QUESTIONS ON RHETORIC AND STYLE
Jonathan Swift, “A Modest Proposal” (1729)
1. Analyze the diction of the title: “A Modest Proposal.” What do the words suggest?
2. List the social ills from which Ireland suffers when Swift wrote this essay.
3. Is Swift Catholic or Protestant? How does that validate or invalidate his credibility? How does that
affect his relationship to his audience?
4. List the ways in which the proposal is presented that make it appear rational.
5. If there exists a “typical” method for making an argument, Swift’s method here is not it. What is
the real point Swift is arguing, and how does it relate to the apparent point the speaker makes?
6. How does Swift want the reader to view the speaker? What features best describe the “persona”
7. Note Swift’s diction in the opening paragraphs. Identify examples of quantification and
dehumanization. Explain their purpose.
8. What are some assumptions underlying paragraph 7?
9. Swift’s speaker explains the anticipated results before revealing the actual proposal. Explain the
rhetorical purpose of such a strategy.
10. Who is the target of Swift’s sarcasm and why?
11. For each of the classic appeals (logos, ethos, pathos), indicate two examples from the first eight
paragraphs. Which one is the speaker’s primary appeal?
12. Read paragraph 9 carefully. Explain the purpose and effect of the qualifiers included there.
13. Taking careful note of the diction in paragraph 12, with words such as “dear” and “devoured,”
explain the rhetorical strategy at work.
14. Indicate Swift’s motivational appeals, specifically those to thrift, economy, and patriotism. Explain
the rhetorical strategy behind such appeals.
15. Consider the additional proposal mentioned in paragraph 17. Explain the rhetorical strategy at
work in that paragraph.
16. Identify a counterargument that the speaker anticipates in paragraph 19.
17. Explain what Swift suggests as “expedients” in paragraphs 29-31, and explain the rhetorical
strategy at work.
18. The very end of paragraphs 31 and 32 may be seen as breaks from Swift’s ironic voice. Explain
how that may be the case, and identify one other place where Swift’s voice breaks through that of
19. Write a short response to “A Modest Proposal” focusing on the experience of reading it. How do
your responses—to the beginning, to the moment when the proposal is laid out, to the handling of