A Modest Proposal Questions and Answers
by Jonathan Swift

A Modest Proposal book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Hyperbole In A Modest Proposal

Explain hyperbole and humor in "A Modest Proposal." How do hyperbole and humor further enhance the satiric impact of the essay?

Expert Answers info

D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2016

write11,087 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

Hyperbole is exaggeration. Swift, fed up with the rejection of his commonsense solutions to problems of poverty, creates a narrator who, in an exaggerated way, is only capable of seeing people in terms of profit.

Examples of hyperbole start with the narrator’s proposal to fatten, raise and butcher human babies, both to help the poor become self-supporting and to enrich Ireland. Swift mercilessly exaggerates the narrator’s unconscious tendency to dehumanize others. The narrator writes, for example: “I rather recommend buying the Children alive, and dressing them hot from the Knife, as we do roasting Pigs.” Such vivid, hyperbolic detail elevates the shock value of treating humans as commodities and illustrates that Swift’s narrator lacks empathy. This humor, dark as it is, comes from the slippage between the narrator’s “dollars and cents” approach to people and the reader’s larger moral awareness. Swift uses hyperbole to persuade us to turn against the narrator’s narrow...

(The entire section contains 3 answers and 683 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now


check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Mike Walter eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2012

write1,473 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

adrigon eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2008

write31 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Math

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial


jwallacefreelance | Student

In short, Swift doesn't want us to eat babies. He used the example as an extreme and dramatic overstatement to shed light on the severity of the potato famine. All these years later, it's worked and has become known as one of the greatest pieces of satire in history.