Chastisement of Humanity in Gulliver’s Travels: Critical Analysis

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Johnathan Swift is known as the greatest satiric writer in all of English literary history. Born m, without a father and his mom abandoning him to return to England, he was raised by his relatives. Swift’s childhood was impaired with Meniere's disease which caused vertigo, nausea, and hearing loss. In 1688, Swift migrated to Leicester, England, after the Glorious Revolution struck Dublin where he was attending Trinity College. In England, he worked as a secretary for Sir William Temple, a former diplomat, where he familiarized himself with politically influential people. With the help of Sir William Temple, he was able to attend Oxford University and earn an M.A. degree. In the 1700s, Swift became a leading figure in Dublin’s society and politics. He would become a critic in order in order to attempt to help improve Ireland. During the same time, he began writing his own books usually under a pseudonym. He joined the Tories, a political group, in 1710 and began to write political pamphlets such as The Conduct of the Allies. In 1726, he created his most known book, Gulliver’s Travels under the name Lemuel Gulliver. In this book, he uses all his experience within the political world, especially between the Whigs and Tories, to discuss the condition of the world. Due to his understanding and contact with politics and religion, he is able to fully analyze and critique the practices that take place. In Gulliver’s Travels, Swift uses satire and examples to ridicule humanity by criticizing their governments, societal traditions, morality, and other human defects.

Swift criticizes human governments heavily in Part 1, where their events “mirror the events in England in Swift’s day. The petty Lilliputian emperor represents the worst kind of governor”(Themes 83). Swift uses real people and characteristics in order to mock governments. The Lilliputian emperor is a representation of the King of England, George I, as Swift believes that the rulings and procedures of George I are irrational. An example of this representation is shown when “the Emperor his father published an edict commanding all his subjects, upon great penalties, to break the smaller end of their eggs”(40-41). He uses the ridiculous law on breaking eggs to show the irrationality of the kings who hold the most power. Although the Lilliputians see this event as pertaining to religious matters, Swift uses Gulliver to show how unreasonable fights over legal acts seem to an outsider with no context. When an office is vacant in the Lilliputian kingdom, “five or six of those candidates petition the Emperor to entertain his majesty and the court with a dance on the rope, and whoever jumps the highest without falling, succeeds in the office”(28). This event shows Swift’s perception of the qualifications of the government officials by using the Lilliputians getting into the office for a reason that has no relevance to the job that they are attempting to receive. This event also shows the inefficiency of the king as he focuses on attributes that do not help improve the country. Swift uses the Yahoos to show that not only are government officials unqualified, but they are the most immoral of all people. Gulliver overhears “that in most herds there was a sort of ruling Yahoo...who was always more deformed in body and mischievous in disposition than any of the rest”(277). Swift implies that the powerful leaders of the world are the most brutish and cruel. He hints that to gain power and respect, one must be more immoral than the others. Swift uses satire to belittle the government implying that most officials are either unqualified and irrational or cruel and immoral.

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Swift fears that technology can be addicting to some people causing loss of focus and practicality in those that are addicted. Swift warns about the dangers of technology and knowledge becoming so alluring for people that they lose focus on other important aspects of life. Swift uses the Laputians as a prime representation of addiction as they are “hyper intellectuals (they have departed the world as the soul leaves the body) who distastefully perform the minimal functions of physical life on their island floating in the air”(Horrell 59). Swift mocks the scientists with the Laputians as they forget to take care of their physical bodies but rather focus all of their efforts into their intellects and studies. Gulliver observes that he has “not seen a more clumsy, awkward, and unhandy people” in which they are “so slow and perplexed in their conceptions upon all other subjects, except those of mathematics and music”(166). The Laputan people are unbalanced as they may be superior in one or two subjects, but in all other subjects of life that are equally important are novices. Swift takes this example to the extreme as the Laputians can not stay concentrated without a helper to keep them undistracted at the task they are attempting. Additionally, because of their obsession, they become inhumane as they are “so abstracted and involved in speculation that [Gulliver] never met with such disagreeable companions”(177). Not only does an obsession with technology affects the people themselves, but it affects their relationships with other people as well. Their obsessions cause them to lose human characteristics. Although they gain technological intelligence, at the same time they lose their logic. That the Laputians live on a flying island is a representation of the isolation that they have created. Within this island, they are able to resist any outsider from coming aboard making them alienated from the outside world. However, people are usually attempting to leave the island as shown when a wife escapes her husband and would rather live in a poor hut as a slave. The wife leaves her children and rich life due to the confinement of the island The defects of technology are also shown within the Balnibarbians, the country that is terrorized by the Laputians with their technology. Although they may not have the exact same defects of technology as the Laputians, they are equally affected by it as they lose all logic when using or creating science. As Gulliver is visiting the academies of Balnibarbi, he observes that “none of these projects are yet brought to perfection, and in the meantime, the whole country lies miserably wasted, the houses in ruins, and the people without food or clothes”(182). The Balnibarians face a similar problem with technology as they lose logic. They lose focus on the more important matters within their country causing their land to be inhabitable as their country is in disarray. Swift uses this aspect to parody “the scientists of his day in order to make his point that science for its own sake is not a lofty ideal. Science and the ability to reason ought to be used for practical ends, he felt, to address and solve the many real-life problems”(Themes 85). The trips to Balnibarbi and Laputian are used to show the dangers of technology such as obsession, loss of focus, and neglect of other aspects if not used properly.

