Gulliver’s Transformation in the Fourth Journey
In Book IV of Gulliver’s Travels, Swift presents a narrative that aims to continually change his audience’s opinion by offering an array of perpetually shifting standpoints. From the start of the journey we see the tale unfold in the same manner as Gulliver experiences it. On his first encounter with a Yahoo, Gulliver does not see any parallels between that beast and himself, and when he is approached by a Houyhnhnm, he does not think the creature is anything more than a horse. The tale takes a turn as Gulliver discovers the reality of this realm and readers are presented with his opinions on the Houyhnhnms, as well as the Yahoos. This journey does not boast much plot action, but rather, renders interactions and conversations between Gulliver and the inhabitants of this strange land, mostly the Houyhnhnms. From these exchanges, Gulliver yields admiration towards the Houyhnhnms and abhorrence for the beastly Yahoos. His observations first seem agreeable as the two species seem to depict opposing values of what is and what is not the desirable way to live. However, as Gulliver’s observation causes him to undergo change, becoming shameful of his similarity to the Yahoos and imitating Houyhnhnm gestures, the reader cannot help but question his judgments.Chapter XI stands out as a section that best explores the absurdity of Gulliver’s transformation. Gulliver’s radical change revealed in this section not only portrays him as comical but also repulsively delusional. Whereas in previous chapters and especially in the very beginning of this tale, Gulliver believed himself and mankind to be of a different species than the Yahoos, he now detests the thought of returning to his home and dwelling among, not humans, but Yahoos. Gulliver even calls himself a “poor Yahoo” (300) when confronted by the Portuguese sailors. If man is Yahoo, then the notion of Gulliver mending his shoes with “skins of Yahoos dried in the sun” (289) and building his canoe with the same material is quite sickening. Gulliver’s equating man with Yahoos is illogical since his very being and presence throughout the tale suggests that man is different from Yahoos.This is not solely Gulliver’s error but also one the reasonable Houyhnhms make, who, if not referring to man as Yahoo, mark man as a worst and inferior type of Yahoo. It seems rather odd that the highly rational horses have trouble distinguishing Gulliver from the Yahoos and are able to differentiate themselves from the asses they wish to cultivate (283). Surely the Houyhnhnms cannot be as wise and praiseworthy as Gulliver describes them.Not only is Gulliver’s devotion to the Houyhnhnms questionable, but the Houyhnhnms and the values they represent become uncertain as well. At the beginning, in comparison to humans, the Houyhnhnms appear superior because they are truthful and live their lives rationally, and when Gulliver makes harsh statements about European society his comments are, for the most part, fair. However, as the system of Houyhnhnm life is revealed, they are depicted as dull and passionless. “Courtship, love, presents, jointures, settlements have no place in their thoughts,” and marriage is “one of the necessary actions of a rational being” (281). They are also just as unfeeling about death, for “their friends and relations express neither joy nor grief at their departure” (287). Even more shocking is their “regulation of children.” For instance, “if a Houyhnhnm hath two males, he changeth one of them with another that hath two females; and when a child hath been lost by any casualty, where the mother past breeding, it is determined what family in the district shall breed another to supply the loss” (282). Their inability to feel affection and attachment for even their own offspring is immensely unattractive and proves that Swift did not mean to equate the Houyhnhms as ideal. Oddly enough, the only Houyhnhnm that possessed any sign of compassion is the sorrel nag, a lowly servant who cries out as Gulliver departs their land, “take care of thyself, gentle Yahoo” (297).Greatly affected by Houyhnhnm values, Gulliver undergoes assimilation into human society in Chapter XI, and the result is sometimes comical, but mostly irritating. He is amusing as the Portuguese sailors laugh at his “strange tone in speaking, which resembled the neighing of a horse” (300). However, it is not comical but rather annoying when Gulliver exclaims, “I never heard or saw anything so unnatural; for it appeared to me as monstrous as if a dog or cow should speak in England, or a Yahoo in Houyhnhnm-land,” at the sight of seeing the sailors speak. Has three years of living among the Houyhnhnms changed Gulliver so drastically that he would think it “unnatural” for humans to speak? Beyond that, these three years have resulted in Gulliver not only re-identifying himself as a Yahoo, but also, all of mankind.Whereas in previous chapters Gulliver’s overbearing veneration for the Houyhnhnms is aggravating, in this chapter, his hatred toward humans is repulsive. Once banished from Houyhnhnm-land, Gulliver wishes to live in solitude and not return “to live in the society under the government of Yahoos” (297). When he is discovered by the Portuguese sailors, he begs for his freedom, explaining to them that he is “a poor Yahoo, seeking some desolate place where to pass the remainder of his unfortunate life “(300). Once on the ship, he even attempts to jump overboard and swim for his life “rather than continue among Yahoos” (301).Gulliver’s loathing towards humans is unjustified in this chapter, and his interchange with Don Pedro de Mendez depicts his unsound judgments. Gulliver describes Don Pedro as generous and gracious. However, like the uncompassionate Houyhnhnms, his best effort in returning kindness is to “treat him [Don Pedro] like an animal which had some little portion of reason” (301). As time passes on this voyage, Gulliver states, “in gratitude to the Captain I sometimes sat with him at his earnest request, and strove to conceal my antipathy to human kind” (302).Gulliver’s obsession of bodily odor is also silly as he is “ready to faint at the very smell of” the Captain and his crew during the voyage (301). This silly fixation on the body blinds him from acknowledging Don Pedro’s kindness on many occasions. Gulliver recounts, for instance, “the Captain had often entreated me to strip myself of my savage dress, and offered to lend me the best suit of clothes he had. This I would not be prevailed on to accept abhorring to cover myself with anything that had been on the back of a Yahoo” (302). In another instance, as they arrive in Lisbon, Gulliver states, “The Captain persuaded me to accept a suit of clothes newly made; but I would not suffer the tailor to take my measure…He accoutred me with other necessaries all new, which I aired for twenty-four hours before I would use them” (303). After what seems like a long ordeal, Don Pedro persuades Gulliver to take a walk in the streets; however, in order to do this, Gulliver must stuff his nose with rue or tobacco (303). Once he returns to England, he purchases some horses and explains that he favors the groom for the smells it produces in the stable (304).Gulliver, while forced into rejoining humanity, has nevertheless mentally and emotionally exiled himself from society. As he gradually works his way from the innermost rooms of Don Pedro’s house to the streets of Lisbon, his fear of man lessens, but his “hatred and contempt seemed to increase” (303). He only resolves to go home to his wife and family because Don Pedro convinces him that “it was altogether impossible to find such a solitary island” (303). Although Gulliver’s inability to appreciate Don Pedro is appalling, his reaction upon seeing his family is far worse as he recounts “my wife and family received me with great surprise and joy… but I must freely confess the sight of them filled me only with hatred, disgust, and contempt” (304).Gulliver’s attachment to the Houyhnhnms might not seem so ludicrous if he were capable of seeing the positive in human society such as Don Pedro and his own family. However, he is unable to experience or feel anything pleasant, and this makes both himself and the Houyhnhnms ambiguous, if not loathsome, figures to the readers. Like the Houyhnhnms who fail to see the difference between Gulliver and the filthy Yahoos, Gulliver loses sight of everything agreeable in humanity.The events of Chapter XI not only change the readers’ perception of both Gulliver and the rational horses, but also change the message Swift makes through his satire. It seems as though Swift had meant to tell his readers that life based on reason is ideal, commenting on appalling human practices such as war and the courts of Europe. However, by the end of the tale, life based on rationality seems inadequate as it is the cause of Gulliver’s isolation.Works CitedSwift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. New York: Signet Classic, 1999.
On the Style of Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift, an author whose life straddled the turn of the 17th century, is widely considered to be the greatest satirist in British literary history. Although he is well-versed in poetry and has written a prolific amount of private correspondences, Swift is best known for his prose fictions, such as The Battle of the Books, Tale of a Tub, and Gulliver’s Travels, and his pamphlets, namely A Modest Proposal. Swift’s works fall under the genre of satire, in which irony and sarcasm are used to deride or expose stupidity and folly, typically in society, politics, and human nature.The diction of Swift’s style can be best described as simple and prosaic. Only in rare circumstances does he deviate from a pattern of typical syntax and word choices and his normal writings exhibit no peculiarities in this respect. According to Scott-Kilvert (1980), Swift “tended to associate language with history, with politics, with religion… for his pamphlets, he needed a middle style, which would, in effect, avoid the extremes of decadent courtier or disloyal dissenter, of licentiousness and fanaticism. (29)” Sir Walter Scott, quoted by Read (1998), concurs about Swift: “His style, which generally consists of the most naked and simple terms, is strong, clear, and expressive; familiar without vulgarity or meanness; and beautiful, without affectation or ornament.”Indeed, the focus of Swift’s writings is not in the mechanics of the language, but rather, in the caustic irony and sarcastic tone of his satire. Swift artfully impersonates an awfully misanthropic economist or policymaker in A Modest Proposal, in which he sarcastically makes his case for the eating of Irish children as a panacea for overpopulation problems and poverty. Through the discourse, Swift refrains from breaking character during his straight-faced portrayal of this role, creating a ludicrous sense of sarcasm. In this premise, Swift created a heartless grotesque of actual politicians and economists who called for radical, imprudent measures or neglected to address the suffering of the impoverished Irish. Although they obviously never went to the extremes Swift went to in satirizing them (had they, the pamphlet would not have been shocking or out of the ordinary) their follies are mimicked in a sarcastic, almost asinine manner. While this would seem like a useless mockery — that is, commentary without explanation — Swift ingeniously works in his own genuine opinions and ideas towards the end, letting a reader already affected and amused by Swift’s acerbic sarcasm realize the piece’s social message. He writes:Therefore let no man talk to me of other expedients: Of taxing our absentees at five shillings a pound… Of curing the expensiveness of pride, vanity, idleness, and gaming in our women: Of introducing a vein of parsimony, prudence and temperance… Of being a little cautious not to sell our country and consciences for nothing: Of teaching our landlords to have at least one degree of mercy towards their tenants. Lastly, of putting a spirit of honesty, industry, and skill into our shop-keepers…. (8)Thus, Swift’s writing is not only amusing in its sarcasm and frank irony, but it is also meaningful in its call for social change based on common sense. This mode of satire manages to evoke both amusement and consideration2E The importance here hinges on the popularity of humor — while most common citizens wouldn’t be excited by tiring political refutations, humor is widely enjoyed. Swift’s intelligent brand of political and social humor can be immensely popular and can have a major effect in shaping public opinion2EIn Swift’s parodies, the style is determined by the format of what’s being spoofed. A Modest Proposal is written in the form of an actual political pamphlet. Formal, although non-florid language is used and the entire argument is written in a professional format. The beginning of A Modest Proposal explains the situation; from there, a mock plan is posited and facts are brought in to back it up (although humanity and sympathy are conspicuously neglected). In Gulliver’s Travels, the style is that of a travel or adventure story. Narrated by Lemuel Gulliver himself, the book is written simply (some even consider it a fairy tale today), in the form that was common of similar stories of the time. Swift did not typically venture too far from the conventions of the genre he was mimicking — to have done so would have been asinine. Instead, he worked within the frameworks of these conventions to parody not the conventions themselves, but society, politics, religious hypocrisy, and mankind’s follies using the conventions — i.e., Swift did not mock adventure stories in the fantastical and ridiculous destinations and characters of Gulliver’s Travels, but rather, he mocked the aforementioned as embodied by these destinations and characters. These characters could either be allegorical or representative of common sense in that they find the conventions of mankind strange or appalling (such is the case with the giant Brobdingnags).In summation, Jonathan Swift is considered one of the greatest British authors of all time due to his contributions in defining and perfecting the style of satire and parody. Swift achieves the desired effect of combining humor with biting, often misanthropic social and political criticism by deftly utilizing irony, sarcasm, and grotesque mimicry. It is a testament to his skill that his writings are with us today as the fundamental human follies which he satirized some three hundred years ago remain unresolved and still need to be made painfully explicit to successive generations.Works CitedMagill, Farnk N., ed. Magill’s Survey of World Literature. Vol. 6. North Bellmore, New York: Salem Press, Inc., 1993.Read, Charles A. “Jonathan Swift (1667 – 1745).” The Cabinet of Irish Literature 1880.Scott-Kilvert, Ian, ed. British Writers. Vol. 3. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1980.
