LitLink

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

Monday, January 23, 2006

An Individual’s Reasoning of Swift’s Satire

I believe people can make a good argument supporting either the notion that Gulliver’s Travels is a misanthropic work or opposing this belief. After reading the excerpt, it is obvious Swift is severely criticizing “civilized” human society and its reasoning for the inhuman, contradictory and unjust things people do to each other.
Reason plays a major role in Gulliver’s account. It provides a standard by which the Houyhnhnms judge Gulliver’s description of the other Yahoos existing throughout the world who seem to possess this trait yet do not know how to use it in the correct manner, according to his master and eventually to Gulliver himself.
Swift’s story and the manner in which he deconstructs society, laying bare all its faults, directly falls in line with Enlightenment ideals that place major emphasis on using reason. Using this reason, Enlightenment thinkers believed it was essential to observe, analyze, compare and discuss. I believe this is what Swift attempted to do with this story.
He wanted to create a story that brought to light all of European society’s faults, shortcomings and lack of proper reasoning concerning aspects of life with which people concerns themselves such as “power, government, law, punishment and a thousand other things.” In order to make this kind of harsh criticism suitable for wary readers at that time, Swift developed a fantastical setting and story to go along with such a hard-to-swallow depiction of humans.
The imaginative tale encourages people to plunge into the story before they even realize it is actually a satire on the world in which they place their trust. I like the way in which Swift makes the whole idea of the story even more ironical by Gulliver’s assurance at the end of the story, “Besides, I meddle not the least with any party, but write without passion, prejudice, or ill-will against any man or number of men whatsoever.”
Considering this sentence and the few last pages of Gulliver’s account in which he attempts to explain to the reader the logic behind his musings, it is clear that Swift seeks to accomplish with his story all of the things Gulliver is denying.
Taking all of this into account and the story as a whole, I do not believe Gulliver’s Travels is a complete misanthropic work. I believe Swift obviously had many strong notions about the major and minor flaws within human society, but I do not believe this story was meant to express a complete hatred for humankind. I believe Swift was more concerned and disturbed by the behavior of man when belonging to and acting within the standards of distinct groups, such as lawyers, armies and families.
I draw my support for this argument from a letter Swift wrote to Alexander Pope in 1725 in which he expressed, “I have ever hated all nations, professions, and communities, and all my love is toward individuals.” Swift could find redeeming qualities in a single person that gave him or her the potential for great reasoning, as he shows with Gulliver, who is exalted by the Houyhnhnms and his master to be a clean, rational Yahoo. However, when put into groups, regardless of the nature of the groups, Swift believes man’s strong inclination towards power, desire, wealth, dishonesty, etc., prevails. As a result, society suffers and humans are no better than those we view as savages, no better than the Yahoos.

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