Estimated read time: 4 min read

One Sentence Summary

"A Modest Proposal" is a satirical essay suggesting the solution to Ireland's poverty by selling the children of the poor as food to the wealthy.


"A Modest Proposal" is a satirical essay written by Jonathan Swift in 1729. It is a provocative piece of literature that addresses the poverty and famine in Ireland during the 18th century. Swift's work uses irony and biting social commentary to highlight the oppressive policies of the British government and the economic exploitation of the Irish people. This summary will explore the plot, characters, themes, and insights of this influential work.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview

The essay begins with the narrator acknowledging the dire economic conditions in Ireland and the excessive number of impoverished families struggling to provide for themselves. The narrator then introduces his "modest proposal" to solve the issue of overpopulation and poverty. He suggests that the impoverished Irish should sell their infants as food to the wealthy English landowners, who would benefit from such a commodity and alleviate the economic burden on the poor.


The essay is set against the backdrop of 18th-century Ireland, a time marked by severe poverty, hunger, and oppressive British colonial rule. The Irish population was facing extreme hardship due to economic deprivation and discriminatory policies imposed by the ruling British government. Swift's essay reflects this dismal socio-economic setting.

Main Events

Main Events
Introduction of the Proposal
The narrator presents the "modest proposal" to address poverty and overpopulation.
Rationale for the Proposal
The narrator rationalizes the economic benefits of selling infants as food and argues that it would reduce the financial burden on poor families.
Explanation of the Proposal
The narrator elaborates on the logistics and potential profits of the proposal, discussing the different methods of preparing and consuming infants.
Rebuttal of Potential Objections
The narrator addresses potential objections to the proposal, dismissing concerns about morality and ethics.
Swift's Reveal
Swift unveils the true purpose of the essay, condemning the oppressive policies of the British government and highlighting the dehumanizing effects of poverty.

Main Characters

The Narrator

The unnamed narrator is the voice of the essay, presenting the "modest proposal" and articulating the rationale behind it. The narrator embodies Swift's satirical persona, using irony and sarcasm to critique the socio-political landscape of 18th-century Ireland.

Main Characters

The NarratorThe voice of the essay, presenting the controversial "modest proposal" to address poverty and overpopulation in Ireland.

Themes and Insights


  1. Satire and Irony: Swift employs satire and irony to criticize the British government's oppressive policies and the dehumanizing effects of poverty.
  2. Social Injustice: The essay highlights the social injustice and economic exploitation experienced by the impoverished Irish population at the hands of the ruling British elite.
  3. Dehumanization: Swift explores the dehumanizing impact of poverty and the callous attitudes of the wealthy towards the less fortunate.


  • Swift's use of satire serves as a scathing critique of the British government's neglect of the Irish populace, shedding light on the inhumane treatment of the impoverished.
  • The essay challenges readers to reflect on the ethical implications of socio-economic disparity and the devaluation of human life in the face of extreme poverty.

Reader's Takeaway

"A Modest Proposal" serves as a powerful commentary on socio-economic inequality, political indifference, and the dehumanizing effects of poverty. Swift's masterful use of satire invites readers to critically examine the societal structures that perpetuate injustice and exploitation. The essay prompts reflection on the ethical and moral dimensions of poverty and highlights the enduring relevance of addressing social inequities.


"A Modest Proposal" remains a timeless work of satire that continues to provoke critical discourse on socio-economic disparities, political apathy, and the ethical treatment of the less privileged. Jonathan Swift's scathing critique of 18th-century Irish society and the British government's policies reverberates with contemporary relevance, urging readers to confront the enduring challenges of social injustice and economic inequality.

A Modest Proposal FAQ

  1. What is 'A Modest Proposal' about?

    A Modest Proposal is a satirical essay by Jonathan Swift in which he suggests that the impoverished Irish might ease their economic troubles by selling their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies.

  2. When was 'A Modest Proposal' first published?

    A Modest Proposal was first published in 1729.

  3. What is the writing style of 'A Modest Proposal'?

    The writing style of 'A Modest Proposal' is characterized by its use of irony, satire, and rhetorical devices to criticize the socio-political situation in Ireland.

  4. What is the purpose of 'A Modest Proposal'?

    The purpose of 'A Modest Proposal' is to draw attention to the dire economic and social conditions in Ireland and to critique the heartless attitudes of the ruling class towards the poor.

  5. Is 'A Modest Proposal' meant to be taken literally?

    No, 'A Modest Proposal' is a work of satire and is not meant to be taken literally. Swift's intention was to highlight the absurdity of the economic and social policies of the time through his extreme proposal.