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 Publick, commonly referred to as A Modest Proposal, is a Juvenalian satirical essay written and published anonymously by Jonathan Swift in 1729. Swift suggested that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies. His work encouraged positive development for those that suffered from famishment and financial maladies, and urged the aristocratic landlords to lower their taxes, so as to not further starve the country of its food and coin. This satirical hyperbole mocked heartless attitudes towards the poor, as well as British policy toward the Irish in general. The primary target of Swift's satire was the rationalism of modern economics, and the growth of rationalistic modes of thinking in modern life at the expense of more traditional human values.
In English writing, the phrase "a modest proposal" is now conventionally an allusion to this style of straight-faced satire.
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. He uses methods of argument throughout his essay which lampoon the then-influential William Petty and the social engineering popular among followers of Francis Bacon. These lampoons include appealing to the authority of "a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London" and "the famous Psalmanazar, a native of the island Formosa" (who had already confessed to not being from Formosa in 1706).
This essay is widely held to be one of the greatest examples of sustained irony in the history of the English language. Much of its shock value derives from the fact that the first portion of the essay describes the plight of starving beggars in Ireland, so that the reader is unprepared for the surprise of Swift's solution when he states: "A young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragout."
In the tradition of Roman satire, Swift introduces the reforms he is actually suggesting by paralipsis:
Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: Of taxing our absentees at five shillings a pound: Of using neither clothes, nor household furniture, except what is of our own growth and manufacture: Of utterly rejecting the materials and instruments that promote foreign luxury: Of curing the expensiveness of pride, vanity, idleness, and gaming in our women: Of introducing a vein of parsimony, prudence and temperance: Of learning to love our country, wherein we differ even from Laplanders, and the inhabitants of Topinamboo: Of quitting our animosities and factions, nor acting any longer like the Jews, who were murdering one another at the very moment their city was taken: Of being a little cautious not to sell our country and consciences for nothing: Of teaching landlords to have at least one degree of mercy towards their tenants. Lastly, of putting a spirit of honesty, industry, and skill into our shop-keepers, who, if a resolution could now be taken to buy only our native goods, would immediately unite to cheat and exact upon us in the price, the measure, and the goodness, nor could ever yet be brought to make one fair proposal of just dealing, though often and earnestly invited to it.
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.
To ensure the success of his work, Swift employed several literary techniques that would prove extremely effective to his audience. The following techniques were used in his satire: understatement, hyperbole, juxtaposition, among several others.
To name his satire a "modest" proposal can be considered outrageous, as the subject content was purposely written with grotesque wordage. Perhaps the most obvious of literary techniques, it intrigued and baffled his readers.
Hyperbole is often used to evoke humor, but in this instance, it was used to make a point with strong language. Erasing the humanity of infants and referring to them as "carcasses, flesh, and meat" instead of "innocence" or "youth" efficiently defeated their significance to future generations.
Juxtaposition - a technique used to bring together two elements at odds with another - was implemented in Swift's subject matter when he combined the dire situation in Ireland with his outlandish solution.
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 insulted by projects that tried to fix population and labour issues with a simple cure-all solution. A memorable example of these sorts of schemes "involved the idea of running the poor through a joint-stock company". In response, Swift's Modest Proposal was "a burlesque of projects concerning the poor" that were in vogue during the early 18th century.
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". In the piece, Swift adopts the "technique of a political arithmetician" to show the utter ridiculousness of trying to prove any proposal with dispassionate statistics.
Critics differ about Swift's intentions in using this faux-mathematical philosophy. Edmund Wilson argues that statistically "the logic of the 'Modest proposal' can be compared with defense of crime (arrogated to Marx) in which he argues that crime takes care of the superfluous population". Wittkowsky counters that Swift's satiric use of statistical analysis is an effort to enhance his satire that "springs from a spirit of bitter mockery, not from the delight in calculations for their own sake".
Charles K. 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's use of gripping details of poverty and his narrator's cool approach towards them create "two opposing points of view" that "alienate the reader, perhaps unconsciously, from a narrator who can view with 'melancholy' detachment a subject that Swift has directed us, rhetorically, to see in a much less detached way."
