Is Jonathan Swift Really a Misanthrope?
In Gulliver’s travels I think that Jonathan Swift is trying to show people what human society is really like.He does this through 4 voyages each to a different imaginary place, where the people are a satire of a different aspect of human society, and in each voyage Swift is telling us what he thinks of human society through what Gulliver says, and what he sees.
Many people have described the book negatively for example William Thackeray, an 1850’s novelist described it as, “Filthy in word, filthy in thought, furious, raging, obscene,” and indeed over the two and a half centuries since it was first published it has caused a lot of controversy and has divided opinions.Gulliver’s first voyage is to a place called Lilliput.
The Lilliputians are small people, about 6 inches high, and this is a metaphor for their small-mindedness. Gulliver criticises the way the Lilliputians elect their ministers- by doing circus tricks, “… ith a dance on the rope and whoever jumps the highest succeeds in office. ” This quote is showing that Swift is annoyed that people have to ‘jump through hoops’ to get into office. This is one of the stupid laws in Lilliput. This is like politics in the 18th century and even now, in that the rich were the only ones in parliament in the 18th century, and now it is mostly the rich in parliament because they are the only ones who can finance a campaign. Another law is no urinating in the palace.
When a fire breaks out in the palace Gulliver does not want it to burn down, “This magnificent palace would have infallibly been burned to the ground,” so he urinates on it to put it out. Then the king of lilliput makes several articles against Gulliver. This is Swift satirising the ingratitude, hypocrisy and cruelty of the state, because he is talking about England, and it is also saying how a normal law could be used to drive out a person the king or prime minister didn’t like. At the end of the voyage to lilliput, my opinion of the Lilliputians is that they are ungrateful and small-minded.
They are ungrateful because they don’t thank Gulliver for saving the palace, they are small-minded because thy have a war with Blefuscu because they open their eggs at the other end. This is satire for the war with France over religion. This could show that Swift is misanthropic because he is only saying how they are against Gulliver not what good things they have done, if any. However this could show that Swift is not misanthropic because they might not have done anything good, and he only targets those who deserve it, the politicians. Gulliver’s second voyage is to Brobdignag.
Brobdignag is the land of the giants. I think that they are giants as a symbol of their great wisdom, the opposite of the Lilliputians. Gulliver tells the king there about European and English society and especially the wars. Gulliver says, “It was only a heap of conspiracies, rebellions… our ambition could produce. ” This quote seems misanthropic because Swift is criticising everything in human society and saying people only do bad things like rebel and murder. However Swift may be right and might only want the world to improve, and one way to do this is to tell people plainly and simply.
The king’s response to what Gulliver says in damning. He calls humans, ‘the most pernicious race of odious little vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl the earth. ” This is misanthropic because it is Swift saying exactly what he thinks of the human race. The third voyage is to Laputa, Glubbdubdrib and Luggnag. In Laputa, Swift is satirising scientists and intellectuals. The people in Laputa live on a floating island and use this fact to exploit those below them. I think this is a metaphor for the rich at the top of the hierarchy exploiting the poor below them in hierarchy. Also in Laputa are the scientists.
They have a personal servant that taps them on the mouth when they have to speak and on the ear when they have to listen. This is saying that scientists and intellectuals have to be reminded to listen to others because they think that what they say is right. Another thing the scientists do is invent stupid things, for example to get pigs to dig the fields by burying truffles for them to dig up, but the flaw is that you have to bury the truffles first so you might as well just dig the ground and not bury truffles. The second part of this voyage is to Glubbdubdrib. In Glubbdubdrib, Swift is satirising superstition and magic.
Gulliver gets the chance to go back in time and see what really happened in the past. He finds out that history is partly lies, “The world had been misled by prostitute writers, to ascribe the greatest exploits in war to cowards, the wisest council to fools, sincerity to flatterers, Roman virtue to betrayers of their country, piety to atheists, chastity to sodomites. ” This tells me that swift really thinks that history is lies and people who don’t deserve it have had all the glory. The final part of the third voyage is to Luggnagg. Gulliver tells us what he would do if he could live forever.
