‘A Modest Proposal’ Jonathan Swift: Lesson Notes


In today’s lesson we were introduced to the concept of satire in literature and the main techniques employed for a piece to be considered as satire through studying Jonathan Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’.  The major characteristics of satire are the inclusion of humorous, comic images, grotesque images, irony, a play with language and exaggeration. 

Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’ is a typical piece of satire writing, written with the intention of jolting English and Irish politicians into realising their responsibilities and do something about the extreme poverty and famine that was killing thousands of people in Ireland 300 years ago.

The piece is laced with examples of grotesque imagery, “the skin of a child’s carcass will make admirable gloves”, designed to shock the reader into realising the sheer ridiculousness of Swift’s proposal and, furthermore, how horrifically desperate the situation is for those living in poverty. Swift also uses the language of dead animals such as “carcass” and “slaughterhouse” which suggests that the inhumane conditions that these people are being forced to live in are so inhumane that they are effectively being treated as animals. 

It begins with the ironic statement that, “It is an unpleasant sight… to see crowds of female beggars”. This is ironic in that whilst it is of course unpleasant for people visiting the country to see people in such distress begging on the streets but the real unpleasantness is that this exists. The use of irony here is what highlights to the reader that they should be focusing on questioning why it is that people are in this situation in the first place and looking to change this rather than the fact that it is unpleasant for them to witness it. 

When Swift talks about finding a solution to the vast number of children who are suffering from this poverty he includes a list of three adjectives, “cheap, fair and easy”. “Fair” being incongruous with the other two adjectives causes it to stand out to the reader and make them realise that “fair” is the antithesis of what the situation these people are in is. 


‘Catch 22’ Film Adaptation Part 1


In today’s lesson we watched the first part of the film adaptation of Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch 22’. The film was released in June 1970 and begins with a dramatic scene in the fighter jets. 

What is predominantly notable in the first few scenes is the use of satire to create poignancy. When Snowden dies as Yossarian futilely tries to help him, reassuring him that he will “be okay”, it is particularly striking as a result of the comedy and imagery in the rest of the novel/film. We find ourselves laughing at the comic moments in the novel/film and experiencing disgust at the grotesque images we are introduced to and so when there is this very real, powerful moment of dying it is that bit more compelling. 

When Yossarian arrives to receive his medal completely naked we are introduced to the concept of a play with language. In literal terms, they cannot pin his medal on him as he has no clothes to pin it on, but this can always be interpreted as a play on words as it draws our attention to the idea of ‘pinning something on somebody’ in the way of blame. This is itself elicits the questioning of war and who is actually to blame for these horrific events. 

In the same scene we are also called to question “what actually is a soldier?” by the fact that Yossarian has already committed the act of bravery he is being awarded his medal for but without his uniform he is unable to receive it and therefore unable to receive any recognition for this. It highlights the fact that a soldier without his uniform is just a civilian and criticises the whole bureaucracy of the army. 

The fact that nobody at Snowden’s funeral actually knew him is another of the novel/film’s saddening moments that highlights how worthless these young men seem to have become. As well as saddening the reader/audience it also demonstrates to us how these soldiers become so dehumanised by war and in fact end up totally losing their recognition as individual people. As a result of the dehumanisation we witness here, this scene is reminiscent of in Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ where he asks his reader, “What passing bells for these who die as cattle?”. 

‘Spring Offensive’ Wilfred Owen


Written in 1918, ‘Spring Offensive’ is said to have an anecdotal origin, being based on a personal memory of Owen’s  begins with a calm, pastoral scene in which soldiers are seen resting in the lull of the battle “halted against the shade of a last hill”. However, despite the calmness that is felt in these first few stanzas whilst they watch the “long grass” be “swirled by the May breeze” the use of the word “last” to describe the hill that they are resting against suggests an underlying tone of caution as an almost foreshadowing for what is yet to come.

As with much of Owen’s poetry, nature is a key theme in this poem and the transition from the stillness of the waiting to the frenzied action of the battle is reflected in the change from the peaceful image of “May breeze” to the sudden “cold gust” that startles them into action. Owen can be said to have ‘polarised’ nature in order to illustrate the shocking abnormality of what the soldiers are caught up in and how unnatural the whole concept of war is. Drawing attention to the idea of opposites further supports Owen’s view that war in itself dehumanises the young men it concerns as it leads us to think about the two entirely opposite roles that they take on in battle firstly as a killer but equally as a victim. This use of nature to highlight the horrific abnormality of war is perhaps most strongly identified in the line, “the whole sky burned up with fury against them”. This personification of the sky implies that nature has turned against them, arguably in protest of what they are doing, as it is impossible for the men to be unified with nature whilst taking part in something so contradictorily destructive. 

