A Modest Proposal

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Misanthropy (Hatred of Humankind) Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Satire and Sincerity Theme Icon
Colonialism, Greed, and Inhumanity Theme Icon
Society, Rationality, and Irrationality Theme Icon
Misanthropy (Hatred of Humankind) Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Modest Proposal, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Misanthropy (Hatred of Humankind) Theme Icon

In a letter to his friend, the poet Alexander Pope, Swift famously wrote, “I have ever hated all nations, professions, and communities, and all my love is toward individuals: for instance, I hate the tribe of lawyers, but I love Counsellor Such-a-one, and Judge Such-a-one: so with physicians—I will not speak of my own trade—soldiers, English, Scotch, French, and the rest. But principally I hate and detest that animal called man, although I heartily love John, Peter, Thomas, and so forth.”

Swift is perhaps the most famous misanthrope in the history of English literature. As mentioned previously “A Modest Proposal” most obviously lampoons the colonial powers in Ireland. But less obvious—and perhaps less comfortable for us as readers—are the ways in which the essay also satirizes the poor. As becomes clear in Swift’s backhanded disclosure of his actual suggestions for dealing with the crisis in Ireland, he tends to think of the Irish population as depraved, self-loathing, and unable to organize on their own behalf. He is disgusted by the way Irish husbands treat their wives, and he really does hate Catholics (though he isn’t about to kill any of them). In this sense, he spares neither the English nor the Irish from his biting satire.

With this in mind, one could argue that the absurdity of the proposed cannibalism illustrates not just the evils of English colonial rule, nor just the basic hopelessness of the Irish situation, but in fact the depravity of humanity in general. For Swift, the world is utterly and irreversibly fallen, and even on their best days humans are little more than beasts. Therefore, even as he proposes it in total irony, Swift seems also to be genuinely asking: why doesn’t humanity, given all of its terrible faults, deserve cannibalism?

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Misanthropy (Hatred of Humankind) ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Misanthropy (Hatred of Humankind) appears in each chapter of A Modest Proposal. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Misanthropy (Hatred of Humankind) Quotes in A Modest Proposal

Below you will find the important quotes in A Modest Proposal related to the theme of Misanthropy (Hatred of Humankind).
A Modest Proposal Quotes

Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: of taxing our absentees at 5s. 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, in the want of which 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 conscience for nothing: of teaching landlords to have at least one degree of mercy toward their tenants: lastly, of putting a spirit of honesty, industry, and skill into our shopkeepers…

Related Characters: The Proposer (speaker)
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

This sentence, appearing toward the end of “A Modest Proposal”, is the essay’s longest and arguably its climax. The long, impassioned string of alternative plans will read as a breath of fresh air amid the Proposer’s insistent calls for cannibalism. Jonathan Swift’s sincere convictions seem to be breaking through the Proposer’s voice, without the Proposer realizing it. Swift’s alternative suggestions focus, for the most part, on instilling good principles and values among the Irish populace and their English colonizers. In this sense these alternatives are difficult to put into practice, and this is why, it seems, the Proposer has abandoned them in favor of cannibalism, which he sees as highly practical. And though Swift seems to harbor a certain optimism here about the possibility of improving society, he is not afraid to describe the current state of humankind as utterly fallen.

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