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Cal & A Modest Proposal
Writing assignment for GCSE by Gillian Goetzee & Rae O’Malley, South Wirral HS
Both Cal by Bernard Mac Laverty and A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift have something to say about the experience of suffering in Ireland.

What is each writer trying to say?
How does each writer present their message?
Which text do you like the best and why?

Formative activities for Cal, pp 1-8

At first you will work slowly through the text, focusing on small details. You may be asked to work in pairs.
As you become more familiar with the text and become more skilled, you will deal with larger extracts at a time and you will work on broader tasks.
1. Read to the break on page 5
Why does Mac Laverty choose to set the opening of a text about Northern Ireland in an abattoir?
Pick out and comment on three quotations.

Why are the presence of the Preacher and the details about him significant?

Is Cal Protestant or Catholic?
How does Mac Laverty make the reader understand that the conflict between Catholic and Protestant is so much part of life in Northern Ireland?

What do you learn about the character of Cal?
Think about his hair ‘screening him from the world’.
Think about the way he wished ‘to curse himself more thoroughly’.
Think about his smoking, and anything else.

Why might Gaelic be important to Catholics?
Why do you think Mac Laverty makes Cal so poor at Gaelic?
2. Read to the break on page 8
How does the account of the Post Office add to our understanding of the experience of living in Northern Ireland?

Why does Cal go to the library?
What does this add to your knowledge of his way of life?

Do you think his way of life is unusual for people his age in Northern Ireland?
What may have caused this way of life?

Why is Cal interested in the new librarian?

How does Mac Laverty bring suspense and tension into his storyline?
To help you, pick out three quotations and comment on them.


Formative activities for Cal, pp 89-156

12. Read to the break on page 107
‘Although she was light years away from him he felt the enormous pull of her. And yet, like the moon and the earth, he knew that, because of what he had done, they could never come together. His sin kept them apart as surely as cold space.’ (page 91)

Explain why this extract is so important. Explain Mac Laverty’s use of imagery here. Explain how the relationship makes progress in this section.
Try to explain Cal’s dream on page 107.
13. Read to the end of the chapter on page 122
Look again at pages 111-112.
List Cyril Dunlop’s arguments.
Try to answer each point that he makes.
Can you see Dunlop ever changing his ideas in the future?
Why does Mac Laverty include this conversation ?

Pick five quotations that tell you more about Marcella’s character and feelings.
List five new facts about Marcella.
14. Read to the second break on page 144
How do you think the story is going to end ?
15. Read to the end of the novel on page 156
Try to write down what the ending makes you feel, and why it makes you feel this, and how it makes you feel this.

The ideas and message of the story work through images not just character, action and dialogue.
What do you think the relationship of Cal and Marcella may represent ?
Can you think of five reasons from the story to hope for the future of Northern Ireland?
Can you think of five reasons from the story to despair for the future of Northern Ireland?
Which do you think is the more powerful emotion, hope or despair?