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. In making his argument, the speaker uses the conventional, textbook-approved order of argument from Swift's time (which was derived from the Latin rhetorician Quintilian). The contrast between the "careful control against the almost inconceivable perversion of his scheme" and "the ridiculousness of the proposal" create a situation in which the reader has "to consider just what perverted values and assumptions would allow such a diligent, thoughtful, and conventional man to propose so perverse a plan".
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. Johnson notes Swift's obvious affinity for Tertullian and the bold stylistic and structural similarities between the works A Modest Proposal and Apology. In structure, Johnson points out the same central theme, that of cannibalism and the eating of babies as well as the same final argument, that "human depravity is such that men will attempt to justify their own cruelty by accusing their victims of being lower than human." Stylistically, Swift and Tertullian share the same command of sarcasm and language. In agreement with Johnson, Donald C. Baker points out the similarity between both authors' tones and use of irony. Baker notes the uncanny way that both authors imply an ironic "justification by ownership" over the subject of sacrificing children—Tertullian while attacking pagan parents, and Swift while attacking the English mistreatment of the Irish poor.
Defoe's The Generous Projector
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.
Mandeville's Modest Defence of Publick Stews
Bernard Mandeville's Modest Defence of Publick Stews asked to introduce public and state controlled bordellos. The 1726 paper acknowledges women's interests and – while not being a complete satirical text – has been discussed as well as an inspiration for Jonathan Swift's title. Mandeville had become famous with the Fable of The Bees and deliberations on private vices and public benefits in 1705 already.
John Locke's First Treatise of Government
"Be it then as Sir Robert says, that Anciently, it was usual for Men to sell and Castrate their Children. Let it be, that they exposed them; Add to it, if you please, for this is still greater Power, that they begat them for their Tables to fat and eat them: If this proves a right to do so, we may, by the same Argument, justifie Adultery, Incest and Sodomy, for there are examples of these too, both Ancient and Modern; Sins, which I suppose, have the Principle Aggravation from this, that they cross the main intention of Nature, which willeth the increase of Mankind, and the continuation of the Species in the highest perfection, and the distinction of Families, with the Security of the Marriage Bed, as necessary thereunto" (First Treatise, sec. 59).
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 satiric voice of Jonathan Swift and the apparent economic projections of the Proposer. He reminds readers that "there is a gap between the narrator's meaning and the text's, and that a moral-political argument is being carried out by means of parody".
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. Wittowsky argues that not enough critics have taken the time to focus directly on the mercantilism and theories of labour in 18th century England. "[I]f one regards the Modest Proposal simply as a criticism of condition, about all one can say is that conditions were bad and that Swift's irony brilliantly underscored this fact".
"People are the riches of a nation"
At the start of a new industrial age in the 18th century, it was believed that "people are the riches of the nation", and there was a general faith in an economy that paid its workers low wages because high wages meant workers would work less. Furthermore, "in the mercantilist view no child was too young to go into industry". In those times, the "somewhat more humane attitudes of an earlier day had all but disappeared and the laborer had come to be regarded as a commodity".
Landa composed a conducive analysis when he noted that it would have been healthier for the Irish economy to more appropriately utilize their human assets by giving the people an opportunity to “become a source of wealth to the nation” or else they “must turn to begging and thievery” . This opportunity may have included giving the farmers more coin to work for, diversifying their professions, or even consider enslaving their people to lower coin usage and build up financial stock in Ireland. Landa wrote that, "Swift is maintaining that the maxim—people are the riches of a nation—applies to Ireland only if Ireland is permitted slavery or cannibalism" 
Louis A. Landa presents Swift's A Modest Proposal as a critique of the popular and unjustified maxim of mercantilism in the 18th century that "people are the riches of a nation". Swift presents the dire state of Ireland and shows that mere population itself, in Ireland's case, did not always mean greater wealth and economy. The uncontrolled maxim fails to take into account that a person who does not produce in an economic or political way makes a country poorer, not richer. Swift also recognises the implications of such a fact in making mercantilist philosophy a paradox: the wealth of a country is based on the poverty of the majority of its citizens. Swift however, Landa argues, is not merely criticising economic maxims but also addressing the fact that England was denying Irish citizens their natural rights and dehumanising them by viewing them as a mere commodity.
