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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Why does Swift reveal the results before the actual proposal in "A Modest Proposal"?

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By presenting the anticipated outcomes before detailing the actual proposal, the speaker tries to win us to his side before actually going into the specifics, which he may suspect we will reject without due consideration. He talks about the sad sight of beggar women and their many children and how...

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these women do not have the opportunity or time to procure gainful employment because they must care for these children. Thus, the reader feels sympathy for them, and the speaker points out what these women need to be useful: fewer children.

He writes, however, that his proposal will not only present a way to make the "children sound, useful members of the commonwealth," but it will "take in the whole number of infants . . . who are born of parents . . . as little able to support them as those who demand . . . charity in the streets." Therefore, his scheme seems to benefit not only those who have been reduced to panhandling but also those who are nearly as desperate. He also comments on the women who commit infanticide rather than bear the cost or the shame of having a baby out of wedlock. His plan, he purports, will solve this problem too.

The first thing the speaker actually says of his own plan is, 

I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.

In other words, he has anticipated objections to his plan and has attempted to remedy them, before they can even be voiced, by enumerating the wonderful outcomes of his proposal.

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Any case to present a proposal, as in this essay, is made stronger and more powerful if the anticipated results are presented before the actual details of the proposal itself as it focuses the readers' attention on the potential results and what could be gained rather than problems or issues arising from the proposal itself. Note how Swift is very careful to delay the actual nature of the proposal. Indeed, at the beginning of his essay, he is careful to paint a very bleak picture of the "deplorable state of the kingdom" and the "prodigious number of children." Note how he also makes a very strong ethical appeal before detailing his proposal:

There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas! too frequent among us, sacrificing the poor innocent babes, I doubt, more to avoid the expense, than the shame...

Presenting the advantages of his plan in such a reasonable fashion helps us to agree with the proposal once it is unveiled, and also raises our anticipation and curiosity as to what the proposal might be. Of course, Swift has a double purpose here, because by making us wait to hear his proposal he emphasises the horror of it when it is actually unveiled thus reinforcing his main theme: the inhumane way that the government and people of Britain viewed the starving in Ireland.

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