The Failure of Paradise in Gulliver’s Travels
It is human nature to strive for paradise, but is it actually attainable? There have been countless attempts to establish utopian societies, yet ultimately, all have failed. In his work, Gulliver’s Travels, Swift recounts the journeys of Gulliver to various fantastical lands. Each land is vastly different from our own but also more similar than would ostensibly appear. In all the lands but the last, Gulliver finds that the other societies also experience much the same problems that plague human society. In the final land, however, that of the Houyhnhnms, human problems do not exist; instead, there is a much deeper, more profound problem – a complete lack of the very emotion which defines us as human. By placing Gulliver in various environments in which his perspective and relation to his surroundings change drastically, Swift is able to delineate, through the use of satire, the shortcomings of each society, as well as those extant in ours – shortcomings that cause us to fall short of a utopian ideal. On his first journey, Gulliver travels to the land of Lilliput, where the inhabitants are a fraction of the size of humans. Despite this obvious difference in size, however, the society of the Lilliputians shares many attributes with that of humans. For instance, their politics are very similar to that of the Europeans. In their society, the nobles are advanced based on favor earned with the king by performing inane tasks, rather than ability in a specific area. Gulliver describes this practice, saying, “When a great office is vacant…those [rope dancers]…petition the Emperor…and whoever jumps the highest without falling, succeeds the office” (28). Swift uses this custom to satirize the manner in which European nobles advance themselves based on favor with royalty rather than ability. Because advancement is not based on merit, problems in the government ensue, thereby precluding a utopian society. Swift further ridicules European practices by citing the bitter war being fought between the Lilliputians and their kinsmen, the Blefuscans. This war is being fought because of disagreement as to the proper end on which to crack an egg. Gulliver says, “[Lilliput and Blefuscu] have…been engaged in a most obstinate war… It began…[when] the Emperor published an edict, commanding all subjects…to break the smaller end of their eggs” (40). This asinine reason for so much savagery and bloodshed is used to satirize the incessant European warfare. Swift feels that the constant wars between European powers are also being fought for equally asinine reasons. Violence due to such absurdity is yet another reason Utopia has not been achieved. By bringing Gulliver to Lilliput, Swift is able to expose various flaws in European and human society based on human pettiness. On his next outing, Gulliver travels to Brobdingnag. Here he is a fraction of the size of the inhabitants, rather than the other way around. Due to this abrupt reversal, he undergoes a complete change in perspective. Despite this change though, he continues to observe many similarities between this new society and that of the Europeans. The inhabitants of Brobdingnag, like humans, have a very high opinion of themselves. Gulliver, however, exposes this opinion to be in error. He relates their numerous physical blemishes saying, “Their skins appeared so coarse and uneven, so variously coloured, when I saw them near, with a mole here and there as broad as a trencher, and hairs hanging from it thicker than packthreads, to say nothing further concerning the rest of their persons” (117). He continues, saying, “…[A] very offensive smell came from their skins…” (117). Disparaging their education, Gulliver says, “The learning of this people is very defective…” (136). There are clearly many things wrong with their society, yet they, like humans, refuse to admit to and address them. Also like humans, the inhabitants of Brobdingnag deplore practices which differ from their own. When Gulliver tells the King of various human practices, the King responds, saying, “…I cannot but conclude that the bulk of your natives are the most pernicious race of odious little vermin ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the Earth” (133). As humans often do, the King of Brobdingnag immediately dismisses and deprecates that which is different and that which he does not understand. Through Gulliver’s journey to this land of giants, Swift reveals faults that stem from the over-inflated sense of self prevalent in human society.Gulliver’s next excursion takes him to Laputa, a floating island where the inhabitants are fanatical believers in scientific reasoning and technology. The Laputians, however, are utterly misguided in their attempt to harness the power science can provide. They conduct ludicrous experiments such as constructing buildings from the roof down and attempting to extract sunlight from vegetables. Their clothing is also adorned with scientific symbols, and their eyes pointed toward astrological signs. They literally cannot see straight. The pursuit of knowledge through science has completely overtaken their lives. Common sense has been abandoned, leaving the Laputians to pursue enlightenment blindly and stupidly. They’ve sacrificed sense for reason and lost both. Here Swift is pointing out the folly in relying solely on scientific reasoning and its inability to provide the solution for the puzzle of Utopia . Also in this land, Gulliver meets the Immortals. These Immortals do not live blessed, envied lives though. Instead, their immortality is viewed as an eternal curse, in which they are destined to live horrible, pathetic lives, utterly lacking in relief. Swift uses this example to show the foolishness in desiring eternal life. The journey to Laputa works to refute human aspirations concerning immortality and other impossibilities. Through Gulliver’s ascent to this land in the sky, Swift tells the reader to get his head out of the clouds.Gulliver’s final and most significant journey takes him to the land of the Houynhnhnms. In this exotic locale, he discovers two societies that exist side-by-side but are completely different. One society is that of the Yahoos. The Yahoos have a bestial society, ravaged by rampant problems such as cupidity, lust, and vulgarity. They are described as “odious” (246), “degenerate and brutal” (248). They are driven by uninhibited emotion and live only to fulfill their primal desires. This society illustrates one extreme of humanity. If humans were to follow their passions without regard for the consequences and morality of their actions, this is what human society would regress to. In stark contrast to the Yahoos are the Houynhnhnms. They exist in a utopian paradise free of the problems that plague man. There are no problems which cannot be peaceably and easily solved, and there is no disease. They have achieved perfection. They are, however, fundamentally different from humans; they lack passion and emotion. It is because of this lack of any intense sensation, though, that they are able to achieve perfection. Humanity is, by definition, flawed, for that which makes us human, makes us inherently imperfect. By juxtaposing these two societies, Swift is able to illustrate the extremes of society – a society in which the pursuit of paradise has been completely abandoned and one in which it has been inhumanly achieved. Each trip Gulliver takes provides the reader with further insight into the flaws of human society and the reasons for human failure to achieve a utopian ideal. Though the inhabitants of each land seem very different from humans physically, observation of their societies provides the opportunity to grasp more profound insights concerning our own. In Lilliput, the size of the inhabitants represent human pettiness; in Brobdingnag, the size of the inhabitants represent the human ego; in Laputa, the location of the island reveals our impractical aspirations; and in the land of the Houynhnhnms, the contrast between the Yahoos and the Houynhnhnms reveals the fact that perfection is the antithesis of humanity. Man possesses an ideal of perfection without realizing that that very image of paradise is simultaneously an image of the most torturous of hells. The only manner in which humanity could exist in perpetual bliss, is if humanity had no concept whatsoever of bliss. As Gulliver travels from land to land, the reasons for human failure to achieve Utopia are presented again and again, but at the end of his journeys, Swift provides the reader with the reason as to why this is so, or perhaps comes to the realization himself. Faced with a state of passionless existence as the only alternative to our flawed society, he stops criticizing that which cannot be changed and instead accepts it.
Satire in Each Book of Gulliver’s Travels
Throughout the four parts of Gulliver’s Travels, Swift employs the eight types of satire – parody, understatement, invective, irony, hyperbole, sarcasm, inversion/reversal, and wit – to add historical and thematic depth to Lemuel Gulliver’s fantastic voyage.Explaining the tensions between Liliput and Blefusco in part I, for instance, Swift writes:Which two mighty powers have, as I was going to tell you, been engaged in a most obstinate war for six and thirty moons past… During the course of these troubles, the Emperors of Blefusco did frequently expostulate by their ambassadors, accusing us of making a schism in religion, by offending against a fundamental doctrine of our great prophet Lustrog, in the fifty-fourth chapter of the Brundecral (which is their Alcoran). This, however, is thought to be a mere strain upon the text: for the words are these; That all true believers shall break their eggs at the convenient end. (Swift 85)Here, Swift uses parody to ridicule the religious schism between the Catholic and Protestant Church which permeated Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. Swift’s mockery lies in that his narrator initially validates the arguments offered by Blefuscu against Lilliput’s preferred way of breaking eggs – at the smaller end – by citing the authority of the Brundecral, equivalent to the “Alcoran”, or, more likely, the Bible. However, the reader undoubtedly recognizes the momentous religious rift created over egg-breaking as pure nonsense. By parodying England’s ecclesiastical system, namely, the Catholic-Protestant split, through the Big-Ender/Small-Ender split, he desires for the reader to recognize the ridiculousness of quarreling over religion, particularly when the argument occurs over such a minor discrepancy as which end of the egg to break, or, he infers, Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist (which is the cause for divide between Catholics and Protestants). Although himself a Catholic clergyman, Swift perceived the situation critically. By imitating the vague world of theological interpretations in the form of a rather concrete, yet ludicrous dispute that pits two empires against each other, Swift reveals to the reader the ridiculousness of the religious battles of the British Isles. The above passage at once exaggerates and undermines the Catholic-Protestant schism by drawing an analogy between a seemingly formidable disunion and a trivial problem of eating habits, in this way heightening satire in Gulliver’s Travels.To expand the satirical value of the novel, Swift uses parody once again to imitate and poke fun at not only religious, but also political aspects of England and Ireland (the two being notoriously intertwined in 17th and 18th century Europe). For instance, he writes:I was diverted with none so much as that of rope-dancers, performed upon a slender white thread, extended about two foot, and twelve inches from the ground…This diversion is only practiced by those persons who are candidates for great employments, and high favor, at Court…Flimnap, the treasurer, is allowed to cut a caper on the straight rope as least an inch higher than any lord in the whole Empire. (73-74)In describing the jests of the “rope-dancers,” Swift actually parodies the antics of candidates running for office for the Court of England. He points out the great mastery involved in executing jumps and somersaults on the rope in order to emphasize the schemes of intrigue and deception carried out by candidates in order to win the favor of the King, and thus, an ascent to a position of power. Swift uses the name “Flimnap” to perhaps craftily allude to George II’s prominent Whig prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole, who at one point in his political career served, appropriately, as first lord of the treasury in the government1. Although the games of the Lilliputians appear bizarre and laughable, Swift’s purpose entails exposing the corruption and fraud that ran rampant through the English Monarchy, specifically during the reign of George II. 2 For instance, the term “caper” carries a connotation of thievery and deceit, and this precisely explains Walpole’s – and indeed many other British office holders’ – ability to obtain and maintain power by resorting to what were essentially political contortions. In fact, despite George II’s allegiance to the Tories, he never fired Walpole, a proud Whig, due to strong favoritism; thus, Swift mocks the political institution in this way.Also in Part I, Swift uses the satirical device of understatement. Introducing his tale, Gulliver takes note of the political structure of Lilliput, at one point reporting on tyrannical monarchs. The reader cannot help but acknowledge the similarities between Lilliput and Gulliver’s homeland, England, when he informs the reader that the Emperor of Lilliput proposes the punishment of removing Gulliver’s eyes, a conviction viewed by the Lilliputians as minor and actually merciful. It stands as a gross understatement when one of the king’s court comes to warn Gulliver of his forthcoming arraignment for treason, revealing to Gulliver that:[His] majesty, in consideration of [Gulliver’s] services, and pursuant to his own merciful disposition, would please to spare [his] life, and only give orders to put out both [his] eyes…to signify the great lenity and favour of his Majesty…which his Majesty doth not question [he] will gratefully and humbly submit to; and twenty of his Majesty’s surgeons will attend, in order to see the operation well performed, by discharging very sharp-pointed arrows into the balls of [his] eyes as [he] lay on the ground. (106-107).The Secretary informs Gulliver without particular passion or surprise, and in fact rather nonchalantly, suggesting that such a sentence serves as a commonplace, even lenient penalty. To this, Gulliver then satirically states: “…I was so ill a judge of things, that I could not discover the lenity or favor of this sentence, but conceived it (perhaps erroneously) rather to be rigorous than gentle,” (109) and later, “[Had] I then known the nature of princes and ministers…I should with great alacrity and readiness have submitted to so easy a punishment” (110). Clearly the loss of one’s eyes cannot be taken lightly; the threat of not being able to see, not to mention the physical torment of having one’s eyeballs punctured by sharp objects, would provoke anyone to outrage and panic. However, the Lilliputians regard such a punishment without protest. This can be attributed to the fact that in the land of Lilliput, much like in England, tyranny rules. Swift implies that irrational monarchs, fueled by their own whims, restrain the masses with the threat of violence and at the same time assume that their subjects will “gratefully and humbly submit” to them. In employing such an understatement, he comments not only on the brutality, but also on the sense of divinity that