Furthermore, nature may be looked upon as or indeed linked to the concept of God and religion. There are elements of the poem that have religious connotations such as the almost sacrificial way that these men give their lives demonstrated in the way the buttercups that had previously “blessed with gold their slow boots” seemingly adapt to receive the blood shed during battle bringing connotations of the Eucharist. Owen’s use of the words “superhuman inhumanities” implies that he himself is still unresolved as to whether the characteristics shown by these young men are admirable or disturbing by the very fact of their paradoxical disposition.

The poem ends with the rhetorical question, “why speak not they of comrades that went under?” acting as a direct address to the reader, drawing them in right at the end and encouraging reflection on the poem. This rhetorical question causes us to feel even more strongly that it is the dehumanisation of war that is most disconcerting.  In answer to Owen’s final question to his readers it is likely that, in the words of Kenneth Simcox of the Wilfred Owen Association, the devastation and despondency individuals are left with from war is “too concentrated an emotion to bear discussion or even rational thought”. 

‘Strange Meeting’ Wilfred Owen



Referred to by T. S. Elliot as a “technical achievement of great originality” ‘Strange Meeting is known as one of Wilfred Owen’s most famous and unfathomable poems. Written in late spring/early summer of 1918 the poem describes a soldier descending into hell and coming face to face with what appears to be a soldier from the opposing side against which he has been fighting. However, with regards to the solider he meets, many critics have suggested that this is in fact the solder’s double rather than a second person, a concept that was common in Romantic literature.

            Composed of three irregular stanzas of iambic pentameter Owen has said to be ‘innovative’ within the poem in his use of technical devices, the most prevalent, perhaps, being pararhyme, “tigress, progress”, which adds to the melancholy tone of the overall poem, a technique which can be seen throughout Owen’s work as a whole.

            Owen begins by setting the scene, using the word “seemed” to create a dream-like atmosphere within which neither the reader, just as the speaker, is unsure as to what is the soldier’s imagination and what it is that he can see before him.

The reader is plunged immediately into the “dull tunnel” alongside the speaker serving as the first example of illustrative imagery found recurring throughout Owen’s poetry, allowing them to feel a sense of empathy with the soldier and heightens their senses to what surrounds them from the outset.

Across Owen’s poetry the cyclical futility and universality of war is a recurring theme. Here, the use of “Titanic wars” implies that Owen is not only here referring to the war he himself has been a part of, but rather makes links to historical conflicts with the same devastating effects, bringing past and present together almost as one. This idea is seen towards the middle of the poem where Owen talks of “the truth untold”. Here he is most likely referring to “the old lie” stating, “it is good and honourable to die for your country”, highlighting the fact that these soldiers are merely following orders mindlessly, they have no opportunity for thought about what they are doing or any personal decision making. This could perhaps be viewed as a reflection of Owen’s thoughts in his famous Preface in which he says, “all a poet can do today is warn” demonstrating his own desire to break this age old cycle he too has found himself trapped in.

One of the most powerful techniques in the poem is Owen’s use of paradox, such as, “strange friend”.  This gives the reader a new perspective on war as an individual event, honing in on the relationships that exist between soldiers, not just those fighting on the same side but also those they are to see as the enemy. Later on in poem this concept is returned to in one of perhaps the most famous lines of Owen’s poetry, “I am the enemy you killed, my friend”. This joining together of “enemy” and “friend” provokes the reader to examine what difference there really is between those soldiers they see as friends and those they look upon as enemies. This line arguably holds the essence of what Owen is trying to portray to his readers in this poem, these men are merely conditioned to turn against each other, and fundamentally there is no difference between them. 

‘Birdsong’ Chapter Three


Faulks’ third chapter of ‘Birdsong’ is centred around Stephen’s moral dilemma and inner thoughts and feelings about the situation he has unexpectedly found himself in. As we have been made aware from the outset of the novel, Stephen’s feelings towards Madame Azaire are those of passion and powerful attraction and as this feelings develop and increase in intensity for him, Stephen is beginning to find working with Azaire whilst harbouring these feelings for his wife rather uncomfortable. This is an indication of the moral character that Stephen is in himself but also of the respect that a figure such as Azaire seemingly demands.

