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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"A Modest Proposal" offers a satirical solution to a real problem. The urgent need, therefore, is exactly what Swift says it is: the problem of poverty, and specifically child poverty, in Ireland.

Swift begins the essay by remarking what a "melancholy object" it is to see both town and country crowded with female beggars, all of whom have several ragged and malnourished children in tow. The women are unable to work, and the same fate awaits their children when they grow up. They will have to become thieves or mercenaries, or sell themselves into indentured servitude on the other side of the world.

Swift then says that everyone must surely agree that this is a scandalous state of affairs, which exacerbates the already "deplorable state of the kingdom." Anyone who could find a solution to remove these hordes of beggars and destitute children from the streets would be a public benefactor of such importance that he would deserve to have a statue erected to commemorate him.

For the first two paragraphs, Swift says nothing that is not true and reasonable. This straightforward, sincere exposition of exigent need makes the satire more effective, as the reader does not at first realize that it is a satire. Swift slowly imbues the following paragraphs with irony, but it is not until paragraph 9, in which he discusses the different ways in which one might cook a child, that the full horror of the proposal becomes plain.

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