Monday, 2 February 2015

Book Review: A Modest Proposal

A Modest Proposal

Author: Jonathan Swift

Genre: Classic (Satire)

Challenges: Back to the Classics (Satirical)

Thoughts: A Modest Proposal is a re-read for me, and I read it again as I assigned it to my Seniors in the aftermath of the shootings in Paris, France.

A Modest Proposal is often seen as one of the earliest examples of satire and it is one that still has the power to shock today. I remember the first time I read it, that feeling of you nodding as you go along and then, bam, the fricassees. However to realize that he is being absurd you really have to have an understanding of the time period of when it was written. The Enlightenment was a time period of extreme realism. Where observable facts were King. With this knowledge it is much easier to see the total absurdity in the piece. The author presents the facts ever so rationally with facts and figures. Swift isn't just criticizing the Irish and the landowners, he is also criticizing his culture. For me the most effective satire does just this.

The essay continues to be relevant not just because it is one of the first examples of satire but also because of the subject matter. Although Swift uses the poor Irish as his source of food, it could just as easily have been another group of people in today's society. When I was reading it this time I thought of the "well-fare Queen" and here in Sweden, the asylum seekers. Groups that many seem to think should just "pick themselves up by the bootstraps". The fact that poverty is often a trap does not seem to enter the discussion then or now.

Classics are often hard to understand and so when I teach A Modest Proposal I have some resources I like to use because they offer a good background and discussion for my students. The two resources I used this year were a discussion from BBC's In Our Time. And a lecture I have from The Great Courses: Classics of British Literature (Audible). The In Our Time program is a discussion and offers my students the opportunity to listen to discussions in English (a requirement in all three courses I teach). I only use it in Senior English (and I rarely assign A Modest Proposal to any other year). The lecture was a new one for me and I think it worked quite well, although it also talks about Gulliver's Travels, so in the future I might also watch a movie version of that book.

Copyright ©2015 Zee from A Tea Stained Page. This post was originally posted by Zee from A Tea Stained Page. It should not be reproduced without express written permission


  1. I got assigned this some year of English -- I guess it must have been when I was a high school senior -- and it made me feel awfully fond of Jonathan Swift. Not quite fond enough to tackle Gulliver's Travels (at least not so far), though!

  2. I haven't quite built up the courage for Gulliver's Travels yet either :)