tyrannical monarchs generally permit themselves, thus satirically criticizing English politics.In Book II, A Voyage to Brobdingnag, Swift employs the satirical element of invective to voice his disapproval of the British Empire. After explaining the history of Great Britain to the King of Brobdingnag, Gulliver explains that the King:[Was] perfectly astonished… protesting it was only a heap of conspiracies, rebellions, murders, massacres, revolutions, banishments, and very worst effects that avarice, faction, hypocrisy, perfidiousness, cruelty, rage, madness, hatred, envy, lust, malice, and ambition could produce. (172)Swift relays his criticism through the King’s extreme impression of England, one which he expresses using a barrage of words with negative connotations. Although the King’s overly harsh opinion comes from a man unfamiliar with the country, Swift intends to show precisely that from an objective observer’s standpoint, England appears as a country historically corrupt.At another point in chapter six, the King states, “[By] what I have gathered from your own relation… I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives, to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth” (173). Through the King’s affirmation, Swift rather blatantly communicates that despite the facade of grandeur and dignity the British uphold in their history and affairs, they remain a generally abject and dishonorable people to him. Through the King’s reaction to Gulliver’s account of his motherland and his people, Swift stresses that just as the Lilliputians seem disagreeable to Gulliver, so, too does Gulliver and his race with respect to the Brobdingnagians. Furthermore, by showing the way in which people of varying sizes view England, Swift implies that despite a nation like Great Britain’s perception of superiority (as created by its political or military prowess, successful expansion, or general assertion of power), its may nonetheless be perceived as rather “odious” or morally flawed, when viewed from the side by others such as the Irish or the poor.Although subtle, the irony in A Voyage to Brobdingnag surfaces in several notable examples, one of which occurs when Swift states:[The] beggars, watching their opportunity, crowded to the sides of the coach, and gave me the most horrible spectacles that ever a European eye beheld. There was a woman with cancer in her breast, swelled to a monstrous size, full of holes, in two or three of which I could have easily crept, and covered my whole body. There was a fellow with a wen in his neck, larger than five woolpacks, and another with a couple of wooden legs, each about twenty foot high. But the most hateful sight of all was the lice crawling on their clothes… (151-2).The situational irony in this passage presents itself in the size of these beggars and the other inhabitants of Brobdingnag. However, the beggars depicted abate the idealized and seemingly perfect existence of the Brobdingnagians. By portraying the wretched beggars as being such immense and grotesque creatures, Swift comments on the pervasiveness of poverty in England and Ireland. Yet this statement becomes even more ironic because the King of Brobdingnag condemns the English as “dimunitive insects”, refusing to acknowledge that his kingdom, too, has many ills to improve, such as the beggars on the streets. In addition, the beggars ambush the coach, flashing their big, nauseating abnormalities and diseases unabashedly in Gulliver’s face – they are impossible for him to miss. In this way, Swift intends to burn into the reader’s consciousness the horrid reality of the poverty that plagues the cities of England and Ireland, something that the literate person reading Gulliver’s Travels during the 18th century may have perhaps been too removed to comprehend.An instance of verbal irony occurs during Gulliver’s conversation with the King, in which Gulliver states that”[Great] allowances should be given to a King who lives wholly secluded from the rest of the World, and must therefore be altogether unacquainted with the manners and customs that most prevail in other nations: the want of which knowledge will ever produce many prejudices, and a certain narrowness of thinking, from which we and the politer Countries of Europe are wholly exempted.” (174)This statement presents itself as verbal irony because the sheer size of Great Britain and “the politer Countries of Europe” makes it impossible for them to be “wholly exempt” from prejudice and narrow-mindedness. On a larger level, the passage above exemplifies verbal irony because by making such a rash overgeneralization about Europeans, the narrator, in effect, stands guilty of the very ignorance he professes Europeans do not possess. Thus, Swift satirically hints at the ignorance and perceived superiority of the British.Book III, entitled A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Glubbdubdrib, Luggnagg, and Japan, contains hyperbole, characterized by the use of exaggeration for emphasis or effect, to satirize both the European way of thought and the stifling nature of Great Britain. He exaggerates the preposterous theories that pervaded English culture throughout the Age of Rationalism. For example, Gulliver takes note of how the floating island of Laputa punishes other, rebellious islands, stating:[The] king has two methods of reducing them to obedience. The first… course is, by keeping the island hovering over such a town, and the lands about it, whereby he can deprive them of the benefit of the sun and the rain, and consequently afflict the inhabitants with dearth and diseases: and if the crime deserve it, they are at the same time pelted from above with great stones, against which they have no defence [sic]…while the roofs of their houses are beaten to pieces. But if they still continue obstinate… he proceeds to the last remedy, by letting the island drop directly upon their heads, which makes a universal destruction both of houses and men. (214)Swift intentionally furnishes the island of Laputa with the special capacity to float, in this way suggesting that the Laputians and their king – who has never been to the world he governs below – disengage themselves from society. Thus, Swift emphasizes the idea that by concentrating solely on the abstract, theoretical aspects of problems and investing their energies in unnecessary scientific advances, they ignore the practical concerns of the wretched people below. The author voices his distaste with European governments that neglect poverty and social ills in his fantastic account of the island of Laputa. Precisely, England’s treatment of the Irish surfaces in Laputa’s excessive punishment of Balnibarbi; just as Laputa restricts sunlight and rain from reaching Balnibarbi, so, too did England restrict Irish trade, leaving the country barren and the people impoverished. In this example of hyperbole, Swift exaggerates the physical extremity of Balnibarbi’s punishment by describing, in great detail, the overkill that results at the hands of Laputa – the island descends, as though signaling the apocalypse, physically crushing revolting masses. The image evoked by Swift’s embellishment, one of intense suffering, echoes the struggle of the Irish to rid themselves of England’s oppressive presence. Another example of hyperbole occurs when Swift expresses that “When parties in a state are violent, [a professor] offered a wonderful contrivance to reconcile them…Let the occiputs thus cut off [from party leaders] be interchanged, applying each to the head of his opposite party man” (234). Clearly, the professor’s proposal to join half-brains in order to settle political rifts, among others mentioned, sounds simply outrageous. However, Swift’s intention in exposing the ludicrous plans of scientists and philosophers through exaggeration lies in satirizing the European preoccupation with theory in the eighteenth century. While combining two minds may, theoretically, work, in practice such an act will probably kill both men involved. The reader recognizes this as extreme and excessive, hence the hyperbole.In addition to hyperbole, Swift uses sarcasm liberally in Book III. At one point, when Gulliver makes the acquaintance of numerous legendary men such as of Homer and Alexander the Great, he realizes that the history surrounding such notable figures is often manipulated and falsified in the interest of upholding an illusion of grandeur. Disenchanted by this new information, Gulliver remarks:[But] when someone confessed they owed their greatness and wealth to sodomy or incest; others to the prostituting of their own wives and daughters; others to the betraying of their country or their prince; some to poisoning, more to the perverting of justice in order to destroy the innocent: I hope I may be pardoned if these discoveries inclined me a little to abate of that profound veneration which I am naturally apt to pay to persons of high rank, who ought to be treated with the utmost respect due to their sublime dignity, by us their inferiors. (245-246)Here, the reader witnesses Swift’s use of biting sarcasm, as presented in a situation in which the protagonist denounces the follies of historical records and the sense of superiority such “heroes” possess over the common man. Swift portrays an array of appalling characters revered by a society ignorant of the ways in which such figures achieved fame. Gulliver catalogues some of the sordid offences of these men, such as “sodomy or incest” and “perverting of justice in order to destroy the innocent” (125). When he then mockingly apologizes for his disgust, affirming that all high-ranking figures “ought to be treated with the utmost respect due to their sublime dignity, by us their inferiors,” the reader can clearly detect the bitterness in his tone. Undoubtedly, Swift’s reproach for the demand placed on commoners, to honor glorified, arrogant – and all too often corrupt – superiors, and, at the same time, these commoners’ flawed perceptions, can be seen in his harsh sarcasm.Sarcasm also presents itself in Swift’s mockery of women. When discussing the habits of women in Laputa, Gulliver reveals that “[they] may perhaps pass with the reader rather for a European or English story, than for one of a country so remote. But he may please to consider, that the caprices of womankind are not limited by any climate or nation, and that they are much more uniform than can be easily imagined” (208). The narrator first exhibits sarcasm when mentioning that his reader may mistake such a description of women “rather for a European or English story,” thus mocking English society. Furthermore, Swift intends for his humorous displeasure with what he perceives as women’s fickle, flighty nature to appeal to his reader – primarily a male reader – as evinced through his playful statement that “he may please to consider,” (that female character “[is] not limited by any climate…”) (208). Thus, the narrator’s less than amiable comments about both commanding figures and women epitomize the satirical element of sarcasm, or bitter, witty statements intended to insult.Finally, in Book IV, A Voyage to the Houyhnhnms Swift uses the satirical elements of reversal/inversion and wit. The book contains perhaps the most profound reversal of roles and ideas. In this book, Gulliver travels to a land in which filthy, detestable human-like creatures, called the Yahoos, are governed by virtuous, rational horses called Houyhnhnms. Thus, an obvious role-reversal exists, as man, who represent the most advanced, reasonable animal, submits to the dominance of a horse, a lesser animal. As Swift states, “[Our English] countrymen would hardly think it probable, that a Houyhnhnm should be the presiding creature of a nation, and a Yahoo the brute” (285). Clearly, Gulliver cannot comprehend this inversion of power, and this holds true for the Houyhnhnms also. For instance, Gulliver’s ability to mimic and eventually master their language astounds the Houyhnhnms, who assume that Gulliver, who otherwise resembles a Yahoo, possesses the same mental capacity. In fact, at one point, Gulliver states, “I asserted that the Yahoos were the only governing animals in my country, which my master said was altogether past his conception” (286). Swift creates such a dramatic role-reversal in order to emphasize the inherent animalism in human beings. The Yahoos do not have distinct social classes and, in this way, Swift implies that all humans, even the royal and wealthy who deem themselves superior, cannot escape their innate brutality. Indeed, the Yahoos champion malice, cowardice, greed and other prominent follies of mankind. Furthermore, the Houyhnhnm race, the epitome of virtue and benevolence, and the Yahoos, exemplars of evil and corruption, exist worlds away from each other, yet so close. Gulliver, then, seems wedged between the two; thus, Swift suggests that although humans have the ability to attain the virtue of the Houyhnhnms – or at least, to make such an attempt – they opt instead to remain in the realm of the Yahoos. In any case, Swift’s outrageous reversal attacks human nature, and in this way, serves to shock readers into self-examination and personal reform.Speaking of the governing body of England, Gulliver explains, “The palace of a Chief Minister is a seminary to breed up others in his own trade: the pages, the lackeys, and porter, by imitating their master, become Ministers of State…and learn to excel in the three principal ingredients, of insolence, lying, and bribery” (303). In this instance, Swift strategically employs the phrase “breed up” to serve a dual purpose. Firstly, it literally signifies that by providing many menial court positions for young men, the Chief Minister’s palace jumpstarts their political careers, facilitating their ascent, usually undeservingly, to higher positions. More importantly, the rather coarse phrase “breed up” also connects to Swift’s implication of the savagery and animalism of humanity, which, according to him, is particularly prominent in the political arena. Swift’s clever play on the word “breed” reveals his denouncement of Britain’s governing body, which he progresses in his harsh generalization that prospective politicians “learn to excel in… insolence, lying, and bribery” by “imitating their master,” as if apes (303).In another portion of Book IV, Swift criticizes the Catholic-Protestant division in his assertion, “Neither are any wars so furious and bloody, or of so long continuance, as those occasioned by difference in opinion, especially if it be in things indifferent” (292). Swift once again uses wit in the form of a subtle play on words, this time skillfully connecting “difference” and “indifferent” in a statement tinged with a sense of melancholy humor. Swift certainly could have substituted “unimportant” or “of no consequence,” yet by repeating the word “different” in the later portion of the sentence, he lends it a rhythm and cohesiveness. In creating such a connection between the two words, he stresses the absurdity of arguing over petty, often negligible, discepancies, as the Catholics and Protestants quarrel over “[W]hether flesh be bread, or bread be flesh… whether whistling be a vice or a virtue… what is the best colour for a coat, whether black, white, red, or gray; and whether it should be long or short, narrow or wide, dirty or clean…” (292). Thus, Swift’s cynicism toward both politics and religion can be observed through his use of the satirical element of wit.Therefore, after assessing the four Parts of Jonanthan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, the reader can readily see the large extent to which the author uses satire in its eight forms in order to add a new level of meaning to his classic novel.