The Public's Reaction
Swift's writings created a backlash within the community after its publication. The work was aimed at the aristocracy, and they responded in turn. Several members of society wrote to Swift about their feelings regarding the work. In a "private" reaction letter from Lord Bathurst (Henry Bathurst, 3rd Earl of Bathurst) to Jonathan Swift, Bathurst intimated that he certainly understood the message, and interpreted it as a work of comedy.
February 12, 1729-30:
"I did immediately propose it to Lady Bathurst, as your advice, particularly for her last boy, which was born the plumpest, finest thing, that could be seen; but she fell in a passion, and bid me send you word, that she would not follow your direction, but that she would breed him up to be a parson, and he should live upon the fat of the land; or a lawyer, and then, instead of being eat himself, he should devour others. You know women in passion never mind what they say; but, as she is a very reasonable woman, I have almost brought her over now to your opinion; and having convinced her, that as matters stood, we could not possibly maintain all the nine, she does begin to think it reasonable the youngest should raise fortunes for the eldest: and upon that foot a man may perforin family duty with more courage and zeal; for, if he should happen to get twins, the selling of one might provide for the other. Or if, by any accident, while his wife lies in with one child, he should get a second upon the body of another woman, he might dispose of the fattest of the two, and that would help to breed up the other.
The more I think upon this scheme, the more reasonable it appears to me; and it ought by no means to be confined to Ireland; for, in all probability, we shall, in a very little time, be altogether as poor here as you are there. I believe, indeed, we shall carry it farther, and not confine our luxury only to the eating of children; for I happened to peep the other day into a large assembly [Parliament] not far from Westminster-hall, and I found them roasting a great fat fellow, [Walpole again] For my own part, I had not the least inclination to a slice of him; but, if I guessed right, four or five of the company had a devilish mind to be at him. Well, adieu, you begin now to wish I had ended, when I might have done it so conveniently."
A Modest Proposal is included in many literature programs as an example of early modern western satire. It also serves as an exceptional introduction to the concept and use of argumentative language, lending itself well to secondary and post-secondary essay courses. Outside of the realm of English studies, A Modest Proposal is a relevant piece included in many comparative and global literature and history courses, as well as those of numerous other disciplines in the arts, humanities, and even the social sciences.
The essay has been emulated many times. In his book A Modest Proposal (1984), evangelical author Frank Schaeffer emulated Swift's work in social conservative polemic against abortion and euthanasia in a future dystopia that advocated recycling of aborted embryos and fetuses, as well as some disabled infants with compound intellectual, physical and physiological difficulties. (Such Baby Doe Rules cases were then a major concern of the pro-life movement of the early 1980s, which viewed selective treatment of those infants as disability discrimination.) In his book A Modest Proposal for America (2013), statistician Howard Friedman opens with a satirical reflection of the extreme drive to fiscal stability by ultra-conservatives.
In the 1998 edition of "A Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood there is a quote from "A Modest Proposal" before the introduction.
A Modest Video Game Proposal is the title of an open letter sent by activist/former attorney Jack Thompson on 10 October 2005. He proposed that, if someone could "create, manufacture, distribute, and sell a video game in 2006" that allows players to play the scenario he has written, in which the character kills video game developers.
Hunter S. Thompson's Fear and Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist, which contains hundreds of private letters written by Thompson over the years, contains a letter in which he uses A Modest Proposal's satire technique against the Vietnam War. Thompson writes a letter to a local Aspen newspaper informing them that, on Christmas Eve, he was going to use napalm to burn a number of dogs and hopefully any humans they find. This letter protests against the burning of Vietnamese people occurring overseas.
The 2012 film Butcher Boys, written by Kim Henkel, is said to be loosely based on Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal. The film's opening scene takes place in a restaurant named "J. Swift's."
On November 30, 2017, Jonathan Swift's 350th birthday, The Washington Post published a column entitled "Why Alabamians should consider eating Democrats’ babies", by humor columnist Alexandra Petri.
