A Modest Reponse

Sonnet XVIII, by Lou FCD @ Flickr

Sonnet XVIII, by Lou FCD @ Flickr

Back in the days of yore when I went to high school, there were two kinds of Literature classes: British and American. With few exceptions, our reading selections were confined to the standard pantheon of a select few dead white guys from England or the United States. Both classes were as predictable as the sunrise; Brit Lit started with Beowulf, then Chaucer‘s The Canterbury Tales, then one of Shakespeare‘s plays, and probably finished with DickensA Tale of Two Cities. Variety was defined by whether the class read Hamlet or Macbeth. Poetry hit the five or ten standards like an old country church. Not comparing thee to a summer’s day would have been like not singing “Amazing Grace”. American Lit did the same thing for literature on this side of the pond, with Poe standing in for the Bard (“The Tell Tale Heart” and “The Raven” were the old standards).

To round out my English requirements, lo these many eons hence, I took English 262 this semester. World Lit II looked like it would give me something new and fresh, and it’s already doing just that. Among our first selections was “A Modest Proposal: For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public“, the 1729 political satire by Jonathan Swift. Of course, in my mind to this point, Swift = Gulliver’s Travels. No matter how hard pressed I might have been, that would have been his only work I could have named, his being Irish and all. I’d read it on my own time as a kid. We’ve since moved a bit further from jolly old England and are now reading pieces by Russians and Germans and (gasp!) some of them are even women not named Dickinson or Bronte.

Our first written assignment of the class was to write a response to A Modest Proposal, organically incorporating the answers to five of the six following questions in the response.

Smoothies for cannibals from DavidDMuir

Smoothies for cannibals, by DavidDMuir @ Flickr

  1. What is “the reading” about? Give the simple and most obvious answer. (Substitute title for “reading”).

  2. Is there an experience of your own of which “the reading” has reminded you? Describe it.

  3. What is the most important “word” in the “reading”? Look it up in the dictionary and define it. Explain your choice.

  4. What is the most important statement or line in the “reading”? Directly quote the line if it is short, and paraphrase if the quote is long. Use an in-text citation that lists the page number (or line number). Explain your choice.

  5. What word, not in the “reading,” would you say best explains the “reading”? Define the word and explain your choice.

  6. Pretend that the “reading” is not about the subject you mentioned in #1. Pretend that there is something else, less obvious, that the “reading” is about. What is this “something else”? Define the word and explain your choice.

My response, for which I received a grade of “check +” (oh how I loathe this system already!), lies below the fold. I suggest you read “A Modest Proposal” first, if you’re not familiar with it, to really understand what’s going on.

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