Saying “the Thing which was not”: Consciously Constructed Confusion in Gulliver’s Travels
“But the chief end I propose to my self in all my labors is to vex the world”Jonathan Swift In most ironic works there are two voices. Ellen Winner and Howard Gardner explain that in irony, “what the speaker says is intentionally at odds with the way the speaker knows the world to be” (428). The use of the word speaker’ twice in this sentence reveals a great deal about irony. One of the speakers that Winner and Gardner refer to is the actual voice speaking to the audience in the work. The other voice is usually the authors’, and lurks behind the immediate text or voice, with a view counter to that of the first voice. In Jonathan Swift’s short ironic work, “A Modest Proposal” there are two such voices at work. One voice is the naïve voice set in the text, a voice that recommends the slaughtering of children for social good. The other, contrasting, voice is Swift’s own mature voice which sits behind the text and uses the naïve speaker to demonstrate the absurdity of the naïve speaker’s own point.In Swift’s work, Gulliver’s Travels, he makes it clear that he will use multiple voices before the work even begins. Swift inserted a letter supposedly written by Lemuel Gulliver, the narrator of the Travels, as a preface to the work. In this light passage the reader is made aware that a voice other than the author’s will be used. The difference in meaning between the two voices is not known at this point, but in the rest of the work the contrast of these multiple voices is vital to the elucidation of the Swift’s aim. In Gulliver’s Travels, as in other ironic works, there is a naïve first voice in the text, a voice that is, for the most part, manifested in Gulliver. But in book four the irony takes some odd turns that do away with the standard two-voice system of irony, such as that one seen in “A Modest Proposal”. There are a number of creatures presented, each with a drastically different style of living. The standard by which these creatures are judged shifts over the duration of the work, creating multiple voices of judgement. In Gulliver’s Travels it is clear that there is more than one voice, but it is unclear with which of the multiple voices Swift’s sentiments lies, and thereby the stable opinion by which these creatures are being measured. This confusion forces the reader to examine the work for a stable voice. One possible stable solution for the mature ironic voice is Gulliver himself, as he is at the end of the book. At the beginning of book four Gulliver has just been thrown off of his ship, and has found himself in the land of Houyhnhnms–kind creatures that resemble horses but posses the ability to speak and reason. Gulliver is taken care of by a Houyhnhnm master who is eager to learn of Gulliver’s land. At the beginning of book four, there is a blatant naivete and even absurdity to everything that Gulliver tells the Houyhnhnm master. When describing the many causes of war to the Houyhnhnm master, Gulliver explains that, Sometimes the Quarrel between two Princes is to decide which of them shall dispossess a Third of his Dominions, where neither of them pretend to any Right. Sometimes one Prince quarreleth with another, for fear the other should quarrel with him. Sometimes a War is entered upon, because the Enemy is too strong, and sometimes because he is too weak. Sometimes our Neighbors want the Things which we have, or have the Things which we want; and we both fight, till they take ours or give us theirs. It is very justifiable Cause of War to invade a Country after the People have been wasted by Famine, destroyed by Pestilence, or embroiled by Factions amongst themselves. (184-5)And so the short monologue continues, with the extremism and one-sidedness of the views ever escalating. Gulliver, though, never makes any reference to this one-sidedness. His ignorance of the weight of his words in the early part of book four marks him as a naïve conduit through which these harsh views can pass.Gulliver’s ignorance is underscored by his vocalized desire to give a completely unbiased account of man. Before delivering the harsh views above he tells the Houyhnhnm master, “I shall here set down the Substance of what passed between us concerning my own Country, reducing it into Order as well as I can, without Regard to Time of other Circumstances, while I strictly adhere to Truth” (184). This contradiction between tone and desire marks Gulliver as ignorant of his position.The one-sidedness that Gulliver does not recognize in his own words seems to be the mature voice of irony, Swift’s own voice. If this is the case, Swift believes the horribly one-sided view of man that Gulliver is unknowingly delivering to be true. Gulliver’s naivete is an oblique voice through which Swift may deliver this scathing truth. This form of delivery seems reasonable because of Swift’s disposition. As his autobiography tells us, “Swift was no fiery revolutionary” (Hunting 24), thereby assuring us that if Swift did posses these views of man, he would not want to angrily deliver them in a fiery diatribe. In addition, Swift would have known that no one would listen to the charges of a screaming extremist. By shielding his views in ironythe naivete of Gulliver– Swift, it seems, finds an effective way to somewhat softly deliver his harsh views. Such a harsh view of man would not be unusual for the time. Thomas Hobbes, a prominent philosopher who immediately preceded Swift, articulated similar beliefs. Hobbes, in his work Leviathan, describes the cause of war among men. He argues that, “We find three principall causes of quarell. First, competition; Secondly, Diffidence; Thirdly, Glory” (185). This view is quite similar to the view that Swift, in the guise of Gulliver, delivered. Hobbes goes on to say that, “Force, and Fraud, are in warre the two Cardinall vertues. Justice, and Injustice are none of the Faculties either of the Body, nor Mind” (188). For Hobbes, the only thing that provokes peace among men is their fear of death. In Gulliver’s Travels there are characters remarkably similar to this Hobbesian conception of man: the Yahoos are human-like creatures, but have no redeeming characteristics. Hobbes’ conclusion is that men naturally live in a “brutish manner” (187), remarkably similar to the Yahoos. As book IV progresses, however, Gulliver comes to see the perfection of the utopian Houyhnhnm society, and by contrasting this perfection with the version of humanity that he has been presenting, loses his naïve view of man. Among the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver objectively tells us, “Friendship and Benevolence are the two principal virtues among the Houyhnhnms” (202). These positive traits are all governed by reason. There is no possibility of grand evils like war, and lying, and killing in Houyhnhnm society. Not even petty strife such as “Wranglings, Disputes, and Positiveness in false or dubious Propositions” exist (202). At the same time that he sees the virtues of the Houyhnhnms’ system Gulliver realizes the evil of man–the Hobbesian or Yahoo view of man; that view that it could be argued Swift has had since the beginning. As Gulliver’s naivete disappears, and he comes to see man as Yahoo, it seems that the irony in the work also disappears; Gulliver adopts the previously established mature voice and climbs out of the naivete of the first voice: “When I thought of my family, my Friends, my Countrymen, or human Race in general, I considered them as they really were, Yahoos in Shape and Disposition” (211). When Gulliver is forced by the Houyhnhnms to leave the their community and rejoin humans, including his wife and children, he complains that he would rather live on a solitary island than be with humans. Finally convinced that no such island exists, he resignedly mumbles, “I complied at last, finding I could not do better” (220). This maturation and subsequent loss of irony is not surprising because it comes at the end of the fourth book of this four-book work. It seems reasonable that Gulliver would finally realize what he has been ignorant of (and hence what Swift has been cognizant of) throughout the work, thereby allowing for some closure to the work. In exchange for the irony, in these closing pages we find a character that seems to be Swift’s moral lesson for us all. Swift seems to saying that we should all face up to the truth that we are Hobbesian creatures, as Gulliver did. In light of this perception of the story Gulliver’s desire for isolation upon returning home seems at first reasonable and even respectable. As John Gay relates to Swift, the Duchess Dowager of Marlborough proudly said “that if she knew Gulliver, tho’ he had been the worst enemy she ever had, she would give up all her present acquaintance for his friendship’ (qtd. in Correspondence 183). In proudly displaying her sympathy for Gulliver the Duchess showed her own belief that her sympathy for Gulliver was also sympathy for a Swift who shared Gulliver’s Hobbesian view of man. And it is not only unscholarly Duchesses who hold this view. William Thackeray and George Orwell may not sympathize with the Duchess’ desire to embrace Gulliver, but they did agree with her interpretation of the tale. Thackeray argues that Swift, “began to write his dreadful allegoryof which the meaning is that man is utterly wicked, desperate, and imbecile, and his passions are so monstrous, and his boasted powers so mean, that he is and deserves to be the slave of brutes” (37). Orwell expresses a similar interpretation in “Politics vs Literature”; “We are to be told that the Yahoos are human beings . . . . Swift has overreached himself in his fury, and is shouting at his fellow creatures: You are filthier than you are!'” (255).But while Gulliver was shouting at his fellow creatures, Swift was doing nothing of the kind. Orwell, Thackeray, and the Duchess are all misguided in their interpretation that Swift agrees with Gulliver’s belief that men are Hobbesian creatures. Swift does not believe that Gulliver willingness to completely forsake humanity is a just measure of humanity’s worth because he does not believe that humans are the Hobbesian characters that Gulliver comes to believe they are. Swift remarked before the writing of Gulliver’s Travels, “I tell you after all that I do not hate Mankind” (Correspondence 118). The duchess, who thought she had found the mature voice of Swift, actually represents, herself, the naïve voice of this ironic story.Swift, himself, meticulously exposes the instability, and contradictory nature of Gulliver’s new Hobbesian belief. When Gulliver returns to society he is firmly entrenched in his view that man is Yahoo. His first reaction to the Portuguese sailors that are to save him is “betwixt Fear and Hatred . . . When they began to talk, I thought I never heard or saw any thing so unnatural; for it appeared to me as monstrous as if a Dog or a Cow should speak in England, or a Yahoo in Houyhnhnms-Land” (217). But while Gulliver expresses nothing but contempt, the Portuguese sailors show nothing but benevolence and kindness, just that which the Houyhnhnms hold in highest esteem. Gulliver tells us that in their first words, after a brief questioning of Gulliver, “They spoke to me with great Humanity, and said they were sure their Captain would carry me gratis to Lisbon” (217). When Gulliver meets the captain he is forced to admit “he was a very courteous and generous Person,” even though Gulliver was “ready to faint at the very Smell of him and his Men” (218). Upon arrival in Lisbon this Captain offers Gulliver whatever he desires. “The Captain persuaded me to accept a Suit of Cloaths newly made,” (219) and also supplied Gulliver with food, and lodgings. In addition to all this material generosity the captain kindly and calmly accepts Gulliver’s absurd hatred of man, and places him in the furthest room in his house from the street. In the end the Captain gently forces Gulliver to return to his home and wife. Upon leaving, the Captain “lent me Twenty Pounds. He took kind Leave of me, and embraced me at parting; which I bore as well as I could” (220). This last scene of the Captain warmly hugging Gulliver, while Gulliver shivers in disgust at the benevolence and kindness, captures the absurd distance that Gulliver holds himself from the kind people around him.It is strikingly apparent that this Portuguese Captain possesses no visible evil. The prudent reader finds himself annoyed at Gulliver’s dogmatic refusal to see in this man just those traits that the Houyhnhnms glorified. Through this striking contrast Swift represents just how offensive and extreme Gulliver’s new Hobbesian view of man is. By making Gulliver’s view look absurd in this way, Swift makes his own view on the issue perfectly clear: he denounces the truth of this Hobbesian view of man as Yahoo that he seemed to so strongly convey through Gulliver.Swift also makes Gulliver’s views look unjust by having him use superficial and unreasonable criteria to judge humans; criterion like their smell. When Gulliver’s wife welcomes him home Gulliver says, “having not been used to the Touch of that odious Animal for so many Years, I fell in a Swoon for almost an Hour. . . . the very Smell of them was intolerable” (220). The Houyhnhnm master had accused humans of being like Yahoo’s in many ways, but the one point on which he commended humans was on their cleanliness. The master had said that Gulliver “must be a perfect Yahoo; but that I differed very much from the rest of my Species, in the Whiteness and the Smoothness of my Skin, my want of Hair on several Parts on my Body,” (178) while later in the work the Houyhnhnm master complains sympathetically to Gulliver of the Yahoos and their “their strange Disposition to Nastiness and Dirt; whereas there appears to be a natural Love of Cleanliness in all other Animals” (198). Gulliver, therefore, finds in humans the one attribute that the Houyhnhnm master did not criticize man for. By constructing Gulliver to hate man only through this completely absurd claim, Swift emphasizes the absurdity of Gulliver’s Hobbesian hatred of man.Sometimes making this turn of viewpoint involves Swift in some strained writing. For the sake of irony Swift wants to keep alive the belief that Gulliver hatred of humans is reasonable, but at the same time Swift needs this narrator, who supposedly hates humans, to convey the positive aspects of humanity that Swift knows exists in these and all men. The text shows this strain in such lines as this one describing what the Portuguese Captain provided Gulliver: “At last I desired to eat out of my own Canoo; but he ordered me a Chicken and some excellent Wine, and then directed that I should be put to Bed in a very clean Cabbin” (218). Gulliver’s complimentary description of each thing he was given is in sharp contrast to Gulliver’s feeling that the Captain forced each of these luxuries upon Gulliver. Placing these contrasting descriptions directly adjacent to each other undermines Gulliver as a credible thinker on these points, and allows Swift to pull off this tough turn. By using strained sentences such as this one Swift is able to pull the turn off, but these points of strain are beacons that reveal the turn that Swift is making.But Gulliver left the Houyhnhnm land with two new beliefs. The first is his new Hobbesian view of man as Yahoo, of which Swift exposes the fallacy. His second belief, however, is a corresponding reverence for the Houyhnhnms’ life of reason. While Swift may not agree with the Hobbesian view of man, he could still believe in the Houyhnhnms’ system of life. And indeed, this hypothesis is supported by many aspects of Swift’s portrayal of the Houyhnhnms. The Houyhnhnms have a system in which evil is completely absent. “As these noble Houyhnhnms are endowed by Nature with a general Disposition to all Virtues, and have no Conceptions or Ideas of what is evil in a rational Creature; so their grand Maxim is, to cultivate Reason, and to be wholly governed by it” (202). This cultivation of reason leads the Houyhnhnms to hold friendship and benevolence as the two principal virtues.Holding reason in such high esteem and as natural, was, again, not unusual for Swift’s time. Swift would have found support for this view in the Deist philosophers of the day. The Deists believed that some larger force controls everything, a force that ensures that everything is for the best. The exaggerated deist, Pangloss, in Voltaire’s Candide, succinctly summarizes this philosophy: “It is demonstrated that things cannot be otherwise: for since everything was made for a purpose, everything is necessarily for the best purpose” (18). This sentiment is exactly mirrored by the master Houyhnhnm who says that it is impossible to imagine that “Nature, who worketh all things to Perfection, should suffer any Pains to breed in our Bodies” (190). Swift could easily have created the Houyhnhnms in all their perfection to demonstrate his own belief in the deist philosophy. Orwell believes that he has done this: “As his ideal being he chooses the horse” (43). But, while man