Jonathan Swift: Gulliver's Travels
The following entry presents criticism of Swift's Gulliver's Travels. See also, A Modest Proposal Criticism.
Swift's greatest satire, Gulliver's Travels, is considered one of the most important works in the history of world literature. Published as Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts; by Lemuel Gulliver in 1726, Gulliver's Travels depicts one man's journeys to several strange and unusual lands. The general theme of Gulliver's Travels is a satirical examination of human nature, man's potential for depravity, and the dangers of the misuse of reason. Throughout the volume Swift attacked the baseness of humankind even as he suggested the greatest virtues of the human race; he also attacked the folly of human learning and political systems even as he implied the proper functions of art, science, and government. Gulliver's Travels, some scholars believe, had its origins during Swift's years as a Tory polemicist, when he was part of a group of prominent Tory writers known as the Scriblerus Club. The group, which also included Alexander Pope, John Gay, and John Arbuthnot, among others, collaborated on several satires, including The Scriblerus Papers. They also planned a satire called The Memoirs of a Martinus Scriblerus, which was to include several imaginary voyages. An immediate success, Gulliver's Travels was inspired by this work. Swift finished Gulliver's Travels was published anonymously, but Swift's authorship was widely suspected. Alternately considered an attack on humanity or a clear-eyed assessment of human strengths and weaknesses, the novel is a complex study of human nature and of the moral, philosophical, and scientific thought of Swift's time which has resisted any single definition of meaning for nearly three centuries.
Plot and Major Characters
Written in the form of a travel journal, Gulliver's Travels is the fictional account of four extraordinary voyages made by Lemuel Gulliver, a physician who signs on to serve as a ship's surgeon when he is unable to provide his family with a sufficient income
in London. After being shipwrecked Gulliver first arrives at Lilliput, an island whose inhabitants are just six inches tall and where the pettiness of the political system is mirrored in the diminutive size of its citizens.
Gulliver is referred to as the "Man-Mountain" by the Lilliputians and is eventually pressed into service by the King in a nonsensical war with the neighboring island of Blefuscu. Gulliver finally escapes Lilliput and returns briefly to England before a second voyage takes him to Brobdingnag. There he finds himself dwarfed by inhabitants who are sixty feet tall. Gulliver's comparatively tiny size now makes him wholly dependent on the protection and solicitude of others, and he is imperiled by dangerous encounters with huge rats and a curious toddler. Gulliver, however, incurs the disdain of the kindly and virtuous Brobdingnagian rulers when his gunpowder display, intended to impress his hosts as an exemplary product of European civilization, proves disastrous. An address Gulliver delivers to the Brobdingnagians describing English political practices of the day is also met with much scorn. Housed in a miniature box, Gulliver abruptly departs Brobdingnag when a giant eagle flies off with him and drops him in the ocean. He soon embarks on his third voyage to the flying island of Laputa, a mysterious land inhabited by scientists, magicians, and sorcerers who engage in abstract theorizing and conduct ill-advised experiments based on flawed calculations. Here Gulliver also visits Glubbdubdrib where it is possible to summon the dead and to converse with such figures as Aristotle and Julius Caesar. He also travels to Luggnagg, where he encounters the Struldbrugs, a group of people who are given immortality, yet are condemned to live out their eternal existence trapped in feeble and decrepit bodies. Once again Gulliver returns to England before a final journey, to the land of the Houyhnhnms, who are a superior race of intelligent horses. But the region is also home to the Yahoos, a vile and depraved race of ape-like creatures. Gulliver is eventually exiled from Houyhnhnm society when the horses gently insist that Gulliver must return to live among his own kind. After this fourth and final voyage, he returns to England, where he has great difficulty adjusting to everyday life. All people everywhere remind him of the Yahoos.
Each of the four voyages in Gulliver's Travels serves as a vehicle for Swift to expose and excoriate some aspect of human folly. The first voyage has been interpreted as an allegorical satire of the political events of the early eighteenth century, a commentary on the moral state of England, a general satire on the pettiness of human desires for wealth and power, and a depiction of the effects of unwarranted pride and self-promotion. The war with the tiny neighboring island of Blefuscu represents England's rivalry with France. In Brobdingnag, Gulliver's diminutive status serves as a reminder of how perspective and viewpoint alter one's condition and claims to power in society. The imperfect, yet highly moral Brobdingnagians represent, according to many critics, Swift's conception of ethical rulers. The voyage to Laputa, the flying island, is a scathing attack upon science in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and reveals Swift's thorough acquaintance with the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, the leading publication of the scientific community of his day. The third voyage unequivocally manifests Swift's contempt and disdain for abstract theory and ideology that is not of practical service to humans. But it is the voyage to the land of the Houyhnhnms that reveals Swift's ultimate satiric object—man's inability to come to terms with his true nature. In particular, the Houyhnhnms are interpreted as symbols and examples of a human order that, although unattainable, deserves to remain an ideal, while the Yahoos are found to be the representatives of the depths of humanity's potential fall if that ideal is abandoned.
