. However, he changes the tone masterfully and ends the piece with memorable lines. Overall, it is possible to interpret this essay in several ways, and it may be necessary to read it several times to identify clues hidden by the author.


Sayre, H. M. (2011). The humanities: Culture, continuity, and change (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Pearson Education.

Swift, J. (1729). A Modest Proposal for preventing the children of poor people in Ireland, from being a burden on their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the publick. Web.

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