- Baker, Donald C (1957), "Tertullian and Swift's A Modest Proposal", The Classical Journal, 52: 219–220
- Johnson, James William (1958), "Tertullian and A Modest Proposal", Modern Language and Notes, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 73 (8): 561–563, doi:10.2307/3043246, JSTOR 3043246 (subscription needed)
- Landa, Louis A (1942), "A Modest Proposal and Populousness", Modern Philology, 40 (2): 161–170, doi:10.1086/388567
- Phiddian, Robert (1996), "Have You Eaten Yet? The Reader in A Modest Proposal", Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, Rice University, 36 (3): 603–621, doi:10.2307/450801, hdl:2328/746, JSTOR 450801
- Smith, Charles Kay (1968), "Toward a Participatory Rhetoric: Teaching Swift's Modest Proposal", College English, National Council of Teachers of English, 30 (2): 135–149, doi:10.2307/374449, JSTOR 374449
- Wittkowsky, George (1943), "Swift's Modest Proposal: The Biography of an Early Georgian Pamphlet", Journal of the History of Ideas, University of Pennsylvania Press, 4 (1): 75–104, doi:10.2307/2707237, JSTOR 2707237
- ^ ab"A Modest Proposal, by Dr. Jonathan Swift". Project Gutenberg. 27 July 2008. Retrieved 10 January 2012.
- ^Wittkowsky, Swift’s Modest Proposal, p76
- ^ abWittkowsky, Swift’s Modest Proposal, p85
- ^Wittkowsky, Swift's Modest Proposal, p88
- ^Wittkowsky, Swift's Modest Proposal, p101
- ^ abWittkowsky, Swift's Modest Proposal, p95
- ^Wittkowsky, Swift's Modest Proposal, p98
- ^Smith, Toward a Participatory Rhetoric, p. 135
- ^ abSmith, Toward a Participatory Rhetoric, p. 136
- ^ abSmith, Toward a Participatory Rhetoric, p. 138
- ^ abSmith, Toward a Participatory Rhetoric, p. 139
- ^ abcJohnson, Tertullian and A Modest Proposal, p563
- ^Johnson, Tertullian and A Modest Proposal, p562
- ^Baker, Tertullian and Swift's A Modest Proposal, p219
- ^Waters, Juliet (19 February 2009). "A modest but failed proposal". Montreal Mirror. Retrieved 10 January 2012.
- ^Eine Streitschrift…, Essay von Ursula Pia Jauch. Carl Hanser Verlag, München 2001.
- ^Primer, I. (15 March 2006). Bernard Mandeville's "A Modest Defence of Publick Stews": Prostitution and Its Discontents in Early Georgian England. Springer. ISBN 9781403984609.
- ^ abPhiddian, Have You Eaten Yet?, p6
- ^Phiddian, Have You Eaten Yet?, p3
- ^Phiddian, Have You Eaten Yet?, p4
- ^ abLanda, A Modest Proposal and Populousness, p161
- ^ abcdeLanda, A Modest Proposal and Populousness, p165
- ^Swift, Jonathan; Scott, Sir Walter (1814). The Works of Jonathan Swift: Containing Additional Letters, Tracts, and Poems Not Hitherto Published; with Notes and a Life of the Author. A. Constable.
- ^"The Handmaid's Tale". www.goodreads.com.
- ^Petri, Alexandra (November 30, 2017). "Why Alabamians should consider eating Democrats' babies". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 30, 2017.
Give examples of satire in “A Modest Proposal” and describe why they are satirical.
Answer: The entirety of “A Modest Proposal” is satirical because it makes fun of other grand ideas that people have proposed to solve big problems in society. The proposal itself—that the Irish should eat their babies—is satirical, too, because it makes fun of people who propose absurd things thinking that they are practical. Swift’s reference to boys and girls as not a “saleable commodity” is a good particular example because it suggests the cold thinking of people who argue for turning everything into questions of economics. A similar moment comes when Swift says that “those who are thrifty” may use the carcass of the infant for ladies’ gloves or gentlemen’s boots; this takes children as animals where the whole animal is used for different purposes. The narrator’s friend, the “very worthy person,” proposes that children of fourteen should be consumed as well, and the honest assessment of this idea is satirical along the same lines; the taste is what matters and, besides, it would limit the number of breeders (which is itself a strange argument if overpopulation or too many Irishmen were the problem). Swift’s final declaration that he has nothing to gain economically from his proposal satirizes the usual protestations of people who are claiming to be altruistic in their proposals.
