In A Modest Proposal, why does the speaker brush aside his ideas for reform in favor of this horrible proposal?Near the end of the pamphlet, the speaker lists "other expedients" that might help...

In A Modest Proposal, why does the speaker brush aside his ideas for reform in favor of this horrible proposal?

Near the end of the pamphlet, the speaker lists "other expedients" that might help lessen the present distress in Ireland.

Expert Answers
favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Toward the end of the essay, the narrator suggests that there are other ways of solving the problem with the poor Irish: one idea is to raise taxes, or to purchase only products that are grown or made in Ireland and rejecting "foreign luxur[ies]," curing women's vanity and introducing some measure of frugality among citizens, abandoning animosity toward one another and taking better care of each other, teaching landlords to actually exercise mercy, or encouraging shopkeepers to be more enterprising and hardworking. However, at the end of this list, he says,

. . . let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients, 'till he hath at least some glimpse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice.

In other words, then, this is yet another way for Swift to take a jab at the English. By implying that it is preposterous for anyone to think, for example, that the English would submit to paying higher taxes in order to help the starving Irish or that one might actually expect a landlord to feel and show mercy to his tenants, Swift demonstrates their cruelty even further. It is yet another way in which he satirizes the deplorable conditions under which the Irish labor—conditions which can be attributed to the greed of the English.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The reason that the speaker does not really want to consider possible ideas for reform is that Swift is writing a satirical essay, not an actual proposal for reform.

If Swift had the speaker truly consider the reasonable ideas, the force of the essay would be lost.  Instead of being a satirical essay, it would just be a regular discussion of what to do about Ireland.

Also, if he considered reasonable alternatives, the whole "modest proposal" part would sound really dumb.  You wouldn't say "well, on the Irish problem, we could sell their babies for food or we could raise taxes to help them."  The two aren't really competing alternatives.

Finally, brushing off the reasonable proposals as he does actually draws attention to them.  He's saying "we could raise taxes and help the poor, but that's dumb -- we should just kill and eat them."  This makes the reader think "well, why not raise taxes..."

So, by brushing off reasonable proposals, Swift is making his essay a stronger satire.

Read the study guide:
A Modest Proposal

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question