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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So you’re going to teach “A Modest Proposal.” Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, this classic text has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations for its social impact and cutting satire. While it has its problematic spots, teaching this text to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. It will give them unique insight into expository and persuasive writing as well as the power of political satire on social issues. This guide highlights the text's most salient aspects to keep in mind before you begin teaching.

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Facts at a Glance

  • Publication Date: 1729 
  • Flesch-Kincaid Reading Level: 13 
  • Approximate Word Count: 3,400 
  • Author: Jonathan Swift 
  • Country of Origin: United Kingdom 
  • Genre: Satire 
  • Literary Period: Augustan Literature, Enlightenment 
  • Conflict: Person vs. Society 
  • Structure: Persuasive Essay 
  • Tone: Academic, Deadpan

Texts That Go Well With “A Modest Proposal”

Babbitt is a 1922 novel by Sinclair Lewis. Rather than paralleling Swift’s mockery of upper-class landowners, Babbitt lampoons the growing middle class, whom he sees as striving after conformity and material success rather than the genuine happiness found in individuality. As a full-length novel, Babbitt is significantly longer than “A Modest Proposal,” but it is able to form an extended, nuanced critique of many aspects of American consumerism and materialism. 

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is a novel that satirizes progress for its own sake, the increased mechanization of human beings, and the propensity to avoid unpleasant experiences. This text is longer and more dramatic than “A Modest Proposal” but offers some of the same dark humor and cynical critique of government figures. 

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller is a novel that satirizes government bureaucracy and the romanticization of war. Starring a group of military pilots and personnel, Heller’s characters face hellish choices with no clear solutions to the violence that surrounds them. Catch-22’s popularity has added the term “catch-22” to everyday language, which suggests a situation from which there is no “right” solution or escape from making a choice. 

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris is a collection of autobiographical essays. Often humorous and bitingly satirical of himself and others, Sedaris’s depictions of life as an expatriate with his partner, Hugh, are as thoughtful as they are entertaining. No one is outside of Sedaris’s scope: he pokes fun at Parisians, Americans, and himself all in due course. 

“Parties: A Hymn of Hate” is a poem by Dorothy Parker, who wrote a series of poems in her series “The Hates.” This installment ridicules socialites and the petty behavior of partygoers who try to impress and outdo one another for applause and the gratification of their peers. Parker suggests that these gatherings “bring out the worst” in her, and it’s likely they do the same to others, too.

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History of the Text