The immorality that Stephen is beginning to feel is reflected in Faulks’ use of the word “stain” to describe the colouring of Madame Azaire’s cheeks when she blushes; “stain” is itself language of immorality and something unclean or to be shameful of.

As this chapter comes to an end Faulks introduces to us the concept of a younger man’s fascination of the older woman that seemingly underpins the relationship between Stephen and Madame Azaire. Described to us through the metaphor of gardening we learn that Stephen having “no proper sense of what he was trying to do” is here displaying his inexperience to Madame Azaire who is most keen to demonstrate the experience she herself has and guide him, “let me”. Throughout this garden scene the sexual tension between them builds and feminine, sexual language is used to describe the effect that their encounter together is having on Madame Azaire, “a rosy flush at the bottom of her throat, brought on by the small exertion of her gardening”. 

Additionally, it is notable how Stephen reacts to discovering that Lisette and Gregoire are infact Madame Azaire’s step-children, “I knew you couldn’t be old enough to have a child that old”. It is clear by the suggested tone of triumph in his response that he is pleased; whilst attracted to the idea of her as an older woman, he did not want her to have had children and be a mother. 

Stephen’s passion for Madame Azaire is perhaps reflected in this chapter when he looks at her face and thinks of her husband’s treatment of her, “He looked at her face, bent over the thorns and dry blooms of the roses, and imagined her flesh beaten by her withered, corrupt husband”. This sentence could quite plausibly have been plucked from an 18th century gothic novel and provokes an image of a typical knight in shining armour coming to rescue a damsel in distress type scenario. 

The chapter concludes with Stephen having to force himself to leave Madame Azaire, “he dragged himself from her presence”. Faulks’ decision to have Stephen dragging himself away from “her presence” rather than simply “her” suggests there is more to Madame Azaire than just her physicality, almost as though she has an aura surrounding her. This may be seen in some ways as a kind of foreshadowing almost, that in fact despite his desire to remain true to his morals, Stephen will ultimately have little choice but to be drawn in by this powerful aura she gives off. 

Wilfred Owen


Wilfred Edward Salter Owen, born is Oswestry, Shropshire on 18th March 1893, was an English World War 1 Poet whose poems largely focus on his frustration and contempt towards war and the mass destruction of life that it causes. 

Owen began to take a more serious interest in poetry after being diagnosed with shellshock following his experience of violent war on the western front in early January of 1917. He was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in the June where he met Siegfried Sassoon a poet who shared very similar views on war to Owen himself. Sassoon read over Owen’s poems guiding him to develop his style, going on to introduce him to other figures of literature such as Robert Graves. 

During an attempt to cross the Sambre canal at Ors Owen was killed on 4th November 1918. His only volume of poetry was published in 1920 edited by Sassoon and contains what has been said to be “some of the most poignant English poetry of World War One”.

-information sourced from http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/owen_wilfred.shtml

The common characteristics identified as being typical of Owen’s poetry are:
– the opening creates a scene of an anonymous figure
– both language of nature and religion are used
– there is questioning of the reader
– the punctuation creates a series of pauses making it more emotive
– the poem is a contrast/extended oxymoron
– use of para and half rhyme create a melancholy tone
– use of assonance

‘Futility’ Wilfred Owen


‘Futility’ is divided into two stanzas, the first focusing on the individual solider with elements of hopefulness for him, “move him into the sun”, with the second widening to become far more general and universal about all soldiers at war as we realise he is beyond help. Both stanzas begin with a command, “move” “think” emphasising the essence of helplessness that applies to all soldiers at war wherever they may be. 

It largely revolves around the personification of the sun through the use of the adverb, “gently” and the noun, “kind”. This fits into the semantic field of nature that Owen has used in the poem containing the following words, “sun”, “clay”, “fields”, “star”, “snow”, “seeds”, “sunbeams”, “earth” which illustrates just how unnatural the act of war is is stark contrast to the nature that it is surrounded by. 

Typically of his style, Owen directly questions the reader drawing them in through the rhetorical question, “was it for this the clay grew tall”, with this placing science and religion alongside each other with his reference to the Big Bang Theory of creation, “the clays of a cold star”. This inclusion of both religious and scientific reference to the creation of the world may be said to be in an attempt by Owen, as is typical of his poetry, to appeal to all people making it that much more universal in its message. 


