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Themes

A Modest Proposal loves to point out abuses of power. Swift calls out wealthy landlords who overcharge their tenants and politicians looking to make a quick buck. He doesn't rant against them, but instead prods them to rediscover their empathy. After all, the rich may be sitting pretty now, but it's a long fall from the top of the food chain.

There's definitely some desperation in the air: Swift knows that the power players are hanging on by a thread in poverty-stricken Ireland. A Modest Proposal hits home because even the powerful are vulnerable.

Questions About Power

  1. Does Swift distinguish between power in Ireland and power in England? Why or why not?
  2. Are the powerless given a voice in A Modest Proposal?
  3. Why does the narrator think that rich landowners will respond well to his proposal?
  4. Are the poor entirely subject to the power of the wealthy?

Chew on This

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

Swift believes that power is a corrupting force, but he also believes in the power of humanity. His willingness to write A Modest Proposal demonstrates optimism.

As a wealthy Irish Protestant, Swift criticizes his peers. He recognizes his own privilege and seeks to use his power for good.

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