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“Gulliver’s Travels” a Book by Jonathan Swift Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Aug 12th, 2019

Introduction

Jonathan Swift wrote “Gulliver’s travels” in order to satirize European and British society and also to satirize human nature. Through the different tales, Gulliver illustrates just how man acts and thinks inconsistently. Sometimes these analyses dwell on different communities while in other instances they focus on his community.

In other instances, it is the social structures that Gulliver objects to while in other scenarios, it is really the individual. Sometimes he attacks humanity and sometimes he attacks himself. What all these contrasts have in common is that they reflect the shortcomings of human beings.

Purpose of the book

In the first part of the writing, Swift introduces readers to a petty and pretentious race of humans who happen to be less than six inches tall. He must have chosen such a size in order to eliminate the perception that man is great because of his physical abilities.

One would therefore assume that this small size may have played a part in the Lilliputians wickedness, but this thinking is immediately eroded when one reads about the Brobdingnagians in the next section. They perceive Gulliver in the same way that the Lilliputians because Gulliver is only a fraction of their size.

Although this community does possess some positive attributes, they are also manipulative and selfish because they use Gulliver to get money. By contrasting two completely opposite communities i.e. the Brobdingnagians and the Lilliputians, Swift satirizes the pride that humans derive from their appearances; no form is devoid of vice.

Other aspects of the book keep attacking man’s inadequacies as a species. For instance, Swift selects horses as a representation of the ‘ideal society’. They were rational and free from excesses unlike human counterparts which were the Yahoos.

According to the narrative, the Yahoos were the worst representation of human society yet Gulliver soon realizes that all humans are Yahoos in one way or another. What’s worse is that at least the Yahoos did not disguise their wickedness while humans like Gulliver did this with their clean shaven faces and well kept nails.

Furthermore, when the Master Houyhnhnm hears about the ways of the humans he concludes that human beings are the worst kind. For instance, when Gulliver tells this leader about lawyers who make money by lying, one immediately sees a resemblance with the Yahoos who rarely make honest dealings with each other. Gulliver also says that Ministers of State get elected for development purposes but most will focus on their own ambitions and destroy others’ credibility.

The Yahoos also exhibited this kind of greedy behavior when they fought over a small shiny rock or when they needed to control supplies even when there was enough for all. Human beings often go to war over petty differences in opinion just like the Yahoos fought over the slightest issues. In essence, the author is satirizing human pride by comparing it to such beastly creatures.

He is showing them that despite the pleasant appearances that human posses, there are certain deficiencies that reduce the human species to a beastly and unwanted race as the Yahoos.

At some point, Swift also satirizes British society and its perceptions of progress. For instance, when rescued by Laputa, he soon realizes that sometimes excessive reasoning and rationalities can be of little use. People in this Island were wasting a lot of time and resources on useless experiments such as smelling people’s excretions for proof of political conspiracies.

The author may have been directly satirizing the body of scientists in his community who also focus on several experiments that have minimal uses. He wanted to show that realism and practical use was much more important than these excesses.

British society has many deficiencies in terms of its political environment and this narrative has exposed and criticized a number of them. For instance when Gulliver goes to live with the Lilliputians, he does a lot of things for them as he saves them from an enemy that would have destroyed them without his intervention.

Consequently, they should have treated him with all the dignity and respect that they endorsed. In fact, this community had a law they had written about ingratitude; one could get punished if one did not adhere to those standards. Nonetheless when Gulliver disagrees with the King concerning Blefuscudians, the King immediately accuses him of treason.

It is almost as if all the help Gulliver gave them was for nothing because what mattered was that Gulliver sided with the King. This incident illustrates that the Lilliputians appeared to be well meaning theoretically but in practice they did not live to their own expectations.

That scenario also applies to the narrator’s community; in as much as politics is necessary for governance, it is characterized by a lot of pretentions and back stabbing. His society has very novel ideas but was ruining them through these pretensions. In other words, he was satirizing some of the shortcomings in British politics.

Jonathan Swift critiques European societies in general when he talks about guns and cannons with the King of Brobdingnag. At this point, Gulliver actually thinks that he is sharing something so precious with the King. He tells him about gunpowder and its use and expects him to embrace it wholeheartedly.

Gulliver is therefore surprised that the King rejects it and even thinks of the King as a narrow minded person. It is such a pity that Gulliver thinks along these lines because he looks at things from the European perspective and not a human perspective.

He was actually selling to the King a new method of torturing and killing other human beings. Swift was therefore demonstrating that persons in European nations are always quick to wage war and would have jumped at the prospect of learning about gun powder.

The author also satirizes the sense of entitlement that European nations possess especially as they seek to colonize others. Gulliver feels that imperialists are behaving arrogantly and deceptively because they claim to civilize nations by attacking and oppressing native communities who had done nothing to the colonizers in order to warrant such ruthless acts. In the last chapter, the narrator of the story affirms that imperialism actually stems from greed so he voices these complaints.

It should be noted that Gulliver himself happened to be a mouthpiece concerning the evils of human nature. At the beginning, Gulliver is innocent and highly optimistic about life in general.

However, as he continues to interact with many evil, petty, gross and absurd individuals, his naivety slowly gets eroded. He now becomes highly critical of humans and therefore illustrates how other people’s wickedness can actually take away the little good that maybe left in others as was the case with the narrator of the book.

Conclusion

Through the narrative, Jonathan Swift satirizes and exposes human inadequacies. This is illustrated through the weaknesses of the various people that Gulliver meets and also through his own shortcomings. Swift also explains why these inadequacies persist by showing that pride covers those immoralities and causes man to continue living in this state of wickedness.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "“Gulliver’s Travels” a Book by Jonathan Swift." August 12, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/gullivers-travels/.

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