Study Guide

A Modest Proposal Part 1

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Part 1

  • Let's set the stage, Shmoopers: there's widespread famine and poverty in Ireland. England rules Ireland, but they're not exactly throwing money at the problem.
  • Lo and behold, an anonymously published essay claims to have the perfect solution. Swift didn't put his name on the first edition, so it was anyone's guess as to who wrote it.
  • According to the author, you can't make it through the streets of Ireland without running into a herd of child beggars and their exasperated mothers.
  • In fact, these kids are so annoying that they're leading to the kingdom's downfall. They should be contributing something useful to society.
  • As it so happens, the author has the perfect solution to the problem, which he will proceed to detail over the next few pages.
  • Before he gets too ahead of himself, the author wants to be practical. A mother can feed her child without much trouble in the first year. That's one year the kid won't be out on the streets, clamoring for food.
  • And since we're already talking about saving money, the author speculates that about 170,000 women in Ireland can bear children.
  • Out of the kids borne by those women, most of them are useless. They might learn how to become thieves, but none of them are going to be engaging in backbreaking hard work.
  • Without further ado (finally!) the author unveils his ambitious plan.

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