Broken Eggs and Scrambled Schisms in Gulliver’s Travels

March 11, 2019 by Essay Writer

Much has been written about the religion and politics of Gulliver’s Travels, specifically in relation to Part I, A Voyage to Lilliput. Of all of the voyages and peoples that Gulliver, the protagonist of the novel, meets during his several adventures, religion plays the largest role — albeit a superficial one — in Lilliput. This essay seeks to identify and analyze the nature of this role, its relationship with Lilliputian politics, and the satiric implications of that relationship. The significance of this question lies in its potential for contributing to contemporary understandings of primitive European discourse on secularization, with Gulliver’s Travels playing a noteworthy role in that discourse. Moreover, by presenting an alternative reading, this essay challenges conventional interpretations of Lilliputian religious history, namely that it “is a general fable on the futility of fighting about opinions in religion” (Lock 97) and “highlights the senseless disputes between sects about inessentials” (145). It will be argued herein that the Lilliputian religious schism satirizes specifically those religious differences with political origins, thus implying that secularization is a favorable solution to such schisms. Prior to our indulging in a thorough explication of Part I of Gulliver’s Travels, it is imperative that this essay’s arguments are first contextualized. The aim of the following remarks on eighteenth-century Britain is to provide an intellectual precedent for this essay’s findings, and thus prove the plausibility of such a reading. Moreover, as stated in the introduction, the aim of this paper is to suggest that Gulliver’s Travels plays a noteworthy role in primitive discourses on secularization; thus, connecting the essay’s analysis with contemporary intellectual influences is imperative. Eighteenth-century Britain was characteristic of most politically tied religious feuds. Undoubtedly such feuds stemmed from the British political system, in which the sovereign was the head of the Church. Consequently, the Anglican Church developed as a political body. Just as they were centuries prior, during this period, the main religious rivalries were with Catholics and Protestants, with the latter rivalry owing to their political dominance and persecution of the former (Black 125). Moreover, politics was an instrument of enforcing Anglican hegemony over Catholics and Dissenters. This was accomplished by several means, including the replacement of Catholic officials and landowners with Protestants; the Banishment Act of 1697, which drove bishops and clergy out of Ireland; and the prohibition of mixed marriages (125). In England, sectarianism — and specifically, Anglicanism against Dissent — had a much more egalitarian manifestation due to its taking a political form in the Whig–Tory struggles (131). Whether the religious elements of such feuds were a result of differences in the essentials or in the subsidiary branches of Christianity is a question beyond the scope of this paper. What should be taken from the above summary is the prevalence of sectarianism perpetuated by political power. In the background of the eighteenth-century religio–political turmoil, there developed a distinct intellectual trend best exemplified in the works of the English philosopher John Locke, which argue for a secular contractual political system (Sambrook 87). Such ideas were promulgated in Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689), published more than 35 years prior to the composition of Gulliver’s Travels (1726), and thus available during the latter’s composition. Toleration was a clarion call for the separation of church and state. The main thrust of Locke’s argument was that in order to preserve both religious and political (commonwealth) interests, it was imperative that the two distinct authorities be separated. Moreover, the proliferation of schisms, he argued, was principally owed to a conflict of interest “between those that have, or at least pretend to have, on the one side, a concernment for the interest of men’s souls, and, on the other side, a care of the commonwealth” (Locke 118). Thus, Locke argued that the British political system of his time was structurally prone to religious schisms. Furthermore, the above passage suggests his belief that such schisms were at least in some instances not the result of honest intellectual activity, but rather of pretentious political leaders seeking to achieve commonwealth interests under the guise of religiosity. It is upon this premise that this paper provides its unique reading of Gulliver’s Travels. It will be argued herein that the Lilliputian egg schism is the manifestation of a structural conflict inherent in the Lilliputian monarchy that pretends to have, on the one side, a concernment for the interest of Lilliputians’ souls, and on the other side, a care of the commonwealth. Through various creative methods, Gulliver’s Travels indicates that the Lillliputian egg schism is essentially politically motivated. Thus, it is a secular schism dressed in an ascetic cloak. This is implied both structurally and contextually. First, the text juxtaposes the “two mighty Evils” (Swift 42) — i.e., the high and low Heels and the Big- and Little-Endian conflicts by mentioning the two conflicts in the same paragraph, thereby connecting them in the reader’s mind. Moreover, the two distinct conflicts are paralleled, in both cause and effect, in the historical account of Reldresal, the Principal Secretary of Private Affairs, who explains that both conflicts stem from different levels of adherence to tradition. The high Heels, owing to their being “most agreeable to ancient [Lilliputian] Constitution,” are virtually excluded from government (42). Similarly, the Big-Endians have been persecuted due to their strict adherence to traditional religious interpretations (43). Furthermore, we are told that the effects of the two schisms are also essentially the same. Notwithstanding the obvious differences in severity, in both cases a policy of exclusion enforced by the dominating group has suppressed the meaner of the two. The Secretary tells us that the King “hath determined to make use of only low Heels in the Administration of the government” (42); and with respect to the Big-Endians, they have been “rendered incapable by Law of holding Employments”; in addition, their “Books … have been long forbidden” (43). Thus, this juxtaposition serves to structurally or visually secularize the apparently religious schism. In identifying the true causes of the egg schism, it is helpful to resolve the text’s implicit emphasis on the gross gap between cause and effect. This gap, and its implications to the reader, can be seen as analogous to a defendant arguing in court that his murder spree was sparked by missing the express bus: anyone listening to such an outrageous claim will instantly assume that there must be a more potent cause due to the greatness of the effect. Similarly, the text’s implicit assertions of the gross triviality of the religious schism, when juxtaposed with its great destructive effects, leave the reader searching for an unstated alternative cause. This cause seems to be the Lilliputian monarch’s secular ambitions, which are pretentiously perpetuated and maximally trivial in pursuit of political autonomy and hegemony. Thus, this explanation serves to fill the “logic gap” produced by Gulliver’s satiric account of Lilliputian history. This point is further enforced by the text’s implicit suggestions of the triviality of the schism, thus reinforcing the unstated cause. For example, Reldresal suggests that the matter of breaking the egg is a “fundamental doctrine of [the] great Prophet Lustrog, in the 54th chapter of the Brundrecal” (43). When examined closely, this statement satirizes the expressed fundamentality of the doctrine. That is, the suggested significance of the doctrine is refuted in the same clause by his saying that it is found in the fifty-fourth chapter. How important can a doctrine be if it is mentioned only once and so late in the text? Again, a likely solution to filling this “logic gap” is the suggestion that the Lilliputian political authorities, with whom religious authority also rests, have amplified and perpetuated this triviality for political means, such as justifying imperial aggression against the rival empire, in the name of upholding divine laws. Even if the Lilliputian monarch’s persecution is taken at face value and thus deemed a purely religiously natured struggle, their application of the aforementioned scriptural passage reveals their ulterior political motives of asserting political dominance for secular goals. This suggestion is made through an apologetic clause following the Secretary’s “official” interpretation of the verse in question: he tells Gulliver that insisting on breaking the egg on the big end is “a meer (sic) Strain upon the Text: For the Words are these; That all true Believers shall break their Eggs at the convenient End: and which is the convenient End, seems … to be left to every Man’s Conscience, or at least in the Power of their chief Magistrate to determine” (43). The secretary is effectively saying that Lilliputian political authority overrides scriptural and religious authority. This passage contains one of the clearest indications that the monarch’s obsession with the egg schism is rooted in his desire to assert the “Power of their chief Magistrate” and not in any interest in upholding a true, scripturally sound religious orthodoxy. This revelation undermines interpretations such as those presented in the introduction, which argues that the Lilliputian history is a satire on religious controversies and conflicts over trivialities. Rather, in addition to affirming the absurdity of schisms about religious trivialities, the satire identifies its sources and drives in the secular realm, thus rendering religious trivialities secular. Last, the political or secular motives of the schism are shown through the monarch’s convenient religiosity. The matter of religion is absent in discussions and descriptions of Lilliput and Lilliputians throughout Part I with the exception of the last few pages of Chapter Four. On the surface, this omission appears unimportant; however, this apparently trivial fact is indicative of the monarch’s convenient religiosity. To elaborate, religion is irrelevant to the governing of the state in religious or even secular matters except when it can conveniently serve secular goals. More specifically, the reader is only informed of Lilliputian religion when such information is a necessary means for Redresal to convince Gulliver to aid the empire in their imperial efforts against “two mighty Evils.” If true religiosity is absent in the political realm in matters not tied to imperial interests, such as those covered in Chapters One through Three, then it seems suspicious that they will only suddenly gain primacy when land, money, and power are at stake. Thus, Gulliver’s Travels is indeed more of a satire of secular-based “religious” schisms, or scrambled schisms, than a satire of earnestly religious-based schisms over trivialities like broken eggs. By situating this reading within the eighteenth-century context in which it belongs, and in which Lockeian thoughts of governmental secularization also belong, the greater message behind the scrambled schism satire becomes obvious. Part I portrays the monarch’s endowment with religious authority as being detrimental to the religion, its practitioners, and the nation as a whole; Gulliver’s Travels thus serves to suggest that the solution to this dilemma is structural, meaning that it may only be rectified by means of structural changes — namely, the separation of secular and religious authority as proposed by Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration. This final rung in the interpretation of the Lilliputian schism adds to the greater significance of Gulliver’s Travels as a novel that helped to usher in the age of secularization. Moreover, this novel can thus be considered as a significant source of knowledge about primitive discourse on modern Western secularization. Works Cited1. Black, Jeremy. Eighteenth Century Britain: 1688-1783. England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001. Print.2. Lock, F. P. The Politics of Gulliver’s Travels. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980. Print. 3. Locke, John. The Second Treatise of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration. New York: Dover Publications Inc, 2002. Print.4. Sambrook, James. The Eighteenth Century: Intellectual and Cultural Context of English Literature 1700-1789. London: Longman Publishing Group, 1993. Print. 5. Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.

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