tablesetting complete with forks, knives, and spoons, and a baby on the plate in the center above the words "A Modest Proposal"

A Modest Proposal

by Jonathan Swift

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Give examples of religious differences and attitudes to marriage in “A Modest Proposal.”

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Jonathan Swift’s essayA Modest Proposal” reflects the tense religious differences between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland. The narrator satirically suggests that eating Roman Catholic children would be a constructive way to deal with poverty in Irish society. He also points out that eating Catholic children would “greatly lessen the number of Papists, with whom we are yearly over-run.” Here he uses an anti-Catholic slur, “Papist,” to express frustration about the large Catholic population. He then goes on to suggest that having fewer Catholics in the nation would lead to more social stability. Swift uses this satirical idea to critique how wealthy Protestants dehumanize and judge poor Catholics.

The narrator also discusses marriage in his sixth reason for his proposal, the idea that it “would be a great inducement to marriage.” He is essentially saying that this plan would encourage the poor to get married because the couple could make a profit from selling their child. The couple would also not have to deal with the cost of raising a child. He goes on to say that these benefits would also reduce the likelihood that husbands “beat or kick” their wives, “for fear of miscarriage.” Swift is thus depicting marriages among the poor as full of domestic violence and tension and in need of economic incentives for improvement.

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