is not the evil that the Hobbesian would have us believe, Swift does not believe that man should emulate the Houyhnhnms. If Orwell had done a bit of homework, he would have seen that his view contradicts Swift’s own beliefs. Swift according to John Robertson’s “especially detested the Deists, with their reliance on reason” (Cooper 45). Accordingly Swift exposes the deficiencies of the Houyhnhnms, as he did with Gulliver’s deficiencies. In chapter nine the Houyhnhnm master has just returned from the Houyhnhnms’ congress, and tells Gulliver of the meeting. He recounts that, “The Question to be debated was, Whether the Yahoos should be exterminated from the Face of the Earth” (205). One side of the debate argued that the Yahoos should be exterminated, while the other side held that the Houyhnhnms should merely attempt to control the Yahoos. This whole event stands in direct contradiction to Gulliver’s remark that, “It was with extreme Difficulty that I could bring my Master to understand the Meaning of the Word Opinion, or how a Point could be disputable; because Reason taught us to affirm or deny only where we are certain” (202). Gulliver had earlier said that the Houyhnhnms did not have opinions or debate, but this episode shows them in discourse that can be called nothing but debate. The Houyhnhnm master did preface his explanation of the debate between the Houyhnhnms by saying that, while this debate was an old debate, it was also the only one that had ever occurred. But if they had had this debate many times before, then the Houyhnhnm master would have surely known what debate and opinion was when he made his point to Gulliver. These two descriptions of the Houyhnhnms stand in direct contradiction, and are a hint that the optimism of the Houyhnhnms’ system is unwarranted. But it is no surprise that this is the only point ever to be debated among the Houyhnhnms since the Houyhnhnms conscientiously avoid any situation that could engender any opinion, or emotion. There is no possibility for love between two grown Houyhnhnms because mates are carefully chosen based on hair coloration, and disposition (203). (Swift showed his particular disdain for such a view in his journal, when he said “no wise Man ever married from the Dictates of Reason” (Thoughts 285)). Nor does love exist between a grown Houyhnhnms and a young Houyhnhnms. As Gulliver observes, “They have no Fondness for their Colts or Foles; but the Care they take in educating them proceedeth entirely from the Dictates of Reason” (202). The Houyhnhnms are able to cut contention out of their society only by completely avoiding any situation that could possibly be contentious or engender feeling. Swift, himself, mocks this scheme in an essay: “the stoical scheme of supplying our wants by lopping off our desires is like cutting off our feet, when we want shoes” (Scott 277). This is just what the Houyhnhnms do. They negate the possibility of any contentious issues by negating part of a full lifeby fencing their lives into a narrow area where contention will not occur.The Houyhnhnms are also exposed in chapter nine for their lack of benevolence. The Houyhnhnms are most proud of their benevolence, and yet, in all their august reason, they never seem to have pondered the meaning of benevolence. Is benevolence merely not harming those who do not harm you? If so, then the Houyhnhnms can make a claim to benevolence, as they peacefully coexist with all creatures but the Yahoos. However, the definition of benevolence must include some aspect of ruling others. The Houyhnhnms seem to have been given the task of ruling, or at least watching over the Yahoos. This task gives the Houyhnhnms their one opportunity to display their benevolence. What do they do with this opportunity? They debate whether they should exterminate their subjects. This scene does not fit well with Gulliver’s remark that the Houyhnhnms are “endowed by Nature with a general Disposition to all Virtues, and have no Conceptions or Ideas of what is evil in a rational Creature.” Swift sets up the Houyhnhnms so that the only areas to which they can make a claim to virtue are those areas where virtue is the path of least resistance. Swift then creates a few situations in which the Houyhnhnms would not have such an easy time maintaining their virtue. With each of these situations the flaws and deficiencies of the Houyhnhnms’ system show. In fact, chapter nine, where all of this exposition occurred is, from the viewpoint of plot, completely gratuitous. At no other point does Swift depart from the narrative of Gulliver and his conversations with the Houyhnhnm master. The inclusion of this chapter can only be seen as a sign that Swift was using it for his moral ends.And so both of these strong possibilities for the mature ironic voice are disposed of by Swift. Both views that Swift rejected were extreme views: the Hobbesian view was a belief in the pure evil of man, while the Deistic view was a belief in the pure virtue of reason. Such a rejection of extremism fits with the description that Samuel Johnson, Swift’s contemporary gave of Swift. He remembered that Swift “pays no court to the passions; he excites neither surprise nor admiration” (66). But this is only his temperament, not his view of man. On man Swift wrote to Thomas Sheridan that “You should think and deal with every Man as a Villain, without calling him so, or flying from him, or valuing him less. This is an old true lesson” (Correspondence 94). In this quote Swift seems to be saying that man is not the good that the Deists envision. But he says, this does not mean that we should turn away from man because of his vices, as Gulliver did when possessed with the Hobbesian belief. In hindsight the writing in Gulliver’s Travels is in accordance with the view that he affirmed to Sheridan, yet this view is not affirmed in the Travels, it is only seen in the rejection of counter views.Swift did not use a medium that was suited for the affirmation of such a view. In fact irony is not designed for the affirmation of any view. As Winner and Gardner explain, in irony “the speaker conveys a negative attitude toward something by professing to have a positive attitude” (429). The resultant negative attitude’ is conveyed by the mature voice of irony towards the naive voice. As is apparent from this explanation irony’s intent is the conveyance of a negative attitude towards something–not an affirmation of something. Swift knew this, and used irony because his intent was not the affirmation of any idea. The affirmative idea he expressed in his letter to Sheridan makes sense in terms of Gulliver’s Travels, but this message is not apparent in the Travels. What is apparent in the Travels is Swift’s continual creation and then destruction of believable hypothesis. Swift does away with each possibility by first building it to be as strong as possible before carefully dismantling it by exposing the contradictions and hypocrisy inherent in each view. Surprisingly, just this intent can be seen as Swift’s conclusive mature ironic voice. In a letter to Alexander Pope, Swift forewarned that in Gulliver’s Travels “the chief end I propose to myself in all my labors is to vex the world” (Correspondence 102). In the very process that it took to reach this conclusion, it is quite apparent that Swift was successful in his attempt. References CitedCooper, Anthony Ashley. Characteristics of Men, Opinions, Times, ed. John Robertson. (Indianopolis: Bobs-Merrill, 1964).The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift Volume 3, ed. Harold Williams. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1963).Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan, ed. C.B. Macpherson. (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968).Hunting, Robert. Jonathan Swift. (New York: Twayne, 1967).Johnson, Samuel. Lives of the English Poets. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905).Monk, Samuel Holt. “The Pride of Lemuel Gulliver,” Sewanee Review. 63 (1955) p48-71.Orwell, George. “Politics vs. Literature”  in Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters Volume 2, ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus. (Hammondsworth: Penguin, 1970).Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. (New York: Dover, 1996).Temple, Sir William. Five Miscellaneous Essays, ed. Samuel Holt Monk. (Ann Arbop: University of Michigan Press, 1963).Thackeray, William. Gulliver’s Travels: English Humorists of the Eighteenth Century. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1853).Thoughts on Various Subjects, in Prose Works, ed. Temple Scott. (London: Bell, 1897-1908).Voltaire. Candide, trans. Lowell Bair. (New York: Bantam, 1959).Winner, Ellen and Howard Gardner. in Metaphor and Thought 2nd Edition, ed. Andrew Ortony. (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993).
The Duality of Book Four of Gulliver’s Travels
During the early 18th century, an explosion of satire swept through British literature. This period, often called the “Age of Reason,” was highly influenced by a group of the elite of society, who called themselves the Augustans and were determined to live their lives according to “truth” and “reason.” Likewise, they often found themselves the object of a good deal of satire. Among the satirists of this age were such distinguished authors as Daniel Defoe, Alexander Pope, and Jonathan Swift. Of the three, the most biting, most pungent, and most bitter writing came from Swift. Swift, unafraid to attack almost every institution, often found himself surrounded by controversy. His most contentious and his greatest work, however, was a series of chronicled voyages known as Gulliver’s Travels. Through the adventures of Lemuel Gulliver, Swift ridiculed everything from English politics to human nature. Indeed, Swift said that the purpose of his Travels was to “wonderfully mend the world” (qtd. in Rowe 143). All four books of Gulliver’s Travels are utterly filled with satire, which, simply put, is a type of writing that derides the frailties and vices of a person, an institution, or society in general. “The satirist holds up for his readers to see a distorted image, and the reader is to be shocked into a realization that the image is his own” (Dyson 673). The fourth book of Gulliver’s Travels, “A Voyage to the Houyhnhnms,” is particularly filled with satire, as Gulliver discovers a Utopian society of horses (Houyhnhnms) who sneer at humans (Yahoos) as being savage. Throughout the selection, Swift also includes irony in his work to aid him in his satire. Verbal irony (the kind that Swift uses) occurs when an author says one thing, but means something entirely different. Although Swift’s primary goal in writing the Fourth Voyage of Gulliver’s Travels was to point out the savagery of human nature, a closer reading reveals a more subtle, ironic caricature of the Augustans. There can be little doubt that the major purpose of the Fourth Voyage is to reveal the barbarism of humanity. The theme is found nearly everywhere. The reader cannot help but feel in part ashamed of himself after finishing the book. As Gulliver first descends upon the island, he meets a disgusting group of humanlike animals known as Yahoos. Moreover, when he first sees them, he says: “Upon the whole, I never beheld in all my travels so disagreeable an animal, nor one against which I naturally conceived so strong an antipathy” (Swift 2). Towards the end of the story, it becomes obvious that the Yahoos are an exaggeration of mankind itself. More accurately, they represent the savage side of humanity. “Disgusting as the picture is, it still conveys an important moral lesson: it is a probable delineation of what humanity might become if exposed to the brutalizing influences of unregulated passions” (Kallich 70). Moreover, the amoral characteristics of human society appear to be just as bad, if not worse than those of the Yahoos. In fact, the horses of the Utopian society are shocked when they hear Gulliver’s descriptions of all the vices of people and society. Indeed, Gulliver’s description of the causes of wars is particularly astounding.It is a very justifiable cause of a war to invade a country after the people have been wasted by famine, destroyed by pestilence, or embroiled by factions among themselves. It is justifiable to enter into war against our nearest ally, when one of his towns lies convenient for us, or a territory of land, that would render our dominions round and complete. If a prince sends forces into a nation where the people are poor and ignorant, he may lawfully put half of them to death, and make slaves of the rest, in order to civilize and reduce them from their barbarous way of living. (Swift 13)Shortly after this selection, the horse to whom Gulliver explains the reasons of war draws quite a few connections between the humans and Yahoos by describing some of the very aggressive activities of the latter that suspiciously resemble the wars of mankind. Certainly, this passage indicates how the sovereigns of many countries can hide their selfish quest for power behind honorable motives. “The justifiable’ is stripped of the rationalizing euphemism of diplomacy and seen for what it really is: Reason of State and Realpolitik are just abstract shields for inhuman opportunism and blatant crimes” (Knowles 124). Likewise, this is a fairly obvious use of irony: Swift calls these actions “very justifiable” when the way he describes them indicates that he does not really mean this. This instance is simply one of many examples throughout the voyage of Swift satirizing the greed and primitive nature of humanity.Even though Gulliver becomes a misanthrope by the end of the book, this viewpoint is not the one that Swift intends for the reader. At the end of the voyage, Gulliver is forced to return home, by the decree of the Houyhnhnms. When he arrives home, he cannot tolerate the sight of another human being (including his family) because he believes that, deep down, they are truly Yahoos. Many have argued that this is the opinion Swift wants his readers to take up. After all, at one point he did say, “I have ever hated all nations, professions, and communities, and all my love is towards individuals” (qtd. in Rowse 143). However, Swift made Gulliver far more misanthropic than he could realistically expect anyone to be. After his voyage, Gulliver forces his wife and son to eat dinner at the other end of a very long table. Swift intended for the reader to perceive this as silly and perhaps think him a little crazy. “Swift, in constructing the narrative of Gulliver’s transformation from a lover of mankind’ into a perfect misanthrope, went out of his way to introduce various signs into the story the natural effect of which would be to discredit, for attentive readers the extreme conclusions drawn by Gulliver himself from his stay in Houyhnhnmland” (Crane 334-335). Similarly, Gulliver is rescued and brought back to Europe by a Portuguese Captain by the name of Don Pedro. The Captain is extraordinarily nice to Gulliver, who still despises him on account of his being a Yahoo. “The Captain had often entreated me to strip myself of my savage dress, and offered to lend me the best suit of clothes he had. This I would not be prevailed on to accept, abhorring to cover myself with anything that had been on the back of a Yahoo” (Swift 35). Obviously, Gulliver’s refusal to wear something that had simply touched a Yahoo is a little on the extreme side. The last character discussed in the novel (other than Gulliver) happens to be a man with numerous virtues. Swift obviously wants his readers to see that, because of his experiences, Gulliver’s views on human nature are not exactly fair and rational. Had Swift meant us to take seriously Gulliver’s antipathy to human kind,’ wouldn’t he have made his rescuer an unmistakable Yahoo? And isn’t his emphasis on Don Pedro’s virtues a plain indication, therefore, that he wanted us to think of Gulliver, at this final stage, as a person so infatuated with a false or one-sided theory of human nature that he is blind to any facts which contradict it? (Crane 335)Gulliver obviously shares the point of view of his equine friends. If that view is wrong, it means that the Houyhnhnms are not the infallible beings originally portrayed. Clearly, if their main purpose is not a perfect race to which man should be compared, they must have another function in the story. The Houyhnhnms, though apparently perfect beings, are actually just clever imitations of the Augustans. As said before, the Augustans dedicated their lives to reason and truth. Much like the Augustans, everything the Houyhnhnms do is based on a scientific process. In their marriages they are exactly careful to choose such colors as will not make any disagreeable mixture in the breed. Strength is chiefly valued in the male, and comeliness in the female; not upon the account of love, but to preserve the race from degenerating; for where a female happens to excel in strength, a consort is chosen with regard to comeliness. (Swift 25) This is a prime example of Swift’s use of irony to aid him in his satire. Throughout the story, he