He says, ” … Procure myself riches… in the second place I would apply myself to the study of arts and science. Lastly I would carefully record every action and event of consequence that happened in the public… By which acquirement I should be a living treasury of knowledge and wisdom, and certainly become the oracle of the nation. ” Here Gulliver is saying that if he was a Struldbrugg, or immortal, he would first get riches for himself, then afterwards use his capacity to learn all things in arts and science, and use what he has learned to be the oracle of the nation.
However at the end of this voyage Gulliver sees what happens to them when they get extremely older then normal, they get even more deformed in proportion to their age, and are hated by all the other people, and he decide that he would rather die then live forever. In the voyage to Luggnagg, swift is making us think about whether all humans would use their capacity to help others, or whether they would just use it to become the richest person in the world. Gulliver’s fourth voyage is to the country of the Houyhnhnms. This is the place where horses, or houyhnhnms, are the dominant species, and the humans, or Yahoos, are the subordinate race.
Gulliver first finds this out when he is attacked by a group of Yahoos. He describes them as, “very singular and deformed. ” Gulliver then gives a long description of them, for example, “the females have long hair,” “The hair of both sexes was of several colours, brown, red, black and yellow. ” This is an ironic description of humans because Gulliver is describing exactly what a human is like naked and does not even realise it. The Yahoos “discharge their excrements” on Gulliver and this makes them seem barbaric and uncivilised.
Then, when two horses appear they walk around Gulliver softly in awe of his hat and his clothes “hanging off him. ” This is a direct comparison and is showing that humans are not as civilised as they think and that when shown from a different perspective, they can be the uncivilised ones. When Gulliver goes to the house of the horses he sees that it is like a human house but with things horses need like a manger to eat from. Gulliver is soon compared to a Yahoo, and he realises that he is a Yahoo but his clothes are keeping it a secret.
Throughout this voyage the impression is built up that this place is a utopian society, but in the end, Gulliver can’t stay there. Here, I think swift is telling us that humans can’t be part of a utopia so they shouldn’t try. When Gulliver returns home he hates his family and can’t stand to be around them, “for the first year I could not endure my wife or children in my presence, the very small of them was intolerable, much less could I suffer them to eat in the same room. ” This is showing the readers that being with a much more civilised race, or even a very different race, can change you and the way you see things.
At the end of the voyage to the country of the Houyhnhnms, I think that even though it is a utopian society, they don’t have some concepts humans have so it would be hard to live there. In conclusion, I think that swift is not misanthropic in his presentation of human society because he presents models of human behaviour in the Houyhnhnms and the Brobdignagians, because it is in these voyages that the people in the places are commenting on what Gulliver has to say and it isn’t Gulliver saying what was bad in that place. However, the Brobdignagian model is better because they have flaws and are not perfect.
Swift shows this because the Brobdignagians have freak shows and this is inhumane. Furthermore I think Swift is not misanthropic because his main attack is on unjust wars, and this is a common in all four voyages. Another reason I think swift is not misanthropic, is that he only criticises those who deserve it, like the ‘quack’ doctors, and the drunks who use all their family’s money on alcohol. Also, swift shows the flaws of mankind and wants to improve it. I know this because he wrote about good people like the Brobdignagians and the Houyhnhnms, as I said before.
Swift also only tells us about what has happened to him, so if he has only had bad experiences with, for example politicians, then he can only make bad comments about them. However, Gulliver doesn’t tell us about any good people in England at the time, or any good experiences he had had with people, he focuses on the bad. In conclusion, I think that Jonathan Swift is not misanthropic in his presentation of human society because he only comments on what he knows, and his main aim is to make the world better, and the best way to do this it to tell people in simple terms, in a story of a popular genre.