This is a course blog for the members of EH236 at the University of South Alabama, Spring 2006.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Gulliver's Travels, misanthropic or not?

In Gulliver’s Travels, there seems to be a constantly reoccurring aspect. Chiefly, Gulliver persistently tries to distance himself from the Yahoos. In a way, his behavior could be counted as merely his survival instincts taking control of his actions. However, even after Gulliver is accepted by the Houyhnhnms, he continues in his denial of being related to the Yahoos.

The question must now be asked, why did Gulliver so adamantly refuse the existence of any relationship whatsoever with the Yahoos? It could be in part due to the utter disgust which Gulliver felt when he looked upon a Yahoo and saw himself and his fellow Europeans in the Yahoo’s eyes. He, in many ways, represents mankind by his unwillingness to accept the truth. Instead, he seeks to hide his true identity. Take for instance the matter of his clothing. He seeks to mask his humanly form so that there will be less resemblance between himself and the Yahoos. However, even after he is found out by a servant, he succeeds in corrupting his master by convincing him to conceal his form and maintain a lie. This in itself illustrates the infectious nature of falsehood and deception. Nevertheless, later on in his narrative, he proclaims to have “learned from his [the master horse] example an utter detestation of all falsehood or disguise; and truth appeared so amiable to me, that I determined upon sacrificing every thing to it”.

However, if truth “appeared so amiable” to him, why was he causing all his relatives back in Europe to go through unnecessary pain by believing the lie that he was dead? Should he not have sought a way to return and forgo them all the undo hardship they were going through? Once again, the flaw which is present in all men rears its ugly head, the flaw of selfishness overrides his good intent. From this view point, Gulliver’s Travels can be seen as misanthropic because of the common reoccurrence of illustrations describing the depravity of mankind.

In so many cases in our world, a man becomes angry because he sees his flaws in the countenance of those who surround him. This happens because he subconsciously recognizes where he fails and he reacts by criticizing these same flaw which he sees in others. This is undoubtedly one of the reasons that Gulliver tries to separate himself from the Yahoos. Some of the problems he sees include the comical behavior they exhibit when two of them have found a stone which possessive precious value in their eyes. It is through their continuous arguing that another Yahoo is able to take the stone without their knowledge. This is as Gulliver perceives a representation of the legal system which we employ. While Swift’s comparison may be a little exaggerated, he skillfully shows how Gulliver is not necessarily upset by the Yahoos behavior, but by the fact that he perceives those same behaviors and tendencies in himself.

Therefore, the question of whether Swift’s work is misanthropic or not should be answered with a certain degree of caution involved. Since it is impossible to fully ascertain Swift’s true motive for writing Gulliver’s Travels, it is likewise impossible to make an absolute judgment on his motives. One could certainly say that Gulliver’s Travels is definitely criticizing mankind and his short comings, but as to what extent the criticism goes cannot be know for sure.


Blogger heavnboundheifer said...

Your blog was very very insightful. It made me look at the story in a way I normally wouldn't have. You did a very good job of arguing your point and it came across great. Just make sure you develop your ideas completely and follow through in each paragraph. Good job!

10:21 PM  

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