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Link to Religion in Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift: Analytical Essay

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To revisit that which I previously mentioned earlier within this essay, there is also an implicit critique of Catholicism within this misogynistic proposal, though the link to religion is particularly subtle in its ties to misogyny.

Within the proposer’s narrative critiquing poor women with many children, this target of religion exists amidst Swift’s more explicitly anti-Catholic rhetoric, and it supports the stereotype that Catholic families are always large, given their religious views regarding childbirth and contraception. This itself is seemingly pointless to critique as, much like Swift’s misogyny, this anti-Catholicism isn’t constructive. In addition to this however, Swift goes on further throughout the proposal to more explicitly target Roman Catholics, through the proposer’s narrative voice. At the open of the essay, he writes that the poor children will “either turn Thieves for want of work, or leave their dear native Country to fight for the pretender in Spain” (1729, #1). This section is of course alluding to the dissent of those deemed Jacobites, individuals who supported the reinstatement of the Stuart line, most commonly Catholics and Protestants. The proposer is quite directly labelling the poor, and by extension Roman Catholics, as traitors to their own country; Ward notes this as, “Swift exploit[ing] [a] tradition [of anti-Catholic propaganda]” (2010, p. 84).

In addition to this overt anti-Catholicism, the proposer also lists one of the benefits of the proposal as being that, “it would greatly lessen the Number of Papists, with whom we are Yearly over-run, being the principal Breeders of the Nation, as well as our most dangerous Enemies” (Swift, 1729, #21), and goes on to say that “the number of Popish Infants, is at least three to one in this Kingdom” (Swift, 1729, #13). The proposer is very directly and unquestionably positioning Catholic’s as the issue which his proposal is intended to help fight against, and thereby it can be said that Swift is utilizing the proposer’s narrative voice here in order to target Catholic’s and mobilize them to act upon their inadequacies, that which the proposer speaks of. The repeated use of the word ‘breeder’ again strips both Catholics and women of their individual identities, and concurrently labelling of them as ‘papists’ is also particularly derogatory (Oxford English Dictionary, 2005). Justifying this modest proposal by drawing upon an opposition to a religious group, and a discrimination against a women, is arguably the proposer’s main strategy.

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And so finally, this essay will address Swift’s, and the proposer’s, targeting of societies structured purely for profit. Throughout ‘A Modest Proposal’ the proposer repeatedly places a price on that which does not require it. Swift writes, “It is true a Child, just dropt from it’s Dam, may be […] at most not above the Value of two Shillings” (1729, #4), and goes on to note, “the Charge of nursing a Beggars Child” (1729, #14). Everything from breastmilk to children of a certain age is being valued by the proposer, for what he deems a greater good that which is, “the Nation’s Stock, [that] will be thereby increased fifty thousand pounds per Anum” (Swift, 1729, #23). This prolonged focus upon the monetary worth of every ‘thing’ that is shown by the proposer, is crafted by Swift in such a way so as to imply a negative judgement upon individuals with a sole concern for money. Though Swift is not crafting a Marxist critique, or fully condemning capitalism, there is an implicit indictment of pleonexia, which Swift highlights further through his consideration of landlords.

On multiple occasions throughout ‘A Modest Proposal’ Swift notes landlords within this discussion of money and economic profit, and alludes to their greed. He writes, this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for Landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the Parents, seem to have the best Title to the Children. (1729, #12)

Continuing, the proposer also notes one of the benefits of his proposal as “the poorer Tenants will have something valuable of their own [to] […] help pay their Landlord’s Rent” (Swift, 1729, #22). The use of the word devoured is particularly jarring here, as for the most part the proposal is written in a formal manner. In fact, considering the text as a whole, it must be noted that Swift works to conceal the true nature of his work through this use of classical rhetoric and formal dialogue and, as noted by Phiddian, “the point of breach in decorum is the word ‘devoured’” (1996, p. 609). Though, arguably this is prefaced by language which alludes to the satirical nature of the proposal and Swift’s use of irony.

At the open of the essay the proposer claims to have, “weighed the several Schemes of other Projectors” (Swift, 1729, #4), and defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, the word ‘projector’ is said to mean, “a person who forms a project” (2007), and this aligns with the depiction of the proposer as one who is seeking to initiate his proposal. However, more notably, a ‘projector’ is also known as, “a schemer […] [and] a promoter of bogus or unsound business ventures” (Oxford English Dictionary, 2007). This alternate definition is far more significant given the syntax of the sentence, as the modest proposer is implying that he himself is also one of these projectors who has crafted an unsound scheme in which he desires others to be complicit. The duality of this word hence casts doubt upon the intentions of the proposer, and thus alludes to Swift’s true intentions. Moreover, these instances of deceit on the part of the proposer thus force one to reconsider the entire meaning of the text; as noted by Wayne Booth, Swift’s use of irony means “the reader is required to reject the literal meaning” (1974, p. 10) of the text.

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Link to Religion in Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift: Analytical Essay. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 22, 2024, from
“Link to Religion in Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift: Analytical Essay.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
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