Discuss the theme of religious prejudice in Swift’s satires.
Answer: “A Modest Proposal” takes on the theme of religious prejudice with the narrator’s assurance that his proposal that Ireland eat its young will decrease the number of “papists” (Roman Catholics). Assuming the narrative voice of a bigoted English Protestant, Swift says that the Irish Catholics are England’s “dangerous enemies.” Swift exposes the stereotype (taken here as a negative) that Catholics have many children by having his narrator call them the “chief breeders of the nation.” In “An Argument Abolishing Christianity,” too, Swift assumes the voice of someone with religious prejudices in order to expose those prejudices. The narrator says that the abolition of Christianity could invite “papists” (again, Catholics) to invade England or would give Freethinkers a lot less enjoyment in sinning or making fun of Christians. "A True and Faithful Narrative" points out Swift’s own prejudice, shared by many (perhaps because it is basic to human nature), that religious people tend to be hypocritical and unwilling to live up to their own ideals.
Why did Swift publish “A Modest Proposal” anonymously? How does this contribute to the effectiveness of his piece?
Answer: If Swift had not published his piece anonymously, readers may have been less likely to consider it serious. If readers knew from the beginning that “A Modest Proposal” was written by an accomplished satirist, they would be looking for the joke from the beginning and might not be taken in at all. The proposed solution for the poverty in Ireland might have been believed for just long enough to make readers appreciate the deeper level of satire against cold and calculating arguments that miss the elements of basic humanity. Assuming the guise of a fake, anonymous narrator allowed him to better parody the prejudices that someone like his narrator might have.
What attitude does “A Modest Proposal” take to the trend of answering social questions with mathematics?
Answer: “A Modest Proposal” mocks the idea that society’s ills can be cured by simple calculations. The piece is full of numbers: the number of people in the entire country, the number of couples, the number of poor couples, the number of children born into poor families, and many more. Swift conducts mathematics with these numbers in his proposal, subtracting, for example, the number of miscarriages or deaths by famine or disease from the total number of children born per year. By turning a tragic thing like the death of children into a math problem, Swift is mocking the tendency in the nineteenth century to view social questions dispassionately in terms of calculations, according to the new advances in science, math, and economics, instead of considering the human element.
Discuss the theme of economic inequality in “A Modest Proposal.”
Answer: Economic inequality was a chief concern of Swift’s, and he expressed this concern satirically in “A Modest Proposal.” The title itself hints at economic inequality—his proposal applies to “the poor people of Ireland.” The children that will be eaten, under this proposal, are poor children. Specifically, the poor children will be bought and eaten by the rich. This is only right, says the narrator, because the rich have already consumed their parents economically. Swift is making the point that economic exploitation is like actual consumption; the rich feed off the poor.
Why might Jonathan Swift have chosen to write so much satire? What is he able to do with a satirical piece that he is unable to do with a serious piece?
Answer: If Jonathan Swift had written serious pieces simply espousing his true beliefs—for instance, that the state of the poor in Ireland was deplorable, that something must be done to help them—he would have likely gotten little response, as there were many such pamphlets circulating at the time. It was hard enough to write a lasting piece in any genre, and at least people like to criticize and they like to laugh. A satirical parody (a shocking one in particular) was likely to get the public’s attention in ways that a seriously written piece could not achieve. “A Modest Proposal” surprised people and got them thinking about the condition of the poor in Ireland and what should seriously be done about it. And when very sensitive subjects are involved, such as criticizing the nation’s prevailing religion, it is much safer to be hard to read and to be seemingly joking rather than to directly challenge authority.
Is Swift’s “main objection” to his idea in “A Modest Proposal” a sincere objection? How does this contribute to the effectiveness of the piece?
