Study Guide

A Modest Proposal Foreignness and "The Other"

By Jonathan Swift

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Foreignness and "The Other"

The concept of "The Other" is crucial to understanding A Modest Proposal. We're not just talking about a united Ireland. A whole class of people is treated as foreign and unwelcome—unless they're on the dinner table, that is. One of the narrator's big arguments is that the wealthy Irish can strengthen their identity by demoting poor children on the food chain. He wants Ireland to redefine itself by pushing out the ones who don't belong. Of course, all of this is meant as (a very scary) satire. Swift felt that the upper class dehumanized the poor to justify doing nothing.

Questions About Foreignness and "The Other"

  1. Which social, racial and religious groups are "othered" in A Modest Proposal?
  2. How does the narrator's social position complicate his proposal?
  3. Why does the narrator play upon wealthy readers' fear of the unknown? 
  4. What language is used to stereotype the poor?

Chew on This

The final paragraph of A Modest Proposal reveals that the narrator is an outsider, not unlike the poor he condemns throughout the essay.

Although the narrator likens the poor to beasts, he also reveals the savage tendencies of the wealthy classes.

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