Gulliver's Travels has always been Swift's most discussed work. Critics have provided a wide variety of interpretations of each of the four voyages, of Swift's satiric targets, and of the narrative voice. But scholars agree that most crucial to an understanding of Gulliver's Travels is an understanding of the fourth voyage, to the land of the Houyhnhnms. Merrel D. Clubb has noted that "the longer that one studies Swift, the more obvious it becomes that the interpretations and verdict to be placed on the 'Voyage to the Houyhnhnms' is, after all, the central problem of Swift criticism." Much of the controversy surrounds three possible interpretations of the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos. One school of thought has traditionally viewed the Yahoos as a satiric representation of debased humanity, while taking the Houyhnhnms as representatives of Swift's ideals of rationality and order. The two races are thus interpreted as symbols of the dual nature of humanity, with Gulliver's misanthropy based on his perception of the flaws of human nature and the failure of humanity to develop its potential for reason, harmony, and order. Another critical position considers both the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos to be the subject of satire, with the Yahoos representing the physical baseness of humans and the Houyhnhnms representing the fatuousness of the idea that humans will ever achieve a rationally-ordered existence. The ultimate satiric intent of the work to critics who accept this interpretation is that the only truly rational or enlightened beings in existence are not humans, but another species altogether. Since the 1950s, however, a variety of critics have tempered these readings by illuminating the complexity of purpose in the fourth voyage. The Houyhnhnms and Yahoos are now most often discussed as both satiric objects and representatives of the duality of human nature. The nature of Gulliver is another much-debated element of the Travels. Early critics generally viewed him as the mouthpiece of Swift. Modern critics, who recognize the subtlety of Swift's creation of Gulliver, have discredited that position. The most significant contemporary debate is concerned with Swift's intentions regarding the creation of Gulliver—whether he is meant to be a consistently realized character, a reliable narrator, or a satiric object whose opinions are the object of Swift's ridicule. This debate over the nature of Gulliver is important because critics seek to determine whether Gulliver is intended to be a man with definite character traits who undergoes a transformation, or an allegorical representative of humanity. In general, Gulliver is now considered a flexible persona manipulated by Swift to present a diversity of views or satirical situations and to indicate the complexity, the ultimate indefinability, of human nature. Many scholars have suggested that Gulliver's Travels has no ultimate meaning but to demand that readers regard humanity without the prejudices of pessimism or optimism, and accept human beings as a mixture of good and evil. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century critics of Swift were primarily interested in aspects of his character, although a few did actually discuss the meaning and merits of his work at length. The eighteenth-century critics were most concerned with depicting Swift's perceived immorality and misanthropy, and they often argued their case with the help of misrepresentations, or deliberate fabrications of facts. Swift's defenders, in attacking these critics, provided the first real criticism of Swift, in particular pointing out the misrepresentations of his life. Twentieth-century critics have been confronted with the task of sifting through the misconceptions to reevaluate Swift's total achievement. There are many psychological examinations of Swift's character; the psychoanalysts, however, have often been criticized for neglecting the literary or intellectual traditions of Swift's age when associating his works with supposed neurotic tendencies. Some commentators believed that psychoanalytic critics also make an obvious mistake when they identify Swift with his characters, assuming, for example, that Gulliver's comments reflect the opinions of his creator. Close textual analysis has demonstrated the complicated elements of Swift's works and proven that they do not always reflect his personal opinions, but are carefully written to reflect the opinions of Swift's created narrators. A master of simple yet vividly descriptive prose and of a style so direct that if often masks the complexity of his irony, Swift is praised for his ability to craft his satires entirely through the eyes of a created persona. He is now regarded as a complex though not mysterious man who created works of art which will permit no single interpretation. The massive amount of criticism devoted to Swift each year reflects his continued literary importance: his work is valuable not for any statement of ultimate meaning, but for its potential for raising questions in the mind of the reader.
A Modest, Modern Proposal For preventing the Descendants of Immigrant and Indigenous Americans, as well as Slaves and Pioneers, Recent Refugees and Pilgrim Refugees, from being a Burden on their Politicians, Enforcement Officials or Country, and for making the efficient perusal of their genetic heritage and national/religious affiliations Beneficial to the Publick – (after Jonathan Swift, 1729).
1 – It is a melancholy object to those who travel through this Once-Great Nation to consider the difficulties in enforcing new Regulations on Citizenship, and also to view “the rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape” as Referenced during the Inauguration.
2 – I think it is agreed by all Parties, meaning Two, that prodigious numbers of humans are because of appearance (melanin, hair, eye, mouth, limb) or age (infant, extremely aged), costume (dresses, jeans, eyeglasses, professional-sports-gear, hoodies, scarves, boots, stiletto heels), or geographic location (lettuce field, fulfillment center, elementary classroom, college cafeteria, hospital, truck) impossible to identify as Citizen or Non-Citizen. New methods shall be necessary, and also shall be an Economic Boon.
