A Modest Proposal Questions and Answers
by Jonathan Swift

A Modest Proposal book cover
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What is the main idea of "A Modest Proposal"?

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Tim Mbiti eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In a “Modest Proposal,” Jonathan Swift recommends a remedy for the great number of paupers’ children in the streets. He thinks that these children can serve a useful purpose and become less burdensome to both their parents and state. He therefore suggests that they be sold as a fancy delicacy to the affluent once they attain the age of one and above. This, he asserts, would not only benefit the helpless children that would grow up to destitute destructive futures just like their parents, but also their parents who would become economically empowered by the proceeds of the sale. He also adds that the economy would be boosted as money would circulate internally from their newfound resource. In the real sense, Jonathan Swift was satirizing the British treatment of their Irish subjects during a time of overpopulation and famine.

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wannam eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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A modest proposal is a work of satire.  As such, there are really two main ideas.  The main idea as it would appear if we take the story at face value and the true point of the author.

The main idea of the actual story has to do with decreasing the overpopulation by selling babies as food.  Swift suggests that the wealthy purchase the infants of the poor and serve them as a delicacy.  He gives specific details which are designed to disgust and enrage the reader. 

Of course, this idea is meant to be ludicrous.  He gives specific details which are designed to disgust and enrage the reader.  The actual point of the story is to draw attention the true issue. The poor were being treated reproachfully.  Particularly, the Irish were being oppressed by the plantation system and (often British) landlords.  Swift is using this work to make a political point.

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godislovee | Student

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