A Modest Proposal

Eating Symbol Icon

Eating is an important symbol throughout “A Modest Proposal,” illustrating in painfully literal terms the predatory behavior of the upper classes, and colonial powers more generally. For the Proposer, resorting to cannibalism is just a natural extension of the daily activities of landlords and aristocrats. In addition, Swift uses the symbol of eating to paint humankind as fundamentally bestial creatures—creatures not inherently rational but only capable of reason on rare occasions.

Eating Quotes in A Modest Proposal

The A Modest Proposal quotes below all refer to the symbol of Eating. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Satire and Sincerity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Publications, Inc. edition of A Modest Proposal published in 1996.
A Modest Proposal Quotes

I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.
I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or broiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or ragout.

Related Characters: The Proposer (speaker), The American
Related Symbols: Eating
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:
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I grant that this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.

Related Characters: The Proposer (speaker)
Related Symbols: Eating
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:
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Eating Symbol Timeline in A Modest Proposal

The timeline below shows where the symbol Eating appears in A Modest Proposal. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
A Modest Proposal
Satire and Sincerity Theme Icon
Colonialism, Greed, and Inhumanity Theme Icon
Society, Rationality, and Irrationality Theme Icon
...for a year on their mother’s breast milk and then sold to wealthy gentleman—who will eat them. In particular the children will be sold to wealthy landlords, who have “already devoured... (full context)
Satire and Sincerity Theme Icon
Colonialism, Greed, and Inhumanity Theme Icon
Misanthropy (Hatred of Humankind) Theme Icon
...to this plan: in addition to infants, young teenagers may also be sold, slaughtered, and eaten. Their flesh is, apparently, similar to venison (deer meat), and the Irish deer population has... (full context)
Colonialism, Greed, and Inhumanity Theme Icon
Society, Rationality, and Irrationality Theme Icon
Misanthropy (Hatred of Humankind) Theme Icon
...native island of Formosa in which a young woman was executed for treason and then eaten by various members of the court. Hearing this tale, the Proposer admits that he wouldn’t... (full context)
Colonialism, Greed, and Inhumanity Theme Icon
As a fifth advantage of the Proposer’s plan, the practice of eating children will “bring great custom” to all the local taverns, whose cooks will come to... (full context)
Satire and Sincerity Theme Icon
Colonialism, Greed, and Inhumanity Theme Icon
Society, Rationality, and Irrationality Theme Icon
Misanthropy (Hatred of Humankind) Theme Icon
...they ask the impoverished parents of Ireland if they would have rather been sold and eaten at the age of one than endure the endless series misfortunes that have marked their... (full context)