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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Discussion Topic

The reasoning behind the title "A Modest Proposal" in Jonathan Swift's satirical work

Summary:

The title "A Modest Proposal" is ironic because Jonathan Swift's suggestion of eating children to solve poverty is anything but modest. The outrageous nature of the proposal highlights the severity of the issue and criticizes the British government's neglect of the poor in Ireland.

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What evidence does Swift provide to show that he won't benefit from "A Modest Proposal"?

Swift's narrator begins the essay by professing all of the myriad reasons that he believes his proposal to be a sound one: a plan that will benefit the country of Ireland and its people (with no mention of any potential benefit to himself). In this way, he deflects attention from himself. He portrays the plight of the poverty-ridden Irish as "melancholy" and appeals to his readers's feeling that the state of the kingdom is "deplorable" indeed. Both make him sound altruistic and unselfish. The speaker does, however, suggest that the person who

could find out a fair, cheap and easy method of making these children sound and useful members of the commonwealth, would deserve so well of the public, as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the nation.

It is true that the narrator does claim at the end of the text that he will not benefit financially from his proposal—that he has not "the least personal interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the public good of [his] country"—he does seem to hope that he will, at least, be recognized for his massive contribution to the country's welfare. After all, he states outright that a person who accomplishes what he claims his proposal will achieve will deserve a statue of himself, erected in his honor. Thus, while he does not stand to gain money, he does seem to hope to acquire something else: a nation's gratitude and admiration.

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What evidence does Swift provide to show that he won't benefit from "A Modest Proposal"?

In the conclusion to his "A Modest Proposal" Swift explains to the reader that he has no personal gain from his proposal.  He explains that he suggests it only because he wants to support his country and help the poor families living there.  He points out that in his own family his wife is past the age where she can have any more children, and his youngest (who is nine years old) is too old to be considered for Swift's proposal.  From this, the audience is to believe he isn't proposing the plan to make money for himself, but for his county.

I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavouring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the publick good of my country, by advancing our trade, providing for infants, relieving the poor, and giving some pleasure to the rich. I have no children, by which I can propose to get a single penny; the youngest being nine years old, and my wife past child-bearing.

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What evidence does Swift provide in "A Modest Proposal" to make his proposal seem humble and reasonable?

This is one of the all-time greatest satires of all time.  Swift is attempting to show the inefficiency and injustice of the British officials' treatment of Ireland, which was flailing in poverty.  His proposal is ludicrous, eating childrend, but it is presented in a reasonable and humble manner.

First, Swift creates a reasonable, logical solution to the poverty and starvation problems by creating a scenario supported by numerical statistics.  Throughout the work, we see his validation of the idea by presenting profit details and logistical support through numbers.  His tone is one of a mathematician presenting an economics report.

Second, Swift is humble.  He claims that he is not presenting the solution in order to profit himself because he has no children and his wife is beyond childbearing age.

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What makes the proposal "modest" in Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal"?

There is little to add the excellent response above.  Indeed, how can the "modest proposal" that the British eat Irish babies since they are killing them in other ways show regard for the decencies of behavior, which is the real meaning of modest in this context?

Keep in mind that satire is writing that ridicules or holds up to contempt the faults of individuals or of group with the hope that this ridicule will induce change and improvement. A champion of the Irish cause, Swift has as his aim to shock the British into realizing that their scandulous economic and social policies have wrought the starvation and death of many Irish:  Since the British are eating up the Irish indirectly, why not directly?

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What makes the proposal "modest" in Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal"?

Jonathan Swift's suggestion in "A Modest Proposal," is presented as a real solution to a problem that is occurring in Ireland.  There is an imbalance of trade between England and Ireland,  and the Irish Catholics appear to have more children than they can properly take care of, with regard to food, clothes, etc. so Swift suggests that the poor children of Ireland who are such a burden to their parents, be raised like domestic livestock, to be fattened for sale at the market to provide a food source for the rich of England.

Swift goes to such great detail to make this proposal appear logical, both economically and politically that the satire of the piece runs right to its core. 

This would solve two problems at once, it would address the overpopulation situation in Ireland and would help to create a new commodity for trade with England. Swift takes shots at both the Irish and the English.  The Irish are scolded for having no self-respect and the English are chided for stripping Ireland of all their resources.  Crops were exported to England, while the Irish were left to starve.

Swift concludes that neither the Irish or the English should  object to the suggestion, the proposal will solve both problems.  

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What makes the proposal "modest" in Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal"?

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What makes the proposal "modest" in Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal"?

This is a satirical essay in which Swift is criticizing the English government for the way that it treats its subjects in Ireland.

The way that Swift does this is by presenting this plan that he supposedly has for helping the Irish economy and the people of the island in general.  He proposes that the Irish poor should start selling their young children to the rich to be eaten.

By proposing such an outrageous thing, Swift is trying to show people of his day how the English government has been neglecting and mistreating the people of Ireland.  He lists various things that the government is not willing to do to help.  Instead, he puts forward his "modest proposal" and pretends that he truly believes in it.

