This study guide will help you analyse the text “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift. We will show you examples of elements in the text that will be relevant for your analysis. In these notes, we will focus on the structure, sender, receiver, theme and message, characteristics, and we will help you put the text in perspective.
Presentation of the text
Title: “A Modest Proposal”
Author: Jonathan Swift
Date of Publication: 1729
Genre: Satirical essay
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) was a Irish cleric, a novelist, a poet, and a satirical essayist. His essays and pamphlets target social and political issues. Today he is probably most known for Gulliver's Travels (1726), and A Modest Proposal (1729). The original title of “A Modest Proposal” is "A Modest Proposal For Preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For Making them Beneficial to the Public." The satirical essay was originally published anonymously.
Topic of the text
“A Modest Proposal” offers as a solution to the issue of widespread poverty in Ireland—poor parents are encouraged to sell their children to the rich to be eaten. The essay is a satire targeting indifferent attitudes towards the poor in Ireland and the British policy towards people in Ireland. In other words, the main topics of the text are social and political injustice in 18th century Ireland.