What is Swift's attitude toward the beggars he describes in the opening paragraph?
The irony of this passage, and in Swift's treatment of the poor in general, is neither simple nor straightforward. His compassion for these people is mitigated by a strong sense that people ought to take the initiative to help themselves out of their own difficulties. Swift's language here plays on the popular judgment of beggars as lazy opportunists. While Swift does not entirely dissociate himself from this opinion, his purpose here is to show the complex web of social and economic realities that supports and perpetuates such a situation.
Where do the speaker's allegiances lie in this essay? With what social groups does he identify himself?
The speaker is a Protestant and a member of the Irish upper class. While he professes sympathy for the plight of the poor Catholic population, he also holds a fairly contemptuous opinion of them. He takes great pains to enumerate the advantages of his proposed project for the wealthy, who would presumably be called upon to implement it. Yet Swift's irony implicates this moneyed class for their monetary greed, their personal indulgence, their unflagging attention to their own self-interest, and their indifference to the state of the poor and the state of the nation as a whole.
What sort of persona does Swift create for the "author" of A Modest Proposal?
The "proposer" is notable for his vanity, his cold-heartedness, and the ruthlessness of his logic. He represents the hypocrisy and superficiality of many would-be reformers, whose seeming benevolence masks such impediments as prejudice, intolerance, sentimentalism, and hyper-abstraction. His reductive handling of suffering humans as statistical entities and economic commodities is what makes him most unappealing, in spite of the calm and reasonable tone of his argumentation.
Where do you detect differences between the "proposer" and Swift himself?
If Swift does not actually think the Irish people should eat their children, what does he think they should do?
Who is the audience of this work?
Who will be the beneficiaries of this "Modest Proposal"?
When did it first become apparent to you that Swift's proposal was not serious? How did you respond?
What relevance does A Modest Proposal have for contemporary social and political issues? Can you think of historical situations that pose similar problems about ends and means?
Write a persuasive essay of your own that uses some of Swift's rhetorical strategies (adopt a persona, for example, or profess opinions that you do not hold as a way of strengthening your real arguments.)