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Themes

A Modest Proposal is all about an ethically dubious idea turned into a plausible scheme. The funny thing is, the narrator doesn't like to mention morals or make judgments. He just makes shocking suggestions about selling babies for cold, hard cash. In order for the satire to work, readers have to figure out for themselves why the baby eating scheme is so wrong. Instead of telling people what to believe, Swift lets them make their own minds up. Pretty clever, huh?

Questions About Morality and Ethics

  1. Why does the narrator avoid discussing morals? Does he ever mention right versus wrong?
  2. The narrator isn't interested in using older children as a food source. Why does he think that such a practice is "a little bordering on cruelty?" (17)
  3. Why does the narrator scold politicians who might oppose his plan? 
  4. In the final paragraph, the narrator says he has no personal stakes in his plan. What is this meant to accomplish?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The narrator introduces the topic of morality by purposefully avoiding it.

In A Modest Proposal, Swift equates economic utility with hardheartedness in order to shock wealthy readers into action.

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