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    Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal

    This quiz was written to test your understanding of Jonathan Swift’s essay, A Modest Proposal.


    Swift notes the problem of poverty in Ireland and satirically proposes that such poverty could be eliminated if the children of the poor were sold to be butchered and eaten.


    At the time Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal,” Ireland had been essentially under British rule since 1188, with the British often brutally suppressing rebellions by the Irish people.


    The advantages of the plan are that it would lessen the number of Muslims, that the rich tenants would have an income with which to pay the king, that poor parents wouldn’t have to maintain their children after two years of age, that taverns would benefit by increased business, and that it would encourage marriage.


    Paragraph 29 enumerates the “alternatives,” which involve the wealthy giving everyone a squanderous lifestyle, the uniting of the Irish people, and an increased compassion for the poor.


    The very outrageousness of the proposal suggests that Swift is extremely serious. Other clues include the over attention to detail, and of course, the seriousness of his true proposals outlined in paragraphs 29-33.


    Swift’s target here is the British government, in particular its poor treatment of the Irish.


    Many young Catholics left their country to fight as mercenaries in Spain’s civil war or to work as indentured servants in the West Isles.


    Many British readers would likely dismiss the proposal as the rantings of a madman. Irish readers, however—at least those who realized the harm British control was doing to the country of Ireland—would understand Swift’s point.


    Swift seems to have wanted to inspire change; only by shocking the sensibilities of his audience so thoroughly could he make readers stop and consider real solutions.


    Computations found in the essay, establish the “proposer” as a meticulous, even finicky, man.