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Reading Quiz on "A Modest Proposal" by Jonathan Swift

A Multiple-Choice Reading Quiz

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Jonathan Swift (detail of an oil painting by Charles Jervas; in the National Portrait Gallery, London)

Jonathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" is one of the most savage and powerful works in the English language. Swift composed the satirical essay in the summer of 1729, after three years of drought and crop failure had forced more than 30,000 Irish citizens to abandon their homes in search of work, food, and shelter.

After reading the essay carefully, take this brief quiz, and then compare your responses with the answers on page two.

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  1. What problem does the narrator call attention to in the first paragraph of "A Modest Proposal"?
    (A) his own inability to find work
    (B) his wife's inability to bear children
    (C) female beggars accompanied by children
    (D) the country's ongoing war with Spain
    (E) the growth of great towns and the decline of small villages


  2. According to the narrator of “A Modest Proposal,” at what age is a child best suited to serve as the solution to the problem he identifies?
    (A) one year
    (B) three years
    (C) six years
    (D) nine years
    (E) twelve years


  3. In paragraph five, before providing the details of his proposal, the narrator identifies “another great advantage” of the scheme. What is that advantage?
    (A) providing fresh ingredients for meat pies
    (B) increasing the number of Protestants in the country
    (C) freeing mothers from the burden of caring for their children
    (D) preventing voluntary abortions
    (E) maintaining small class sizes in public schools


  4. After identifying the details of his proposal, the narrator points out "one other collateral advantage.” What is that advantage?
    (A) reducing noise pollution in the vicinity of playgrounds
    (B) lessening the number of papists (i.e., Roman Catholics)
    (C) freeing fathers from the burden of caring for their children
    (D) improving the diets of adults
    (E) maintaining small class sizes in public schools


  5. According to the narrator, a gentleman should be prepared to pay how much for "the carcass of a good fat child"?
    (A) twelve pence
    (B) ten shillings
    (C) one pound
    (D) two guineas
    (E) one or two farthings


  6. Following a lengthy "digression" (involving testimony from an "American acquaintance"), the narrator enumerates several more advantages to his proposal. Which one of the following is not one of the advantages that he describes?
    (A) increasing the care and tenderness of mothers toward their children
    (B) bringing “great custom” to taverns
    (C) serving as a great inducement to marriage
    (D) relieving “constant breeders” of the expense of raising their children beyond a certain age
    (E) encouraging young children to mind their manners and obey their parents


  7. What is the one objection that the narrator thinks might "possibly be raised against this proposal"?
    (A) It will reduce the number of people in the kingdom.
    (B) It is morally repugnant.
    (C) It is a criminal activity.
    (D) It will reduce the country's dependence on lamb and other meat products.
    (E) It will deprive landlords of some much-needed income.


  8. Toward the end of the essay, the narrator rejects alternative solutions. Which one of the following is not one of the “other expedients” that he considers and immediately rejects?
    (A) taxing absentee landlords at five shillings a pound
    (B) requiring shopkeepers to buy only goods that have been made in Ireland
    (C) putting children to work at a young age
    (D) quitting animosities and factions, and learning to love “our country”
    (E) teaching landlords to have at least one degree of mercy toward their tenants


  9. Because "the flesh [is] of too tender a consistence to admit a long continuance in salt," where will the meat of infants not be consumed?
    (A) in the taverns
    (B) in the mansions of wealthy landlords
    (C) in England
    (D) in the rural parts of Ireland
    (E) in Dublin


  10. In the final sentence of the essay, Swift attempts to demonstrate his sincerity and lack of self-interest by making which one of the following observations?
    (A) His youngest child is nine years old, and his wife is beyond child-bearing age.
    (B) He is a citizen of England.
    (C) He has no children, and his wife is dead.
    (D) He has made so much money from Gulliver's Travels that any income his proposal might generate would be insignificant.
    (E) He is a devout Roman Catholic.
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