frequently mentions how good the society of the Houyhnhnms is when, through his description of their lifestyle, he actually shows the opposite. The lives of the horses lack passions, pleasures, and ideas. Even if they have no evils in their society, they have no real benefits either. If deleting all the risks in life is what it takes to eliminate vice, shouldn’t mankind accept the necessity of a little bit of evil? The world in which the Houyhnhnms live is far from perfect. “The horses have, in fact, no passions at all. Their virtue’ is not a triumph over impulse and temptation, but a total immunity from these things and an immunity which is also, by its very nature, an absence of life and vitalityIf they are incapable of human bestiality they are even less capable of human glory or sublimity” (Dyson 681).Swift is brilliantly making fun of the Augustan goal. After all, the “Houyhnhnm” scenario is the way the Augustans strove to live their lives. Later, in the Romantic period, they would be criticized for their scientific approach to everything and their strict adherence to reason. In this way, Swift was ahead of his time, and, although his book did not glorify emotion or anything of that nature, it certainly ridiculed the Augustans and their ideals. “Book IV is still valid, in fact, as a satire upon Augustanism itself. The Augustans, at their most characteristic, disapproved of strong emotions as necessarily disruptive, subordinated even those emotions they could not exile to the stern control of Right Reason,’ and found no place for feeling’ in their search for truth'” (Dyson 682). The Augustans were a product of the Enlightenment, and with the help of social commentaries like Swift’s, they began to die out as people began to see how senseless a life dedicated to reason truly was. Hence, the ironical ridicule of the Augustans was just as integral to Book IV as depiction of humans as Yahoos. The whole system of Houyhnhnmland is, in fact, an allegory. The horses represent true reason and the Yahoos pure emotion. Either one of these taken to an extreme is dangerous. If people let emotion completely rule them, they end up with a society without order, such as the Yahoos. On the other hand, if people dedicate themselves entirely to logic, they produce a society with plenty of order, but no vitality. A healthy community has a good mixture of the two. Swift leaves subtle clues like Gulliver’s illogical misanthropy at the end to indicate that one must see the value in both. Sadly, it is easy for a reader to walk away thinking that Swift thinks humanity to be evil. This piece in particular requires multiple readings to gather the true meaning of it. Indeed, there are many interpretations of the piece that criticize Swift for indicating that a flawless society could exist without religion of any kind. Obviously, the author of the criticism could not have possibly understood that the Houyhnhnms simply symbolized all that was rational, and religion would have been out of place in that context. Partially because of such subtleties, the Fourth Voyage, and indeed all of Gulliver’s Travels, contains outstanding satire. In fact, in a bizarre way, Swift almost betrays readers with his satire. He wins their trust with a tone of friendly conversation, and then begins to ruthlessly attack. Perhaps this was even why he was so effective. He also mastered irony by the time he died, as seen in his “A Modest Proposal.” His assaults on society did make people question themselves and their institution, and in a way, they did help to “wonderfully mend the world.”Works ReferencedCrane, R.S. “The Houyhnhnms, the Yahoos, and the History of Ideas.” Greenburg 402-6. Crane, R.S. “The Rationale of the Fourth Voyage.” Greenburg 331-8.Dyson, A. E. “Swift: The Metamorphosis of Irony.” The Writings of Jonathan Swift. Ed. Robert Greenburg. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1973. 672-84.Glendinning, Victoria. Jonathan Swift: A Portrait. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1998.Greenburg, Robert, ed. Gulliver’s Travels: An Authoritative Text. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1976.Kallich, Martin. The Other End of the Egg. Bridgeport: Conference on British Studies, 1970.Knowles, Ronald. Gulliver’s Travels: The Politics of Satire. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1990. Rowse, A.L. Jonathan Swift: Major Profit. London: Thames and Hudson, 1975.Swift, Jonathan. “A Voyage to the Houyhnhnms.” Gulliver’s Travels. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Available http://www.gutenberg.net
Gulliver’s Travels and the Refinement of Language and Society
Of all the institutions satirized in Jonathon Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels,” one that has perhaps been less scrutinized is the destruction of the English language. Throughout the travels, language is the key obstacle in Gulliver’s “understanding” of various cultures. Only in book four, however, is the role of language central to Swift’s satiric meaning. His condemnation of English Society, is more explicitly an indictment of those that intend to corrupt the English language by promoting lies, change and euphemisms.According to Swift, the English language is extremely flawed. His reasoning has to do with change, noting that those who attempt to polish and refine it are hastening its corruption. Swift fears that as the language continues to drift from the English of the past, “its lessons, its wisdom, are hidden behind the opaque surface of a language that simultaneously is and is not ours” (Montag 114). As the language of the future is altered, the past will soon become unintelligible. The result is a society with an uncertain history, destined for political decline. Rather than merely point out the flaws of the English language and its handling, Swift offers a solution. He suggests that there be created a Standardized form of the English language. One that would incorporate the English of the past with that of the present. The result, would be “improved language and discourse [that] would uncover the roots of many present evils and allow them to be dug out” (Kelly 20). In book 4 of Gulliver’s Travels, the language of the Houyhnhnms seems in every way to embody Swift’s ideal of the perfect language. The Houyhnhnm language, although seeming rather ridiculous to Humans, is perfect, simple in meaning, and entirely unchanged. They use no Euphemisms and tell things the way they are in truth, for they know no alternative. While the Houyhnhnms are governed by reason and practicality, their language is “primitive only in the sense that it is pure and uncorrupted. It can do nothing other than communicate what is” (Montag 138). Gulliver notes at one point that their “words might with little pains be resolved into a language more easily than the Chinese” (244). Not Surprisingly, Swift viewed the Chinese language as one resistant to linguistic change. Regardless of the differences in speech among people from different regions in China, the written characters are understood by everyone (Kelly 74). The Houyhnhnm language, therefore, like Chinese, is pure and noble–Swift’s attributes to the “perfect language.”Before exploring this topic any further, it is necessary to understand more about the character of Lemuel Gulliver. As the medium through which Swift’s satire is brought to life, Gulliver is not the typical hero of most English Novels of the eighteenth century. In fact, Gulliver is not heroic at all. While not a fool, his character is defined by practicality. Although described to the last detail in book one, he seems to lack certain humanistic qualities, such as depth of imagination, passion and feeling. What Gulliver does possess, though, is an innate ability to quickly learn the languages of the cultures he encounters on his voyages. Always his primary objective, his desire to learn the language is spurred by different motivations in each of the lands he encounters. In Lilliput, learning the language means that he would have the ability to beg for his freedom: “The first words I learnt, were to express my desire, that he would please to give me my liberty (41).” In Brobdingnag, however, it seems that Gulliver learned the language by force. While Glumdalclitch helped him to polish his skills, much of Gulliver’s learning was brought about while being forced to converse with strangers while on display. In Houyhnhnms land, however, Gulliver is inclined to learn the language simply to communicate with the Houyhnhnms, and to tell them of the “wonders” of England. Interestingly, it took Gulliver ten weeks to understand the language modestly, and only after three months could he give “some tolerable answers.” This is in stark contrast to the length of his schooling in Lilliput and Brobdingnag, where it took him approximately three weeks and less than two months, respectively. Swift, therefore, draws obvious parallels between the refinement of a society and the complexity of the language. The importance of language to Swift’s meaning, however, can be understood best by close examination of Gulliver’s experiences with the Houyhnhnms.Upon arriving in Houyhnhnms land, Gulliver is a bit shaken. His relations to mankind were dwindling, as evidenced by the deterioration of his relations with his crew. He is, however, still swelled with English pride. He first encountered some Yahoos, human-like creatures who seem to represent the savage nature of humanity. To emphasize their savageness, the Yahoos are given no language by swift, only at times howling and roaring like beasts. Upon meeting the Houyhnhnm in the field, however, Gulliver found comfort in noticing that the horse-like creature “was speaking to himself in a language of his own” (241). Due to their apparent ability to converse with each other and rationalize, Gulliver concludes that the Houyhnhnms are intelligent animals and entirely rational. What is interesting here is Gulliver’s ability to look beyond the fact that the Houyhnhnms were horses. He sees them as rational creatures due to the presence of their language and their apparent intelligence. As before mentioned, Gulliver desired to learn the Houyhnhnm language primarily to be able to share with the Houyhnhnms the “wonders” of his homeland. At this point, Gulliver still felt that the English language and culture was superior, but it seems as though he is beginning to question his beliefs. When told that the word Houyhnhnm signified “the perfection of nature,” Gulliver acts very surprised and becomes slightly defensive, saying that he will soon share with his master the marvels of his culture. Yet it was ultimately his desire to tell of England’s “wonders” that resulted in his downfall. As Gulliver begins his discourse, he quickly comes to realize the corruption that pervades England. Swift means to show, however, that the degradation of English Society goes hand in hand with the corruption of language. Swift’s satire is driven by Gulliver’s need to describe the most immoral aspects of human nature (lust, malice, envy, etc.) all in the name of England’s greatness. Gulliver then seems to realize the ridiculous nature of his words, and later exclaims the difficulty of translating his master’s noble words into “our barbarous English” (263). Yet Gulliver goes on to describe English culture in an exaggerated, impetuous manner, with every “wonder” he mentions being more of a vice than a virtue. Swift has Gulliver utilize the lowest forms of the language to discuss the lowest forms of the culture: War, politics, power, and law to name a few. On Government, Gulliver’s description of the Chief Minister of State is that of a person able to “excel in the three principal ingredients, of insolence, lying and bribery” (275). Most interesting, however, is Gulliver’s description of the workings of attorneys and law, and Swift’s obvious disdain of their use of language.According to Ann Cline Kelly, Swift’s dislike of lawyers is rooted in their failure to “emphasize common truths” in their writing. They utilize the language “not to communicate comfort and joy to their fellows but to satisfy some patron or boss who will pay them for distorting facts” (Kelly 70). By perpetuating the falsehoods that Swift despised, lawyers were to him inducers of society’s downfall. As Gulliver says, lawyers have “wholly confounded the very essence of truth and falsehood, of right and wrong,” by using “jargon of their own, that no other mortal can understand” (269).After telling his master about humankind, Gulliver comes to the realization that the Houyhnhnms are superior beings. He says, “the many virtues of those excellent quadrupeds placed in opposite view to human corruptions, had so far opened my eyes and enlarged my understanding” (277). It is here that Gulliver decides to live his life with these “superior” beings, never to return to mankind. Gulliver admits, however to concealing many particulars, often “saying the thing that was not” with the intent of favouring the account of mankind. Upon learning of humankind, Gulliver’s master notices a strong parallel to the savage Yahoos of his country. This observance, coupled with the realization that Gulliver often “says the thing that is not,” leads to Gulliver’s ultimate deportation from the island. Although Gulliver felt and acted like a Houyhnhnm, he could not escape mankind’s natural tendency toward falsehood. It wasn’t until Gulliver posed a serious threat to their language (and therefore well-being) by lying, that the Houyhnhnms decided that he must leave.Swift’s point is emphasized as Gulliver returns home in the final chapter, as Gulliver cannot even bear the sight of his own Yahoo-like wife and children: “The sight of them filled me only with hatred, disgust, and contempt” (310-11). Rather than converse with his family in “barbarous English,” Gulliver buys two horses and communicates with them four hours each day in the language of the Houyhnhnms. Gulliver’s wish in the final chapter that all travelers take an oath to print their adventures in truth to their best knowledge, is akin to Swift’s strict belief that the English written word be completely truthful, and exact, while adhering to a noble standard.
Laughing at the 18th Century: Social Critique in Gulliver’s Travels and The Rape of the Lock
Throughout both The Rape of the Lock and Gulliver’s Travels, Pope and Swift both place the faults and vices of 18th Century Britain at the thematic forefront of their writing, with a particular focus on satirizing the upper echelons of the aristocratic class, as well as attitudes towards sexuality, gender and religion which underpinned contemporary society. Through the inclusion of real-life figures – Swift’s narrative includes references to the corrupt Robert Walpole whilst Pope’s revolves around a factual event – both writers place ‘serious’ aspects of 18th Century society within the realm of the absurd. Indeed, both writers choose to mimic popular narrative structures – whilst Swift’s use of mock epic brings classical heroism into closer juxtaposition with contemporary triviality, employing the ‘heroic couplet’ (popular in classical tales of bravery such as Dryden’s translation of the Aeneid) as well as a variety of stock epic narrative devices, Swift’s decision to imitate a conventional, non-fictional ‘travel narrative’ pokes fun at the gullibility of his readers, simultaneously attacking the idea of human autonomy and control lauded by work such as Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (as the critic Kathleen Williams states, Swift was ‘hostile to all doctrines of the natural self-sufficiency of man’). By filling their work with recognizable elements of contemporary Britain, therefore, both writers can more effectively parody and satirize 18th Century society. In the same way, both writers develop a clear divergence between their own voice and that of the ‘narrator’. This can be seen most apparently in Swift’s work, which, far from representing the singular, fixed viewpoint of an author, uses shifts in the perspective of its protagonist (notably from admiration of British society to utter repulsion) to highlight the absence of any singular, convincing moral standard, philosophy or idea underpinning contemporary British society. The same divergence is used by Pope, whose mock-epic narrative voice is entirely caught up in the scale and magnitude of the events it depicts, allowing the writer to effectively demonstrate what is, in his eyes, their triviality. However, here, differences begin to appear between the two writers – whilst Pope’s narrative voice, although largely ironic, is at least somewhat sincere in its praise of the trivial, simultaneously mocking the absurd complexity of Belinda’s makeup routine whilst celebrating the miraculous physical change it brings about, Swift’s strong belief in ‘original sin’ means that he presents human nature as being irredeemably flawed. Despite differences in their method, it is clear that both writers present a critical view of 18th Century society, employing and mimicking many of its more recognizable elements in order to more effectively parody and satirize it.
