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Background . A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift. Historical Note. End of 1600s abrupt change in literary style 1660 date of Restoration & end of Oliver Cromwell’s reign Restoration Charles II (monarchy) – new court French influence Religion: Catholic Church in decline

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A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

historical note
Historical Note
  • End of 1600s abrupt change in literary style
  • 1660 date of Restoration & end of Oliver Cromwell’s reign
  • Restoration Charles II (monarchy) – new court French influence
  • Religion: Catholic Church in decline
  • No agreement on word of God or accepted moral authority
  • Social/political basis needed to avert religious strife
new rationalism
New rationalism
  • Limit emotional excess
  • Attention to forms of language
  • Purification of language to clear, simple style
language reform
Language reform
  • Great age of dictionaries
  • Purge language of complex metaphors, especially religious
  • Style move from passionate lyric to more public, restrained, polite forms
rising middle class
Rising middle class
  • Literate with considerable spending power and leisure
  • Rising concern with public manners + how people should spend leisure time
  • Development of magazines and journals
  • Importance of literature shaping public taste
two political groups
Two political groups



  • Conservative, Anglican traditionalists
  • Defended state religion + existing institutions
  • Liberal, committed to rational reform + dismissing the irrational from religion as much as possible
  • Improve trade, society, make political system more inclusive
  • Not visibly powerful politically
  • Radical Protestants, Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, etc.
  • Growing appeal with working class
rise of satire
Rise of satire
  • Form of literature directly concerned with addressing public issues w/strong didactic intent
  • Use of ridicule, irony, sarcasm, etc., in speech or writing to expose + discourage vice or folly
  • Particular use of humor for overtly moral purposes
ways to change behavior
Ways to change behavior
  • Force (threats of punishment)
  • Deliver moral lectures
  • Engage in conversation to discover roots of beliefs
  • Encourage everyone to see target as ridiculous + object of scorn
basis of satire
Basis of Satire
  • Sense of moral outrage must exist in audience as well
  • Most successful satires focus on lasting characteristics of human experience
  • Challenge for writer is to be subtle + varied enough keep reader interested in wit while making clear satiric intent
  • Insensitivity to levels of irony in language causes difficulty in following satire
key satiric terms
Key satiric terms
  • Invective: abusive, non-lyrical language aimed at particular target
  • Curses, name-calling
  • Least inventive
  • Diatribe = lengthy invective
  • Limited and can be boring
key satiric terms1
Key satiric terms
  • Caricature: exaggerating one feature of target achieve ridiculous effect
  • In writing reader amused by distorted detail in constantly witty ways
key satiric terms2
Key satiric terms
  • Burlesque: ridiculous exaggeration in language – makes discrepancy b/w words + situation or character silly
  • Example: have a king speak like idiot or workman speak like king
  • Serious situation have characters speak in in appropriate ways
  • Creates large gap b/w situation/character and style in which they speak or act
  • Developed into risque performance genre
key satiric terms3
Key satiric terms
  • Mock heroic: form of burlesque – sets up deliberately disproportionate + witty distance b/w elevated language (to describe action) and foolishness of action
  • Urges reader see ridiculousness of heroic pretentions of really trivial people
  • mocks classical stereotypes of heroes: Don Quixote, by Cervantes
key satiric terms4
Key satiric terms
  • Irony: real meaning different from literal meaning

- tends to be ambiguous

- becomes satiric when real meaning appears to contradict surface meaning

- “A Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift

key satiric terms5
Key satiric terms
  • Lampoon: harsh personal attack on recognizable target, focusing on target’s character or appearance
  • Example: "Nightlight" takes on the "Twilight" series with the story of Belle Goose, a young girl who travels to Switchblade, Oregon, only to meet Edwart Mullen, a vampire computer nerd who isn't into girls.
key satiric terms6
Key satiric terms
  • Parody: ridicule of a style
  • Less talented version = silly version of original
  • More skillful = imitates original well + goes farther to make more ridiculous
  • Depends on reader knowledge of original
  • Example: Christmas Afternoon, by Robert Benchley (Done in the Manner, If Not the Spirit, of Dickens)
key satiric terms7
Key satiric terms
  • Reductio ad absurdum: author agrees enthusiastically w/basic attitudes or assumptions he satirizes + by pushing to logically ridiculous extreme, exposes foolishness of original attitudes
  • can be dangerous when reader fails to recognize satire or target
  • Example: A Modest Proposal