“For most of history ‘anonymous’ was a woman” -Virginia Woolf

Today, in my research whilst contemplating which topic I will base my ‘The Color Purple’/’The Help’ coursework essay on, I came across this quotation by Virginia Woolf. Immediately, rather than a chapter from ‘The Help’ as might be expected due to having its very own ‘anonymous’ writer in Miss Skeeter, pages 180 onwards of ‘The Color Purple’ came into mind. I think that is because the quotation for me most reflects the oppression of free speech and opinions of women rather than simply their ability to become authors. It follows then, that it is in these pages that we see Celie lose her own metaphysical ‘anonymity’ of voice that until now, simply because she is a woman, she has felt she must maintain, when she finally stands up to Mr______ and leaves for Memphis with Shug. At last – and to my own personal delight – through Shug’s help she begins to find herself and develop her own identity, not as anybody’s wife but simply as Celie

“For most of history ‘anonymous’ was a woman” Virginia Woolf

‘Leda and the Swan’ W.B. Yeats

‘Leda and the Swan’ reflects Yeats’ interpretation of the Greek myth in which Zeus came down from Mount Olympus disguised as a swan and raped an innocent young girl. It is full of obscure symbolism about the gods interfering in human lives and causing despair and destruction and links with the violence displayed in Michelangelo’s interpretation of the story. It is significant in its context as at the time it was believed that Greek mythology develops and changes and therefore holds morals for people in all different societies.
Written in the present tense we as the reader watch the action unfold as it happens with the first eight lines dealing with the rape itself and the final six with the consequences. The consequences in this instance is the conception of Helen of Troy who herself grows up to be an aggressive fighter, following the theory ‘war breeds war’; it is through this that Yeats most effectively demonstrates how everything is a result of what precedes it in a chain of being.
The language is as though describing a horror and reflects the coldness int he way that he leaves her with no sign of any remoarse and indifference, particularly shown by the use of monosyllables. The use of half rhyme – “up and “drop”- illustrates how there is something unnatural about the whole experience.
Critics have stated that the poem may be Yeats showing us one of four things, either creating an experience that gives birth to a myth, showing the drama of myths and how they haunt the imagination, showing the drama of art and how it creates new art or the possibility of opposites violently meeting to create a new symbol. For me however, it is the image of the swan itself that is Yeats’ most powerful symbol in this poem. Throughout the poem Yeats tries to convey to the reader that things are not always as they seem and even that which appears most innocent can turn out to be corrupt and destructive. The swan is a bird that is white and pure and appears to move with grace. I feel that it is for this reason that Yeats has used a swan, as it is the fact that here something that appears so innocent turns out to be the cause of the evil and destruction that makes the message so powerful. It is this strong imagery and symbolism that makes me hold this poem as one of the most powerful in the collection.

‘The Fisherman’ W.B. Yeats


fishermanYeats has written ‘The Fisherman’ using a simple language format with a steady, rhythmical beat. I feel this reflects the simple calmness and steadiness of character that Yeats is asking to see in the rebels he is addressing in this poem. It has an alternate rhyme scheme again echoing the subject matter and the repetition of the word “grey” throughout reflects how Yeats feels the man is wise because of – rather than in spite of – his simple character.
The title seems to personify innocence in that lone, simple fisherman epitomises what it means to be content with your life and find pleasure in the simple things of life such as nature. With regards to the protagonist of the poem, the fisherman himself, he is not simply based on one person but rather a blend of many people in Yeats’ life – both past and present – to create what he feels is the ideal Irishman.
We know of Yeats’ profound love for Ireland and his pride in being an Irishman and for me this poem is one of those which reflects this the most. In the poem Yeats holds himself up against this figure and I feel that he even goes so far as to almost condemn himself with the suggestion that he too has lost his way just as much as anyone else has. This is what could be regarded as the ‘second level’ of the poem in that the poem as a whole not only deals with Yeats’ hopes for the future men of Ireland and the characters he is hoping they will hold, but also his own personal self doubt and reflections.
For me the most prominent feature of this poem is the definite sense that Yeats is holding up a mirror to himself and has keen aspirations to regain his pride and integrity that he feels he has begun to lose.