In Linda Pastan’s poem “Ethics,” the speaker recounts a moral dilemma that her teacher would ask every fall, which has been haunting her for a long time. The question was “if there were a fire in a museum / which would you save, a Rembrandt painting / or an old woman who hadn’t many / years left anyhow?” and the speaker tells us through the theme that ethics and moral values can be only learned from the reflection which comes through experience and maturity. In this poem, imagery, diction, and figures of speech contribute to the development of the theme.
The speaker in the poem uses images to help to support the theme. For example the statement that “sometimes the woman borrowed my grandmother’s face” displays the inability of the children to relate the dilemma to themselves, something that the speaker has learned later on with time and experience. In this poem, the speaker is an old woman, and she places a high emphasis on the burden of years from which she speaks by saying “old woman, / or nearly so, myself.” “I know now that woman / and painting and season are almost one / and all beyond saving by children.” clearly states that the poem is not written for the amusement of children but somebody that has reached the speaker’s age, thus supporting the idea of the theme that children cannot help or understand her or anybody of her age. In addition, when the speakers describes the kids in the classroom as “restless on hard chairs” and “caring little for picture or old age” we can picture them in our minds sitting, ready to leave the class as soon as possible, unwilling and unable to understand the ethics dilemma or what the speaker is feeling.
The choice of words of the author also contributes to the development of the theme. For example, the use of words like “drafty,” “half-heartedly,” and “half-imagined” give the reader the idea of how faintly the dilemma was perceived and understood by the children, thus adding to the idea that the children cannot understand the burden the speaker has upon herself. In addition, referring to a Rembrandt as just a “picture” and to the woman as “old age,” we can see that these two symbols, which are very important to the speaker and to the poem, are considered trivial by the children, thus contributing to the concept that the children cannot feel what the speaker is feeling.
Shocking the Sensibilities in A Modest Proposal
Shocking the Sensibilities in A Modest Proposal
Two Works Cited Three years after Gulliver’s Travels was published, Jonathan Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal,” a work grounded in thoughtful satire. Swift describes the destitution that characterized the life of Ireland’s poor in the 18th century then renders a brazenly inhumane solution to their problems. He shocks the sensibilities of the readers then leads them to consider the inhumanity of the destitution in the first place.
Although he was born in Ireland, Swift considered himself an Englishman first, and the English were his intended audience. Swift used the good reputation afforded him by previous works to expose an otherwise indifferent English public to the circumstances of Irish misery. Unfortunately, many of the English were so predisposed to hatred of the Irish that they would disregard the point of Swift’s essay and might go so far as to endorse Swift’s proposal. For the people of Ireland, “A Modest Proposal” built upon Swift’s earlier Drapier’s Letters and made Swift a national hero (Bookshelf).
“A Modest Proposal” begins with a description of the state of 18th century Irish life. Ireland was a place where children too often became beggars or thieves to sustain themselves or their families, women had abortions because they could not afford to raise children, few jobs were available to the workforce, and landlords abused poor tenants. As miserable as the picture Swift painted of Irish life was, the brushstrokes of history were even harsher. Actions of the English in the previous century had thrust the Irish people into a state of diaspora; tens of thousands had been …
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…al footnote, not something that pertains to the present. Yet we need only look to poor children huddled on the streets of Brazil, or hear accounts of people who have resorted to using human flesh as sustenance to endure the North Korean famine, to realize that the misery of the world’s poor has yet to be tempered by the progress of a modern age. “A Modest Proposal” could have been written yesterday; it might well be written tomorrow.
Swift, Jonathan. “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.” 1729. Rpt. in Current Issues and Enduring Questions. Ed. Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedau. Boston, MA: St. Martin’s 1996. 111-117.
“Johathan Swift.” Bookshelf 1996-1997 Edition 1996.
CD-ROM. Redmond, WA: Microsoft, 1996.