A Modest Proposal


Jonathan Swift

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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.

Satire and Sincerity

Today we regard “A Modest Proposal” as a seminal work of Western satire—satire being the use of humor or irony to reveal and criticize the evils of society. Though Swift wrote the tract in response to the specific social conditions afflicting his native Ireland, its bitter humor shocks and delights as much now as it did in 1729, when it circulated the streets of Dublin as an anonymous pamphlet. The power of Swift’s satire resides…

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Colonialism, Greed, and Inhumanity

Beginning in the 12th century, England ruled its neighboring island Ireland, essentially treating it as a colony. English rule grew increasingly oppressive as it became a Protestant country, while the vast majority of the Irish remained Catholic. By 1729, Irish Catholics, though greater in number than their Protestant rulers, owned less of the land, and they couldn’t vote. To put it simply, a minority of wealthy, Protestant Englishman held all the power over a disenfranchised…

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Society, Rationality, and Irrationality

Not only does “A Modest Proposal” satirize the casual evil of the English rich and the hopelessness of the Irish poor, it also satirizes the culture of pamphleteering and political grandstanding that flourished in response to the crisis in Ireland. In 18th-century England and Ireland, it was common practice for the civic-minded to write short essays on all matters of politics, which they would then distribute among the public in the form of cheaply printed…

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Misanthropy (Hatred of Humankind)

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…

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