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Why is Swift's satirical proposal referred to as "modest" in A Modest Proposal?

Everything already said is valuable.  By calling his proposal "modest," Swift might have been hoping to entice readers unaware of the horrific nature of the (ironic) proposal he was about to offer.  Unsuspecting readers would have been lured into taking the bait ("here's a fellow who may have something useful to offer"), only later discovering the true nature of Swift's suggestions. Half the fun and all of the surprise would have been ruined if Swift had titled the essay "A Truly Sickening and Disgusting Idea about How to Eliminate Starvation in Ireland by Eating Irish Babies." An essay with this kind of title would not have had the intended impact.

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Why is Swift's satirical proposal referred to as "modest" in A Modest Proposal?

I think the persona of the speaker in the essay is something that is worthy of note. The speaker does everything he can to establish himself as a serious, sympathetic and caring individual who genuinely wants to do something to alleviate the problems. In addition, his focus on numbers and other quantifiable facts introduces the way that taking statistics to their extreme can result in horrific conclusions.

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Why is Swift's satirical proposal referred to as "modest" in A Modest Proposal?

It seems your question answers itself. To lampoon something is to criticise it using ridicule or sarcasm. A satire criticises society, a group within society, an individual or a social concept through ridicule or sarcasm. The objective of each is to attain more rational and sound behavior from the public and to restore society--or the criticised element thereof--to the morally socially accept norm. So Swift lampooned his satirical proposal because he was introducing the satirical criticism with which he aimed to lampoon British society and shame it through ridicule and sarcasm back into--or into--more rational, compassionate, humanistic behavior toward the Irish.

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Why is Swift's satirical proposal referred to as "modest" in A Modest Proposal?

Everything Swift discusses in his "Modest Proposal" is big--except his simple little plan. So many rich people fleeing the country is a big problem. Having so many poor people who need help is a big problem. Children begging and stealing unchecked on the streets is a big problem. And the list goes on. His idea, he says, is small; however, it is a sensible one and he simply wants his plan to be considered as reasonably as any other--except there is no other, since so little is being done to alleviate any of these issues. As has already been said, Swift's use of sarcasm and irony to effect change is what makes this work so memorable. There is nothing "modest" about the problems or the plan.

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Why is Swift's satirical proposal referred to as "modest" in A Modest Proposal?

Additionally,

Sarcasm is often employed by writers to instill a specific feeling in the reader. Back in the times where there were no cliff notes, synopses, nor other form of knowing what a novel or play was actually about, people resorted to either reviews, word-to-mouth information, or through leading themselves by the title of the work. Those readers who were fortunate enough to know and predict Swift's style would have guessed that he was up to something when he selected this title for his story. Those who were not familiar with his writing style were in for a huge surprise. Therefore, Swift deliberately choose a sarcastic and ironic title for a story that treated topics that were controversial and socially unacceptable.

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Why is Swift's satirical proposal referred to as "modest" in A Modest Proposal?

By modest, he was suggesting that it was not a big deal.  The proposal was minor.  This made the point of the satire clearer.  Swift's proposal is not at all modest.  It's an incredible suggestion.  It's also a play on words, a double meaning.  Modest can imply that Swift himself is being modest, when the proposal is incredibly conceited.

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Why is Swift's satirical proposal referred to as "modest" in A Modest Proposal?

I agree completely with what the previous post says.  When writing satire, people often use irony/sarcasm to get their point across.

Swift is also trying to pretend that his whole project is very normal and that no one could disagree with it.  He writes in a way that is meant to project a very reasoned tone.  To fit in with this, he calls it a "modest" proposal.

So, Swift uses the word "modest" to heighten the satire by making it sound as if he thinks that his proposal is totally reasonable.

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Why is Swift's satirical proposal referred to as "modest" in A Modest Proposal?

In Jonathan Swift's essay entitled A Modest Proposal, I believe that since the rest of this satire was harsh and outrageous (the darkly satirical idea of eating babies sold to rich people so the poor could survive without resorting to prostitution, thievery, etc.), it probably seemed appropriate to him to point out what an outlandish point he was trying to make—by sarcastically terming it a "modest" proposal...when in fact, it was gargantuan!

His terse mock-treatise A Modest Proposal is considered the most brilliant short prose satire in the English language.

Swift's concern, of course, was to do something about the terrible state of affairs in Ireland that he had witnessed first hand. However, those who are financially secure may not always (or ever) wish to show concern for the the hardships of others. It's not their "revolution." Of course, the title probably did not find significance with the audience until readers understood what Swift was "proposing" because he started the essay out quietly, with control and "gentle concern."

The essay begins innocently by establishing the speaker as a concerned citizen genuinely sympathetic to the Irish poor...

Once Swift gets into the "meat" (pardon the pun) of his argument, the title takes on new meaning.

The modest proposal is of course anything but modest: It is savage, frightening, perhaps even insane.

However, none of it means anything if the audience which it was directed do not get the point. The Irish continued to suffer, and it was something that greatest troubled the civic-minded Swift.

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