In English writing, the phrase “a modest proposal” is now conventionally rich countries should help the poor essay allusion to this style of straight-faced satire. This essay is widely held to be one of the greatest examples of sustained irony in the history of the English language. Swift goes to great lengths to support his argument, including a list of possible preparation styles for the children, and calculations showing the financial benefits of his suggestion. Therefore I repeat, let no man talk to me of these and the like expedients, ’till he hath at least some glympse of hope, that there will ever be some hearty and sincere attempt to put them into practice.
George Wittkowsky argued that Swift’s main target in A Modest Proposal was not the conditions in Ireland, but rather the can-do spirit of the times that led people to devise a number of illogical schemes that would purportedly solve social and economic ills. Swift was especially attacking projects that tried to fix population and labour issues with a simple cure-all solution. A Modest Proposal also targets the calculating way people perceived the poor in designing their projects. The pamphlet targets reformers who “regard people as commodities”. Critics differ about Swift’s intentions in using this faux-mathematical philosophy. Smith argues that Swift’s rhetorical style persuades the reader to detest the speaker and pity the Irish. Swift’s specific strategy is twofold, using a “trap” to create sympathy for the Irish and a dislike of the narrator who, in the span of one sentence, “details vividly and with rhetorical emphasis the grinding poverty” but feels emotion solely for members of his own class.
Swift has his proposer further degrade the Irish by using language ordinarily reserved for animals. Lewis argues that the speaker uses “the vocabulary of animal husbandry” to describe the Irish. Once the children have been commodified, Swift’s rhetoric can easily turn “people into animals, then meat, and from meat, logically, into tonnage worth a price per pound”. Swift uses the proposer’s serious tone to highlight the absurdity of his proposal. Scholars have speculated about which earlier works Swift may have had in mind when he wrote A Modest Proposal.
James Johnson argued that A Modest Proposal was largely influenced and inspired by Tertullian’s Apology: a satirical attack against early Roman persecution of Christianity. James William Johnson believes that Swift saw major similarities between the two situations. It has also been argued that A Modest Proposal was, at least in part, a response to the 1728 essay The Generous Projector or, A Friendly Proposal to Prevent Murder and Other Enormous Abuses, By Erecting an Hospital for Foundlings and Bastard Children by Swift’s rival Daniel Defoe. Bernard Mandeville’s Modest Defence of Publick Stews asked to introduce public and state controlled bordellos.
Locke commented: “Be it then as Sir Robert says, that Anciently, it was usual for Men to sell and Castrate their Children. Robert Phiddian’s article “Have you eaten yet? The Reader in A Modest Proposal” focuses on two aspects of A Modest Proposal: the voice of Swift and the voice of the Proposer. Phiddian stresses that a reader of the pamphlet must learn to distinguish between the satirical voice of Jonathan Swift and the apparent economic projections of the Proposer. While Swift’s proposal is obviously not a serious economic proposal, George Wittkowsky, author of “Swift’s Modest Proposal: The Biography of an Early Georgian Pamphlet”, argues that to understand the piece fully it is important to understand the economics of Swift’s time.