A Modest Proposal Additional Summary

Jonathan Swift


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Swift’s A Modest Proposal has been called the greatest work of irony ever written. A dispassionate social scientist surveys the poverty in Ireland and structures his proposal in five parts after the classical rhetorical pattern: exordium (introduction), narratio (narrative), confirmatio (confirmation), confutatio (refutation), and peroratio (peroration).

The exordium evokes the familiar sight of female beggars followed by many children dressed in rags. The image suggests the problem of poverty, overpopulation, and hunger that the narrator proposes to solve with his “fair, cheap, and easy method” of fattening the poor babies for a year and then selling them as delicious delicacies for the tables of the rich.

In the narratio, the narrator coldly calculates the number of babies needed. Out of one and a half million people in Ireland, he reckons only two hundred thousand couples are breeders. Subtracting thirty thousand whose parents can afford them, and fifty thousand who die in the first year of life, and sparing twenty thousand for breeding purposes, he figures only one hundred thousand babies will be sold for slaughter each year. Instead of being a burden on families or welfare agencies, these children will contribute to the feeding and clothing of thousands of others, since their skins can also be tanned for leather.

The confirmatio explains the...

(The entire section is 476 words.)