3 – First there should be Laminated Cards, and Lanyards. These are Primitive but Practical early necessities which, more importantly, allow for early Job Creation – favorite term of Politicks since 2011. Manufacturing Jobs will abound in each State, where fabrication of a card for each human, as well as the production of laminate, will necessitate hiring of Americans. Presently, Identifications are inconsistent and diverse: green cards, work visas, student visas, travel visas, passports, etc. These laminated National Identification Cards, worn at all times, even by infants, will be the Early Phase. (As at Daycare, Summer Camp, College, or Work, Lanyards prevent Loss.)
In varying shades, depending on the human, text may read:
I look “Latino” or “Hispanic” but I am Filipino-American; my Spanish surname is the result of colonization.
I look “White” but have a Mexican surname because my ancestors were Germans who settled in the state of Aguascalientes.
I look “Muslim” but I am an evangelical Christian whose tribal affiliation in Nigeria is Yoruba.
I look “Mexican” but I am Brazilian.
Yes, I have no surname – man, what’s wrong with you? Didn’t you watch the Olympics?
We will quickly rebuild our Economy with these factories, in each state, as well as the factories producing new uniforms for Enforcement Teams, and fabricating new Fleet Vehicles. It would be hoped that Americans are willing to take these manufacturing jobs.
4 – For those who are Dubious, let us Enumerate the Impracticalities of other options:
Cloth, as used in the Yellow Stars of David, first introduced in Poland in 1939, then modified in Germany in 1941, and which use was inconsistent then with Polish Jews wearing a star 10 centimeters wide on their right arms, just below the armpit, and German Jews wearing a larger star (“Jude” identified merely religion, and nothing else) on the left side of the chest, would never work with the Variety of Clothing now available.
Metal, as used in Dog Tags worn by American military members, no matter their ancestry or religion of place of birth, is easily destroyed, as evidenced by the trend begun during the Conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, where bodies were Disassembled by roadside incendiary devices and other means, so that those fighting for Peace had their Dog Tag information tattooed on their bodies for certainty of identification for Loved Ones at home.
Tattoos, also used in Nazi Germany, wherein a sequence of numbers were inked on to the wrists of humans taken to concentration camps, are not an Industry that can be “brought back to the places in our nation ravaged by job loss”, as there are too many health issues with injection of ink, and as well a Multiplicity of Tattoos can already be found on many humans residing in America, sometimes Full Sleeves.
Slave Passes, commonly used before the Civil War, were handwritten with specifics – One Colored Man, Allowed on the River Road, for One Day, July 12, 1854 – and meticulously cared for by their bearers, to avoid beating or death, but were merely Paper, and most Americans have no use for Paper, or for Cursive Writing.
Chips, embedded under flesh, might require frequent removal and alteration as to discoveries: if a human finds he was adopted, if a daughter finds her mother lied about her parentage, if a refugee becomes a citizen, if a citizen becomes a refugee, if Pilgrims become Banned, if someone who was once not legal to marry becomes someone else.
5 – The Second Phase, Therefore, avoids Inconsistency and Impracticality, and Creates even more Jobs. With Advances in Science, as evidenced by Ancestry.com and 23& Me, visible on Television to Anyone in the Current Administration, all Residents will be Required to Pay for their own DNA Tests. Many Americans are already subject to blood and urine analysis, such as professional athletes and fulfillment associates, so Mandatory Testing is both Logical and Beneficial.
Remarkable Industry will thus be located in all Fifty States, and possibly Guam, Puerto Rico, and Some Other Places.
DNA Processing Laboratories will require new employees – Alas, most of these workers will need Higher Education in Genetics, Technology and Support, Computer Engineering, and other areas for which the Nation now imports H-1B VISA employees, but there will be need for Phlebotomists, to efficiently Draw the Blood, lines of hopeful faces and children clutching at knees, everyone with a Small Bandage on an arm. There will be more need for Manufacture of Bandages.
6 – Barcodes, then, will be the Triumphant Result of the Aforementioned Chromosomal Processing, and those Barcodes will be transferred on to the Laminated and Lanyard-Held Cards. The most Impressive Job Creation, then, will be Enforcement and Construction of New Enforcement Centers.
Massive Enforcement Centers would be more Beneficial, and Construction Jobs will be created, building along the model of Brightly-Lit Fulfillment Centers, which now occupy thousands of acres in America, and work so well for Various Corporations. In each state, Enforcement Centers could be Centerpieces of Modern Design.
Whereas Jonathan Swift’s 1729 Proposal was detailed and intricate, but far too lengthy for 2017, whereas Primary Communication for the Powerful is often restricted to 140 Characters, let this summation be brief.
I profess that in the sincerity of my heart I have no Personal or Potential Profit in this endeavor, no other Motive than the Publick Safety of my own neighbors, one family which has members born in Mexico, California, and Arizona, whose teenaged son asked me recently “Are we all gonna have to wear Green Cards around our Necks?”, as well as my own children, whose genetic American heritage is African, Cherokee, French, Swiss, Irish, Refugee, Indentured, Immigrant, Coloradan, Tennessean, Oklahoman, Californian, so that my Only Desire, which Desire is commonly shared among all Humans, is that my Descendants not be summarily Detained or Taken from their Native Land, or from me.
Susan Straight is the author of Highwire Moon, a book about a mother and daughter separated by deportation