by Barbara Shook Hazen
Discussion and Activities
For pre-reading ideas and background information on multiculturalism, see Around the World in 80 Books: A Multicultural Guide.
Lady Jane Wilde, mother of poet Oscar Wilde, wrote a collection of poems, which expressed her love and commitment to her native Ireland, under the name Speranza. Read aloud this last verse of a poem entitled "The Famine Year." Lead students in a discussion in which they answer the following questions, based on their knowledge of the Irish potato famine and the socio-economic circumstances that contributed to it:
- What do these images describe?
- To whom is this verse addressed? Why?
- What is the predominant emotion expressed in this verse?
- What purpose might Lady Wilde have had in writing this poem?
- Do you agree or disagree with Lady Wilde's personal/religious/social sentiments?
We are wretches, famished, scorned, human tools to build your pride.
But God will yet take vengeance for the souls for whom Christ died.
Now is your hour of pleasure - bask ye in the world's caress;
But our whitening bones against ye shall rise as witnesses,
From the cabins and the ditches, in their charred, uncoffin'd masses,
From the Angel of the Trumpet will know them as he passes.
A ghastly, spectral army, before the great God we'll stand.
And arraign ye as our murderers, the spoilers of our land.
After discussion, ask students to put themselves in Katie's place and to write a poem describing her feelings and experiences as expressed in this story. The strange fevers that bloated the bellies and turned tongues black in Katie's story were symptoms of infectious diseases, many of which are now curable or no longer exist. Ask students what illnesses they have had, what symptoms they experienced, and what medications they took to cure them. Ask them what preventive measures (vaccines) they have had to build immunities to specific diseases (e.g., measles, tuberculosis, tetanus). Using Internet or library resources, research selected infectious diseases, their causes, and their symptoms. Construct a timeline showing the dates and location of major outbreaks/epidemics throughout history.
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