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Gulliver's TravelsFebruary 27, 1996 As a seemingly wise and educated man, throughout the novel Gulliver'sTarvels, the narrator cleverly gains the reader's respect as a thinking andobservant individual. With this position in mind, the comments and ideas thatGulliver inflicts upon those reading about his journeys certainly have their ownidentity as they coincide with his beliefs and statements on the state ofhumanity and civilization in particular. Everywhere Gulliver goes, he seems tocomment on the good and bad points of the people he encounters. Sometimes, hefinds a civilization that he can find virtues within, but he also encounterspeoples and places which truly diusgust him in their manner of operation andcivility. Overall, Swift gives Gulliver a generally negative and cynicalattitude towards the manner in which his current day English counterpartsbehaved cleverly disguised in the subtext of his encounters with other nationsthat either contrasted the way they lived, or mirrored unflatteringly hiscontemporaries lifestyles.
In Gulliver's first voyage to Lilliput, his role as the town giant notonly put into perspective the selfishness and unrelenting need for power of thehuman race, but also opened his eyes to the untrusting and ungrateful nature ofthose aforementioned. When he first arrived in their land, the Lilliputiansopted to tie him up, giving him no freedom, which he luckily did not object to.Then, once they had developed a somewhat symbiotic realationship with him,Gulliver was basically forced to abide to their whims and fancies, andultimately to be their tool in war. At any time, Gulliver could have escapedtheir grasp, but instead, he opted to stay and observe and oblige to theircustoms. He was a very agreeable guest. He did tricks for them, he saved theirprincess from her burning castle, he defeated their mortal enemies, and all hewas rewarded with was their spite and mistrust.
From the start, no matter howcordial and well-behaved he was, there was little trust bestopwed upon him bythe people that bound him to their home. Also, Gulliver explains therediculous manner in which one becomes accredited in their society. 'For as tothat infamous practice of acquiring great Employment by dancing on the Ropes, orBadges of Favor and Distinction by leaping over sticks, and creeping under them;the reader is to observe, that they were first introduced by the Grand father orthe Emperor now reigning; and grew to the present Height, by the gradualincrease of Party and Faction.' This rediculous means of self-validation seemsstrickingly similar to some of the methods with which people will resort to inour societies, where personal achievment and values are secondary to theiroutward appearance, ability to impress, and skills totally unnessesary to thejob described. Gulliver's description of their government, way of life, andlogic patterns reflected either his grievances with or his innability tocomprehend the manner in which many decisions, traditions, and wyas of livingdeveloped in our own society. He also, though, pointed out some redeemingvalues which he found in their way of living such as their innability to acceptfraud, and their total separation of purity of smut, through reward andpunishment.
When it came down to it though, the Lilliputian's lack of trusttowards their giant helper ruined their chances of him staying, and Gulliver wasforced to leave. He found their hospiatlity to be great, but only at a severestress to their own resources. At this point, some very strong assertions havebeen made about humanity, but we must go farther into the story to draw any realconclusions. Although there wasn't much said in this section of the book, the secondvoyage to Brobdignag put Gulliver in a very compromising situation which madehim simply the pawn of social commentary by Swift. The people of Brobdignagtreated Gulliver in an almost rediculous manner.
They put him in a cage like wedo with rodents, and were truly simple in their ideas. 'The Learning of thisPeople is very defective; consiting only in Morality, History, Poetry, andMathematicks; wherin they must be allowed to excel. But, the last of these iswholly applied to what may be useful in Life; to the Improvement of Agricultureand all Mechanical arts; so that among us it would be little esteemed. And as toideas, Entitites, Abstractions ands Transcendentals, I could never drive theleast Conception into their heads.' This situation made Gulliver see a peopletotally preoccupied with their own ideas, and showed their ignorance of possiblybetter ideas simply becvause they refused to acknowledge the possible validityof a little man's ideas. It is this attribute of human thought patterns thatmany times allows us to miss the fine details in life, overlooking them astrivial. When venturing in Laputa, Gulliver was thougholy disgusted by theadamant ways of the inhabitants there.
Their obsession with the very specificsof their life not only put Gulliver off, but made him realize the follies of allthose like them. Their oblivion to the obvious tendencies life engulfs made agreat impression on him, seeing their wives totally confounded by the maleinhabitants fetish with the workings that they had managed to contrive somehow.Not only did these people behave strangely, but their odd manner of acting hadaffected their outward appearance, transforming them into convuluted, wretchedcreatures. Their focus on Mathematicks and Musick were not viewed asunattractive traits, but their narrow-mindedness, and absense of thought onother subjects alarmed him, as he saw the reprocutions of such a lifestyle. InBalnibari, the people there also had a very distorted manner of living. Theirbeurocratic, innefficient machine of experiments, improvements, and theoriesappalled Gulliver as he saw the degradation in society that occured as a resultof it. Both of these lands, although on somewhat opposite ends of the spectrumbelonged to the same family of false maxims to live by.
Both systems showcasedmany of the problems our own societies can face. If we ignore problems we have,that can make us worse, but if we try to fix every imperfection, no matter howrediculous-seeming, we would be totally engulfed by the process. In Gulliver's last voyage to the land of the Houyhnhnms, there was byfar the most demonstrative of comparisons to our society, or should I say,contrasts. When he met those people, animals that we know as horses, he wasshocked by their wisdom, sensibility, and kindness. On the other hand, theYahoos, most closely related to humans as we know them were vile, uneducated,badly-behaved creatures.
This reversal of roles demonstrated the shottytreatment we have for lower creatures, even though they have many traits thatcould be described as positive that we easily overlook. When Gulliver returnsto England, he is disgusted not only by the sight, smell, and actions of thepeople there, but he cant even stand his own family. It is this fact thatclearly shows how aweful and pitiful the human race would seem if one had theopporotunity to step back and take an honest, unobstructed view of it. Throuighout Guliver's Travels, Swift uses anecdotes told throughGulliver's eyes to demonstrate the vices and virtues associated with the way welive. No matter where he was, he was able to see enviable aspects of theirsociety, and to demean the parts of their life that were silly, illogical, andoffensive. From each experience he grasped a stronger understanding of what itmeant to run a government, how Power and prestige could corrupt, and how falselogic could corrup a community.
Not only a powerful social commentary,Gulliver's Travels teaches us an important lesson about what we must keepimportant in our lives.
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