Both writers play on conventional narrative structure, form and voice to explore and satirize various elements within 18th Century society. For instance, Pope’s use of mock-epic to describe Belinda’s makeup routine juxtaposes the ‘serious’ and the trivial, allowing him to effectively satirize human vanity: ‘Unnumber’d Treasures ope at once, and here The various Off’rings of the World appear’. Here, Pope’s use of the heroic couplet – a rhyming couplet written in iambic pentameter – mirrors the form used in weightier, classical work, contrasting with the everyday subject matter: the application of makeup. This contrast would have been all the more apparent to a contemporary audience, the majority of whom would have been familiar with John Dryden’s prolific use of the heroic couplet in translations of epics such as Virgil’s Aeneid and Homer’s Iliad, creating a highly satirical image of an almost religious level of devotion being applied to an everyday act of self-care and, in doing so, laying strong emphasis not only on Belinda’s personal vanity, but also on the level of importance which British society placed upon something so insignificant as outward appearance. This contrast is heightened by the connotations of religious ritualism in ‘Off’rings’, as well as the materialistic ‘Treasures’. The use of such hyperbole to describe a makeup box is perhaps a satire on the limited knowledge and experience of the wealthy, aristocratic classes – their ‘treasures’ are restricted to makeup and jewellery, a point which Pope further supports with the use of the expansive connotations of ‘World’, implying that Belinda’s ‘world’ extends little beyond the confines of her makeup box, let alone her social class.
In Swift’s novel, the limited perspective of the aristocratic class is also satirized, with the vast contrast between the Lilliputian emperor’s physical size and social grandeur humorously demonstrating the superficiality of the aristocratic world: ‘terror of the universe, whose dominions extend five thousand blustrugs (about twelve miles in circumference)’. Here, in the emperor’s description of himself, the incessant use of connotations of grandeur in ‘universe’, ‘dominion’, ‘extend’ and ‘thousand’, particularly with the frequent use of long vowel sounds here, adds a strong tone of majesty and scale, laying significant emphasis on the contrast between the emperor’s perception of himself and Gulliver’s perception of him – similar to the contrast between Belinda’s makeup box and the ‘Off’rings of the World’. The use of an unfamiliar measurement in ‘blustrugs’ makes the emperor’s claims all the more meaningless to the reader, whilst the contrast between the specificity of ‘five thousand blustrugs’ and the vague, dismissive ‘about’ in Gulliver’s interjection ‘about twelve miles’ paints him in an even more absurd light. Much like Pope, this satirizes the limited perspective of an aristocracy overly concerned with material wealth, unable to see past their own ‘dominion’. However, it also raises interesting questions about the irrelevance of temporal power in the context of a universe beyond knowledge or control – an idea which perhaps stems from the Catholic belief in the insignificance of humanity in the face of an all-controlling God (both Pope and Swift were Catholic). Furthermore, after the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, Catholics were faced with discrimination at the hands of protestant members of the government and aristocracy, perhaps forming the root of Swift’s portrayal of a puny, insignificant emperor unaware of the realities of the ‘universe’ he claims to terrorise.
This harsh assessment of contemporary aristocracy is made all the more stinging by what Rawson describes as a ‘guard-lowering ruse, an impression of truth’ – Swift’s use of a mock travel narrative mimics a form made so familiar by work such Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, both lulling the reader into a false sense of security (which is immediately shattered by the introduction of the tiny Lilliputians) and, like Pope’s mock-epic, bringing the positive, never-say-die attitude of Defoe’s travel narrative into closer juxtaposition with Swift’s satire on human insignificance. In this way, Swift’s novel can be read not only as a satire on 18th century Britain, but on the various sectors of contemporary literature which reflect its hopelessly unrealistic self-image. Through this lens, Pope’s use of mock epic could equally be seen to satirise the over the top elements of classical heroism, demeaning the entire form by applying it to a trivial setting. However, whilst this is perhaps true to an extent, Pope’s background in the translation of classical epic (he is known for his translations of the Iliad and Odyssey) demonstrates a deep appreciation of the genre – an appreciation which he also applies to the elements of British society which he satirises so frequently. Adrian Blamires describes this as ‘empathetic satire’, stating that Pope ‘maintains a simultaneous mockery of, and engagement with, the female world’, capturing its ‘vibrant animation’. This is certainly accurate, as Pope’s internal rhyme in ‘sees by degrees a purer blush arise’, combined with the assonant, exotic personification in ‘all Arabia breathes from yonder box’, reflects the joy and romance of Belinda’s world, even in spite of its naivety. In this way, whilst Swift’s satire offers little empathy in its condemnation of 18th century society, Pope seems to differ, enjoying its more trivial aspects whilst satirising the disproportionate weight which it attributes to them.
This idea of a confused, disproportionate value system is one that is used by both writers to satirize 18th century society. For instance, The Rape of the Lock is described by John Mullan as being full of ‘ludicrous disproportion’, an effect which Pope achieves through the juxtaposition between the classics and modernity: ‘Or stain her honour, or her new Brocade, Forget her Prayers, or miss a masquerade’. Here, the double use of a zeugma compares the classical, stoic connotations of ‘honour’ and ‘prayers’ to the shallow materialism of ‘Brocade’ and ‘Masquerade’, highlighting the conflation of classical values and modern promiscuity and, in doing so, placing the ‘serious’ and the trivial on the same level of significance. This massive exaggeration of the importance of Belinda’s ‘Brocade’ satirises an 18th century aristocratic value system in which materialism is placed above all else, with the lingering, repeated ‘m’ sound in ‘miss a masquerade’ adding to the overall tone of decadence and luxury. This wild disproportionality undermines the increasingly popular idea of man as a rational being – an idea embodied by the scientific experimentation that was becoming ever more abundant during the Enlightenment. Swift also criticises this idea of inherent human rationality in his depiction of the Academy of Lagado: ‘He has been eight years upon a project for extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers, which were to be put in phials hermetically sealed… he did not doubt, that, in eight years more, he should be able to supply the governor’s gardens with sunshine.’ Here, the contextual significance of a scientific ‘academy’ should not be ignored, with the popularity of such institutions in the 18th century leading contemporary scientist Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle to the describe the period as ‘The Age of Academies’, confirming the idea that Swift is attacking the growing scientific movement. Indeed, this movement contradicted his belief in human irrationality, a belief demonstrated by the utterly absurd image of ‘extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers’ – by portraying science itself as irrational, turns the pinnacle of contemporary ‘rationality’ into a further manifestation of man’s irrationality. The repetition of ‘eight years’ underlines the ridiculousness of the situation, highlighting the quantity of time and resources consumed in a vain pursuit of rationality, whilst the use of specific, scientific terminology in ‘hermetically’ and ‘phials’ places Swift’s satire firmly within the realm of cutting edge science at the time and, in doing so, demonstrates the irrelevance of even the most up to date ideas and equipment when scientific progress is made futile by a human nature. The disproportionate significance placed upon the pursuit of reason mirrors Pope’s portrayal of an out of kilter aristocratic value system, whilst Swift’s idea of an inherent, ineradicable flaw in human nature is deliberately contrasted to the ‘perfect’ rationality of the Houyhnhnms (whose name translates to ‘Perfection of Nature’). However, rather than as a moral objective, Williams describes the Houyhnhnms as ‘a satiric contrast in which good and less good are mixed in a proportion which we must decide for ourselves’. Indeed, on various occasions, their unquestioning logic spills over into dispassion: ‘the question that was to be debated was, whether the Yahoos should be exterminated from the earth’. Here, the reasonable, restrained connotations of ‘question’ and ‘debated’ contrast dramatically with ideas of mass, indiscriminate slaughter in ‘exterminated from the face of the earth’, highlighting the subordination of compassion to cold reason and logic. Gulliver’s acceptance of cruelty as ‘superior’ highlights the fragility of 18th century moral values that many thought underpinned contemporary society – they quickly deteriorate when an alternative is presented. Furthermore, this lack of human empathy, particularly when combined with Swift’s decision to portray the Houyhnhnms as animals rather than another variation of mankind, highlights again the disparity between the two species, this time demonstrating the inability of humanity to replicate the level of rational ‘perfection’ exhibited by the Houyhnhnms. In this way, Swift satirises 18th Century society’s inability to adhere to the values of rationalism to which it was beginning to hold itself, tying in with his criticism of scientific advancement, as well as Pope’s depiction of a society where rational, considered interaction is compromised by materialism. Furthermore, Swift’s depiction of humanity’s inability to separate itself from its nature perhaps ties in with his strong belief in ‘original sin’, leading Williams to describe the ideal laid out by the Houyhnhnms as being ‘not simply unattainable by man, but irrelevant to him’; rather than being an aspirational standard, Swift employs them as a satiric device intended to highlight the futilities of 18th Century Britain through comparison with rational ‘perfection’. In this way, Pope’s depiction of a disproportionate, irrational value system is built upon by Swift, who chooses to highlight not only the fragility of these ‘values’, but also their incompatibility with human nature.
Furthermore, both writers use specific elements underpinning this value system, such as class, gender and political integrity, to more effectively satirise the fabric of 18th century British society. For example, in The Rape of the Lock, Pope subverts traditional notions of masculinity in an attempt to parody and satirise contemporary high society: ‘But chiefly Love – to Love and alter built… Then prostrate falls, and begs with ardent eyes Soon to obtain, and long possess the Prize’. Here, the strong connotations of powerless passivity in ‘prostrate falls’ and ‘begs’ contrast with the heroic, masculine figures littered throughout romantic encounters in classical epic, underscoring the Baron’s inability to occupy the role of the traditional male hero. Furthermore, as Simon Mold points out when he claims that Pope ‘deliberately imitates… a number of typical stock scenes’, the use of ritual and sacrifice was common throughout the work of writers such as Homer, further heightening the contrast between classical heroism and the Baron’s sexual fetishism. Combined with the reduction of ‘Love’ (a prized modern and classical value) to the shallow, sexual connotations of ‘ardent’, as well as further ideas of materialism in ‘Prize’, ‘obtain’ and ‘possess’, Pope uses the Baron’s emasculation to highlight the degeneration of classical values in contemporary aristocratic society, as well as to satirise the shallow sexual desire that lies behind much of classical romance. Blamires suggests that Pope goes further with his satire on gender, stating that ‘Pope’s satire is on female credulity’. This certainly ties in with Pope’s early depiction of Belinda’s dream involving the sylph Ariel: ‘A Youth more glitt’ring than a Birth-night Beau (That even in slumber caus’d her cheek to glow)’. Here, Pope’s speculations on the inner life of a young, aristocratic woman paints a picture of a sex largely divorced from reality, with the phrase ‘caus’d her cheek to glow’ demonstrating the presence of an element of sexual curiosity – the connotations energy and life in ‘glow’ demonstrate the youthful nature of this curiosity. The alliterative ‘Birth-night Beau’, combined with the vivid connotations of ‘glitt’ring’, lays emphasis on the strength of her fantasy, contrasting with the base, undignified reality of the only real ‘sexual’ encounter she experiences in the poem (the theft of her hair) to satirise what Pope saw as feminine conceit and naivity. To illustrate this point, Blamires points to the phrase ‘maids alone and Children are reveal’d’, which he states places ‘women intellectually on a par with children’.
Equally, Swift also chooses to satirise the ‘inner lives’ of women, subverting traditional ideas about feminine modesty in order to deconstruct human dignity: ‘so varied with spots, pimples and freckles that nothing could appear so nauseous’. Here, in his description of the Brobdingnagian women, the use of three plural nouns in conjunction highlights the extent of their imperfection, whilst the connotations of sickness in ‘nauseous’ emphasise the extent of Gulliver’s disgust. Combined with the at once lewd and animalistic ‘monstrous breast’, this deconstructs the traditional notion of feminine beauty and decency, again hinting at the inherent animalism of humanity. Indeed, Rawson describes this universal deformity as ‘the physical counterpart of original sin’, once again tying in with both Swift’s religious beliefs and his apparent contempt for 18th century society. However, Gulliver’s disgust is hugely ironic, as similar imperfections will doubtless have been visible to the Lilliputians on his own body – he is placed on the same level as a people whose humanity was so doubtful that he was tempted to ‘dash them against the ground’. Through this dramatic reversal of roles, Swift creates a bewildering satire on vanity, reducing the idea of human uniqueness and superiority to total absurdity and corroborating Griffin’s suggestion that Swift is attempting to destabilise ‘traditional moral certainties’. Such moral uncertainty is mirrored in his parody of contemporary politics, highlighting the extent to which inherent human irrationality permeated 18th century society: ‘Flimnap, the treasurer, is allowed to cut a caper on the strait rope’. Here, the playful connotations of ‘caper’ emphasise the meaningless nature of the tasks performed by politicians in order to gain rank within the government, contrasting with the formal title of ‘The Treasurer’ to satirically point out the dissonance between the high reward and low level of qualification. Indeed, Flimnap could easily refer to Robert Walpole – Prime minister from 1715 until 1717 (and then again from 1727 to 1740 after the book was published) – who allegedly maintained power through personal connections as opposed to personal attainment. By comparing the machinations of the British political system with inane, child-like games, Swift satirises any pretence of rationality that may have existed within 18th century society.
