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

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Misanthropic Nature of Gulliver and Swift

In the introduction of Gulliver’s Travels, the editor writes, “at the heart of Gulliver’s Travels lies the question, what does it mean to be a human being”. The answer, as expressed in the story, is given in a misanthropic way. Through Gulliver, hatred and mistrust of humankind is expressed as a very prominent emotion in the story.
From the beginning of part four of Gulliver’s Travels, Swift’s description of the Yahoos, the human race of the country, immediately shows a hatred for human kind. His description leads contemporary society to envision a cave man like creature. Gulliver, in the beginning, does not recognize the similarities between the Yahoos and himself. Through this omission of thought, he is able to express his true hatred for the creatures. He states that, “I never beheld in all my travels so disagreeable an animal, nor one against which I naturally conceived so strong antipathy”. Such a strong statement towards the appearance of the human form is a direct acknowledgement of the misanthropic nature of the work.
Gulliver’s portrayal off human nature seems to omit all positive aspects while highlighting all the negative aspects. In areas in which there are good aspects to the things he depicts, he exaggerates in such a way that he is able to portray everything in an evil light. Gulliver tells of criminals, war, lawyers and the law, medicine, and disease. He tells nothing of education, God, love, or family.
The first of the negative actions portrayed by Gulliver is lying. The houyhnhnms have no term for lying for it defeats the soul purpose of communications, “to make us understand one another, and to receive information of facts”. Through the eyes of the houyhnhnms we are able to see the irrationality of lying. Gulliver himself, states that he “learned from his example an utter detestation of all falsehood or disguise”. Portrayal of truth and lies in this way shows the disdain towards just one human habit.
The next appalling habit portrayed is the nature of some humans to commit crimes. He explains that there are people who committed acts of drinking, whoring, gaming, murder, theft, and rape. Nowhere in his depiction of human kind does he tell of the good in people. Once again, through omission of facts, the reader can understand the total disregard for the human race through the story of Gulliver’s Travels.
Even the depiction of law is skewed into the most negative possible light. He does not tell of the need for law to protect the people from the criminals, instead it is portrayed as a protector of criminals.
Swift depicts many actions of humans as extremely irrational. This is done through exaggerations by Gulliver, the complete omission of the positive aspects of human nature, and through the judgment made upon the actions by the extremely “rational” houyhnhnms. While it is unclear if the misanthrope of Gulliver’s Travels is Gulliver himself or Jonathan Swift, an author tends to write what he knows. While Swift’s feelings may not have been as extreme as those depicted in this story, it appears that some amount of disdain toward humankind must have existed for Jonathan Swift.


Blogger ccmdude said...

Your use of quotes to give credibility to your essay is very effective. Also, you have a point about Gulliver only protraying the unpleasant side of us humans.
Nicely done.

4:44 PM  

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