The most critical and abundant topic Swift's satire is human nature as being instinctively immoral, cruel, and deceitful. Throughout the book, the journeys Gulliver endures are used to criticize the behavior and traits of humans as “It is the human condition, Swift felt, to sin: be deceitful, cruel, selfish, materialistic, vain, foolish, and otherwise flawed”(Themes 83). On his trip to Glubbdubdrib, the Governor allows Gulliver to choose any human in the past to converse and study. With this opportunity, he chooses to visit some of the most famous figures in history such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Socrates. However, Gulliver is not satisfied as he discovers “how the world had been misled by prostitute writers, to ascribe the greatest exploits in war to cowards, the wisest councils to fool”(294). Gulliver’s discovery of the truth of history’s events shows the true nature of people to be fraudulent. He examines how history was mostly filled with corruption and cowardice. He finds cowards who are praised as heroes and leaders who are actually the most immoral of people as they prostituted their own wives and daughters. This discovery disappoints Gulliver because “history is supposed to teach us by example, and yet... the historical line of communal memory has been corrupted”(Rothstein 113). This aspect angers Gulliver since he admires and learns from the lessons of history only to discover that history is full of lies. While Gulliver was with the Giants in Brogdingham, he amazed the king with how he “would entertain such inhuman ideas, and in so familiar a manner as to appear wholly unmoved at all the scenes of blood and desolation”(135). This confrontation with the king shows the desensitization of people as they become comfortable with seeing gruesome weapons such as guns being used. In addition, Gulliver is unable to understand the reason for his offer’s declination as he is oblivious to his own apparent coldness and brutality. With the king’s severe rejection, Gulliver’s assumption “that he is doing the king a favor coexists in the reader’s mind with the shocking demonstration of what man’s inhumanity is capable of… and Swift is achieving a bitter yet comic irony in Gulliver’s naive unawareness and continued self-assurance”(Ross 78). With this conversation, Swift is able to show how cruel a man can be by using an example that is normal to the readers. Gulliver’s stay with Houyhnhnms shows the direct satire by Swift as it directly condemns the human race showing Gulliver’s hate for his own race slowly building up. The leader of the Houyhnhnms “seemed therefore confident, that instead of reason, we were only possessed of some quality fitted to increase our vices”(257). As Gulliver lives with the Yahoos, he realizes his behavior and defects of them are the same with humans. He discovers that Yahoos are the true form of men as brutish and unintelligent beings as they are constantly fighting each other. Swift uses some descriptions of human life to create a similarity between the two species. The Yahoos are extremely protective of certain colored stones that they are willing to fight over them. Swift is able to mock human’s obsession with money as being foolish and unreasonable. The more that he lives with the Houyhnhnms, the more he begins to act like a horse and hate humans. He sees the Houyhnhnms as the perfect beings of peace and reason, which is satirical as Swift describes the perfect being as not being human suggesting that Swift believes that humans are unable to be perfect. The entirety of Gulliver’s Travels contains satire within conversations and events that are used to show the deformities within humans that makes them imperfect beings.

The chastisement of humanity is shown throughout Gulliver’s Travels as Swift analyzes human defects, governments, and morality. Swift, being a former politician, uses many examples to mock real politicians in order to show the defects within human governments. Swift fears that the lure of technology is too tempting for scientists which will cause addiction and a loss of logic. The most powerful topic Swift touches upon is the human nature to be cruel and immoral. Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels is a representation and warning of the weakest and darkest aspects of human society as he tries to emphasize the issues that humans need to work on.

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Chastisement of Humanity in Gulliver’s Travels: Critical Analysis. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 20, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/chastisement-of-humanity-in-gullivers-travels-critical-analysis/
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