Although Pope’s satire is perhaps more empathetic to its subjects, its criticisms of aristocratic small-mindedness are mirrored in Swift’s work, whilst the absurd comparisons which he draws between the classical and the modern are perhaps rooted in the same ideas that led Swift to mock the message of human self-determination and control that characterised contemporary travel narratives – a firm belief in both human irrationality and the frailty of social prestige. Through their examinations of topics such as gender and politics, both writers apply this idea in order to provide a cutting satire the vices of an 18th century society unable to conform to its own standards of rationality, morality and restraint.
Gulliver’s Travels: Based on a True Story?
An opening title card introduces the 1996 movie Fargo as one that is not only based on a true story, but with the exception of name changes made at the request of the survivors, a film that proceeds to present the events of that true story exactly as they occurred. In fact, not a single event presented in Fargo is based on a true story (Chaloupka 163). On the other hand, the opening credits of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid significantly tamp down its claims of authenticity relative to Fargo with a title card suggesting that “Most of what follows is true” and then proceeds to live up to that promise surprisingly well for a Hollywood western. In between those two extremes lie a seemingly endless number of movies that profess to be factual, but deliver the goods in an amazingly inconsistent manner. From the way in which Hollywood constantly tries to lend its product some kind of greater value with claims to authenticity, it would appear that the mistrust of fiction so strongly urged by Plato thousands of years ago remains firmly in place (Halliwell 50). A significant amount of the voluminous satire that permeates through every page of Gulliver’s Travels is directed toward this deep-seated suspicion of the worth of fiction and the often ridiculous extremes to which creative artists will go to create worth in their own creations by attaching a perception of authenticity to it that, paradoxically, is utterly fictitious.
The mistrust of fiction is always at its greatest when the medium for delivering that fiction is new and unfamiliar. Such was the case for the novel during the period in which Jonathan Swift was composing Gulliver’s Travels. When that new medium of presenting fiction occurs during a period in which scientific exploration was beginning to displace old notions of religion, superstition and myth, asserting an empirical verisimilitude within the fiction takes on even greater importance. “The transference of detail to manifest fictions may create verisimilitude, for it appropriates to fiction a strategy of recording reality, the world of brute and unignorable fact. But the impetus for it involves ways of thinking and experiencing rather than a rhetoric calculated to convince doubters. Novelists repeatedly assured readers that the substance of their story was real and historical and that their account was faithful–a reporting of actuality” (Hunter 200).
Nowhere, perhaps, Swift engage this aching need of authors the earliest British novels in the mind of the reader a curious recognition of quantifiable authenticity than when he has Gulliver first provide an excruciatingly detailed account of what it was like to eat, and sleep and go the bathroom among the giants of Brobdingnag was like only to then explain why he has just expended so much time over explaining a situation the reader hardly needs to know at all. “I hope, the gentle Reader will excuse me for dwelling on these and the like Particulars; which however insignificant they may appear to grovelling vulgar Minds, yet will certainly help a Philosopher to enlarge his Thoughts and Imagination, and apply them to the Benefit of publick as well as private Life; which was my sole Design in presenting this and other Accounts of my Travels to the World;* wherein I have been chiefly studious of Truth, without affecting any Ornaments of Learning, or of Style” (Swift 82). What sort of philosopher might be capable of enlarging his thought and imagination to the point that he could utilize the information Gulliver has provided on any of the matters he details so precisely can only be imagined, but Gulliver does provide a clue in the form of a satirical arrow aimed with great precision when he admits to editing “out several Passages of less Moment which were in my first Copy, for fear of being censured as tedious and trifling, whereof Travellers are often, perhaps not without justice, accused” (Swift 82).
The “Travellers” that Swift targets for overindulging in detail designed to lend a greater sense of verisimilitude and a voice of authority are not the Irish Gypsies selling their wares, but writers of travel adventures that were an enormously popular antecedent to the novel and essential in its early evolution. “The first novelists openly tried to capitalize on the contemporary popularity of travel books by suggesting the similarity of their wares” (Hunter 353) and one of the most successful was Daniel Defoe. Defoe, Aphra Behn and other early English novelists all managed to incorporate a little bit of travel adventure into many of their stories and the adoption of the techniques of establishing authenticity are a vital a part of those prototypes of the modern novel as the preface.
Perhaps Jonathan Swift was as bewildered by the necessity of a work of fiction needing prefatory material as the modern day reader. Most novelists today and for some time have not felt the need provide information in the form a preface, which is a stylistic convention typically associated with non-fiction material. English novels of the 18th century almost invariably contained a preface and usually for the purpose of creating that false sense of authenticity. The prefatory material of 18th century novels was the “Based on a True Story” of film and TV.
The fact that the preface is associated with non-fiction and used to extensive effect in these novels is neither incidental nor accidental. Their entire purpose is establish in the reader the idea that he is about to read something real and true-to-live, if not necessary factual. Such is the inherent preposterousness of the preface of many novels to establish such veracity that Swift provides a satirical perspective on them in the form of not, not two, but three different pieces of prefatory material existing only for the purpose of creating a foundation of reality for the story that finally starts about a dozen pages in. The advertisement, the letter from Captain Gulliver to his cousin Sympson and the direct address to the reader from the publisher would all—in a work of non-fiction—help the set the stage of the believability of the story they are about to read. In the hands of the English novelists who adopted the preface for their works of fiction, the material accomplishes nearly the same thing.
In the hands of Jonathan Swift, however, the sharp edge of the cutting satire which is the intent of the prefatory material reaches attains the status of lethal weapon with the appearance that the publisher himself is taking the time to publicly assure readers there “is an Air of Truth apparent through the whole; and indeed the Author was so distinguished for his Veracity,* that it became a Sort of Proverb among his Neighbours at Redriff, when any one affirmed a Thing, to say, it was as true as if Mr Gulliver had spoke it” (Sympson xxxvii). That Defoe may once again be considered a prime target of Swift’s satire seems easy enough to prove in consideration of the very similar pronouncement by the supposed editor of Robinson Crusoe that he believes it to be nothing more nor less than a history of fact.
Ultimately, the accumulation of facts as supportive evidence of an authentic truth is both what exists throughout 18th century novels and what is the focus of much of the satire of Gulliver’s Travels. Or, as John Mullan defines the situation so accurately, “detail is presented as if it were synonymous with credibility” (Mullan). So ingrained into the very fabric of the English novel even by the time it was ripe for satire at the end of Swift’s pen was this misapprehension of detail upon detail upon detail as a substitute for credible authenticity that the attention of the reader does even have to be directed toward the questionable conclusion to be drawn for Swift’s humor to slice through.
Upon being released from his constraints after washing ashore on in the land of Lilliput, Gulliver is directed to submit a search of his pockets after which is compiled an inventory of possession and belongings found upon his person including, but not limited to: silver and copper coins, a purse with nine large pieces of gold and several small pieces, knife, razor, comb, silver snuff box, journal, scimitar, pistols and a pouch (Swift 23). Of course, it is worth noting that the description of the search which results in this inventory is far more verbose with exhaustive detailing of not just the objects, but the process of searching that located them. While the compilation of details of what is found in Gulliver’s pockets does have the cumulative effect of presenting what was quite likely a fairly credible account of the items that a traveler such a Gulliver might have equipped himself with on such a voyage, the ultimate point realization that arrives as a result of such a compilation is far more biting in its satire.
Plainly put: just how, exactly, did Gulliver manage to make it from the ocean in which he found himself adrift and struggling for survival to the shores of Lilliput with such a comprehensive collection of belongings still intact? The mind positively boggles as the equitable struggle it would take for any reader to accept such a factual account of a real life survival story without blinking an eye. What really seems to be at stake throughout much of what the reader learns from Gulliver about his travels is not so much a satirical undermining of conventional beliefs about the nature of man as he relates to other creatures or as a creature of rationality and scientific inquiry so much as the much more specific nature of his gullibility. In Gulliver’s Travels, Swift’s satirical lens magnifies with each successive voyage the distinctly irrational insistence by authors throughout time to impress upon their reader an inherent validity and utilitarian purpose to their stories through the act of attaching to it a paradoxically unreal source of authentication of its veracity.
Chaloupka, William. Everybody Knows: Cynicism in America. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota, 1999.
Halliwell, Stephen. The Aesthetics of Mimesis: Ancient Texts and Modern Problems. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2002.
Hunter, J. Paul. Before Novels: The Cultural Contexts of Eighteenth-Century English Fiction. New York: W. W. Norton, 1990.
Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. Ed. Paul Turner. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998.
Political Comparisons Between Gulliver’s Travels and Herland
Change is inevitable; it grows with the next generation and time and time again sneaks up on those that are not looking for it. This is true for music, fashion, literature, religion, and even politics. The tide of any of these subjects may change dramatically in a short period, however, the basic principles of each are never truly lost. The reoccurrence of once obsolete ideals can be proven simply by looking at the past and comparing to our current situation. This is also seen in literary plots spanning from the 1800s to today. The novels I am focusing on, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift and Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, are two prime examples of retrograde literature and the ability of essential doctrines to move from the past into novels of the future. Though authors may unknowingly do so, they are responsible for this continuation and the production of novels with identical or similar concepts. Although Gulliver’s Travels was written before Herland, they both mention politics and religion as overarching themes throughout the stories.
Gulliver’s Travels covers the adventures of Lemuel Gulliver as he discovers a number of unknown colonies with peculiar residents. Though his initial reaction, when arriving at Lilliput, is one of shock at the tiny citizens that attempt to restrain him, he also is presented with the political system that is Lilliput’s kingdom. The emperor, a hospitable man once Gulliver provides him with decent entertainment and protection, rules over a noble system and kingdom. This usually successful model is corrupted by the emperor’s willingness to place his friends and loved ones in positions of power, an act of blatant nepotism. Comparably, the king of the Brobdingnagians often contemplates the necessary actions for his government to be acceptable at least, exceptional at most. Other kings, like the one that rules over Luggnaggia, refused to consider the political ramifications of his actions; instead, he chose to force his subjects to flatter him and obey his every order and command. Finally, the Laputian king chose monetary gain over the success of his own kingdom, by selling off the lands that surrounded them he gained power through money, not respect. Swift may not be inherently misogynistic, but his continued placement of a male as the head of all ficticous governments in his novel perpetuates the stereotype that women are incapable of leading. This is most likely due to the time period Gulliver’s Travels was produced within, it is just an unfortunate view to have, especially when compared with the equality-driven society of Herland.
The patriarchcal model seen throughout Gulliver’s Travels is not easily overlapped with the socialist society seen within Herland. Rather than uplifting a singular person or a small class of well off individuals, the women within Herland’s society shift their focus to communal peace. The action of treating the entire community as if it is one large family produces individual members who care more about their sisters than they do themselves. Though some may see this as self-destructive, to this particular society, the concept of socialism provides a simple and trustworthy community in which they can raise their children. Common education and communal farming insure no inequality will take place, thus also insuring there will not be quarrels over “special treatment”. Furthermore, the lack of laws showcases the advancement these women have already made; there is not violence or a need for disagreement because they have reached their prime potential, only moving forward to further scientific and research based operations. There is a large difference with Gulliver’s Travels as we see a different political system in Herland than any mentioned in the former novel. Where Swift seems so focused on the necessity of a formal, rigid political structure, Gilman prefers a more simplistic approach. The change of ideals is stark, a night and day comparison of sorts; it is near impossible to find even a slight continuation from the early 1800s publication of Gulliver to the early 1900s publication of Herland and the Amazonian-like women. Gilman does not produce a singular leader within her colony of self-reproducing females; they all view each other as equals to not only those within their society, but also those who stumble upon them. However curious they may be, the women are not afraid of the men, nor do they feel the need to elect one their king and serve under him.
Though it is true in certain aspects that history does repeat itself, it is difficult to find such close comparisons when location, author age and gender, and a span of about a century create the differences spotted. Gulliver’s Travels enforces an age old idea that a patriarchy is the best option for a civilized land while Herland accepts the notion that perhaps there is no need for a ruling body. Given the fact that these two novels present quite separate ideas of a utopia it is not entirely fair to claim one as correct and the other as misinformed; however, it is not impossible to tell which literary piece and author expanded their frame of thinking to include larger possibilities for politics and leadership.