Answer: If any reader still thinks that this is a serious piece by this point, the “main objection” ought to persuade them that it is not. The writer says that the main objection to the killing and eating of Irish young is that it will decrease the population. A truly serious objection from a normal human being would be that it is morally wrong to consume human flesh on such a large scale. Furthermore, it is a straw-man objection, since the author reminds the reader that reducing the population is the overall goal anyway. Taking up the real objections would distract the reader by introducing a level of seriousness that the reader already knows how to reply. Besides, Swift introduces indirectly a good objection: that there are better ways to fix the problem, and the narrator even lists a bunch of ideas while saying that he is not interested to consider them. The effectiveness of the piece comes in large measure because the reader becomes engaged in thinking about the real problem and real solutions.
What is going on in the battle of the Ancients and the Moderns in “The Battle of the Books?” Are they truly two separate sides?
Answer: Although the Ancients and the Moderns appear to be two distinct sides in “The Battle of the Books,” there is evidence in the text of their similarity. They fight in the same world over the same territory, and the librarian, for better or for worse, has mixed the Ancients and Moderns together in the library, presumably on the basis of subject matter. The most worthy Moderns use the best of what can be found in the Ancients. The spider and the bee, the allegorical representations of the two sides, are themselves embroiled; the bee gets caught in the spider’s web. Their sources of disagreement, too, do not seem irreconcilable. The quarrel has a lot to do with those Moderns who turn up their noses at the Ancients and arrogantly go on their own way, and with the great swarm of third-rate Moderns who try to make a name for themselves by tearing down the great works and great ideas of the Ancients, or who like to quarrel with one another about the actual value of the Ancients. Certain characters in “The Battle of the Books” are more successful in battle than others based on how Swift judges their literary quality; despite Swift’s usual preference for the best of the Ancients, sometimes a great Modern overcomes a weak Ancient.
Give examples of Jonathan Swift’s literary parody.
Answer: “A Modest Proposal” is a parody of pamphlets distributed at the time that professed to have the single cure for all social problems. Swift thought this “can-do” attitude with its prescriptive writing style was naïve. The introductory material and digressions in A Tale of a Tub are themselves parodies of a variety of types of writing: medical texts, religious texts, and political texts, as well as the kinds of things written in introductions and by booksellers. “Meditation Upon a Broomstick” is a parody of the writing style of Swift’s contemporary Robert Boyle. “The Battle of the Books” parodies many scenes in Homer’s war epic, the Iliad. His satires thus not only parody ideas and personalities but also certain ways of expressing those ideas.
Write an essay in Swift’s style.
Answer: Think of a political or social issue, preferably something relevant to your own place and time. If you choose school uniforms, for example, the next step is to come up with your idea of the problem that is supposedly being solved. Then, decide where you stand on the issue: do school uniforms solve the problem or not? Next, think of a way of expressing this solution that would be extreme (like eating babies in “A Modest Proposal”). For example, if the idea of uniforms is uniformity and you do not think this is a good enough reason for school uniforms, then you could make fun of it by arguing that the students should go to school naked. Your essay will then be in the voice of someone who believes the opposite, arguing for attending school naked for the sake of uniformity (just like Swift’s narrator argued that Ireland should eat its young, but Swift didn’t actually believe this, and like Swift made those in favor of repealing the Test Act seem to be anti-Christianity in “An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity”). Now, choose a method of literary parody. Maybe you will pretend that this is an opinion piece in the school newspaper. This helps establish your audience and the kind of writing you will make fun of. Now comes the hardest part of all: telling all the jokes in the way that Swift does. As you think of the reasons that your extreme solution might be purportedly a good idea, imagine what different people might be thinking—parents, teachers, politicians, prudes, nudists. These reasons can be as silly as you want to make them, and if you have some extra joke to make about these kinds of people, fold them into the arguments. You could say, for example, that going to school naked would mean that parents wouldn’t have to pay for their students’ clothes, which is an expensive thing because students are always trying to get their parents to pay for the latest faddish designers. Or you could say that going to school naked would keep students from developing tan lines, or reduce the need for “sexting” because everyone would already know what each other looks like naked. The more different levels of satire you can get to work at the same time, the more it will be in the style of Swift.