The Success of A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift and What it Meant

The Effectiveness Of “A Modest Proposal”

Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” was designed to horrify the Irish by suggesting the act of selling their children for slaughter and serving them as a delicacy on the tables of wealthy Englishmen in hopes of recognizing the depths of their penury. Swift was frustrated by the nonchalance of the Irish in the face of their treatment from the English; in such great poverty, the Irish sent their children into the streets to beg for coins (Swift).

During the early eighteenth century, a religious struggle occurred between the English Protestants and the Irish Catholics. Protestant immigrants living amongst the Irish worked with other Protestants in England to create and pass laws banning Irish Catholics from serving in Parliament. Due to this ban, the Irish had no governmental representation and were at the mercy of the English, who were planning to crush Catholicism (Baker).

Jonathan Swift, an Irish clergyman, satirist, and author, lived from 1667 to 1745.

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Swift moved back and forth between England and Ireland several times in his life before finally settling down in 1713 as the Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin (“Jonathan Swift”). Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal” in 1729 out of frustration with the political and religious turmoil in Ireland. As the English took over the country, the Irish began to embrace their poverty and resign themselves to being slaves to the English (Lindquist).

Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” suggested Irish parents should sell their children as meat in an attempt to shock them into the realization of how detrimental their situation had become.

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After losing control of their country, the Irish became accustomed to living in poverty and being subservient to the English. Jonathan Swift looked down on the Irish because of how they allowed themselves to be dominated by England (Cummings). Prior to the English Protestants taking over the Irish Parliament, England and Ireland had been “set up as sister kingdoms by King John”(Baker).

In “A Modest Proposal,” Swift suggests that the English should be the ones to consume the Irish children because they had already taken advantage of the Irish and run their country into the ground to the extent that the English had little left to take from Ireland other than the meat from their youth. England essentially made Ireland their slave nation and had little reason left to not treat Irish citizens any better than livestock. Their rights had been taken away and given to English Protestants, and Ireland began to morph into a poverty stricken and compliant nation with no intention or means of changing their situation (Baker).

Swift’s satirical call to action failed in gaining meaningful success because of the state of the situation. The essay could not inspire rage because the Irish were already too broken. Irish Parliament had been taken over by English sympathizers who desired to strip the Irish of their rights. Without any hope for political reform or the return of their rights, many Irish families began to feel like they were trapped in a hopeless situation without the possibility of escape. After being repeatedly crushed and demoralized by England, most of the nation’s pride was erased and replaced by a despair that not even Jonathan Swift’s anger stricken essay could rouse them from (Baker).

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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The Success of A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift and What it Meant. (2024, Feb 12). Retrieved from

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