Gulliver’s Travels essay

Jonathan Swift is known to have produced one of the most important works in world literature with the publication of Gulliver’s Travels in 1726. Swift having composed probably his greatest satire, Gulliver’s Travels depicts a man’s journey to several unusual lands and places wherein lessons are learned and thoughts pondered. The general them of the story circles around the satirical examination of human nature, his worth, his potential to be corrupt and immoral and the preceding affects of man’s misuse of reason. ( Swift, Jonathan: Gulliver’s Travels: Introduction.

” Literary Criticism (1400-1800), 1998) The story tackles the question on man’s worth being a rational being and the dangers to which he uses his own judgment in circumstance and situations he experience. In Gulliver’s Travels, the author suggests what the greatest virtues of human race should be, and tackles even the most concrete institution of man’s different learning and political systems existing during that time. At the time the novel was published, Swift remained anonymous of its authorship due to the very sensitive theme surrounding the novel.

It attacks humanity and assessed the human reason and worth, but more so is a complex study of the moral, philosophical, and scientific thought of the people that were defined and never challenged by the human race for many centuries there after. ( Swift, Jonathan: Gulliver’s Travels: Introduction. ” Literary Criticism (1400-1800), 1998) Swift, as the author of Gulliver’s Travels, made the reason to which people reason during that time clear. Gulliver’s Travels includes four voyages of the lead character Lemuel Gulliver. The character is narrated to be exposed to the different nature and attributes of human.

During the first travel, the main theme derived from the author is its interpretation of political events which transpired during the eighteenth century. Part of it allegorical presentation includes the moral state of England, a satire on the desires of man, and the result of man’s gratuitous pride and self-preservation with wealth and power. Many of the characters, places and events that are part of the novel reveal Swift’s conception of ethical rulers, the scientific ideology. One of the greatest criticisms the author mentioned was his view of the abstract theory and the ineffectiveness it brings to human life.

He questions what purpose is there to create such theory when it can not be of service to human race. But to the last voyage that Gulliver made pointed out the authors’ ultimate satirical objective; it is to question how man is unable to come to terms with his true nature and worth. ( Swift, Jonathan: Gulliver’s Travels: Introduction. ” Literary Criticism (1400-1800), 1998) This critical theme of the Gulliver’s Travels reveals how the author conceptualized a story that will show how humanity should be defined, the goal to reach the ideal human order, and the consequences to which humanity will fail if the ideal is to be abandoned.

Swift remained to present his cases and thoughts, clearly examining his objectives by presenting what needs to remain ideal and the consequences if human kind disregards the ideals. (Bentman, 1971) Gulliver’s Travels is probably one of the most discussed works in history, and Swift’s greatest novel. There have been different interpretations and discussions, but probably the most important voyage to be discussed was the fourth voyage made by Gulliver to the land of Houyhnhnms. Citing the author Merrel D. Clubb, it is in agreement that the fourth voyages’ understanding and criticism is the main problem to Swifts’ criticism.

Based on her research, there exist three schools of thought in understanding the fourth voyage and the identity of the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos. First, the Yahoos are believed by most scholars as the satirist representation of debased humanity- the consequence and effect of the misuse of reason. While the Houyhnhnms is the ideal representation of the nature of humanity- the ideal state to which rationality and order is practiced. (Brady, 1968) These representations presents the human natures’ dual identity, each race possessing the different attributes to which human are categorized.

In this voyage, it reflects how Gullivers perceives the two races based on its flaws as a rational human being and the failure to which it arrives with being irrational. (Foster, 1961) Thus presenting both sides of which human nature can develop. In another critical perspective, both races are considered to be the central items in the satire. This implies that the author is depicting the Yahoos as the physical base of human nature and the Houyhnhnms as the ideal pursuit in achieving a human order in the society.

(Brady, 1968) With this analysis, the satire implies that the existing rational beings are not just humans, but all species. The third school of thought however shifted from focusing on the two races and interpreting the fourth voyage based on the purpose to which it was written by the author. (Bloom, 1973) Another debatable element aside from its theme is the purpose to which Gulliver was made a character. In early criticisms, the lead character was depicted as the mouthpiece of Swift. Modern critics discredited the thought by saying that Swift was to subtle to create the character based on him being a mouthpiece alone.

In contemporary debate, several ideas were presented. Questions raised include Gulliver as a consistently realized character, a narrator, or a satiric object by which Swift made to point out his criticisms. In line with this interpretation, we judge and asses the character based on the intention to which Swift created it in his satiric masterpiece. This implies that the human nature of Gulliver can be challenged with ideas about his character being definite and constructed to change, or simply an allegorical representation of humanity.

Or perhaps we can simply say that Gulliver is a character designed with flexibility that is to be manipulated by Swift to any direction and thought to achieve his philosophical objectives. With this flexibility, we can asses the character as to being a medium to present the diverse views and different satiric situations implied by the themes of the novel. As mentioned, in revealing the true objective of Gulliver’s Travels, one reader encounters thoughts about the real reason why human exist and it capability and or inability to use his reason based on his capacity to judge its use.

Gulliver’s Travel has no ultimate meaning and purpose to which we can say why it was written concretely, but rather it is the pursuit to discover and explore human being as a rational being created to present human order in society. (Stingfellow, 1993) It demands readers to judge and identify humanity altogether without any prejudice for what it is worth, without any hint of either pessimism or optimism, and to entail that human beings are of two sides, good and evil. (Voight, 1964) In the study of Gulliver’s Travels, we encounter the theme of the rationality of human beings and its worth in creating a social order.

In line with this, there is the question to which we can relate the lessons implied in the novel by deriving the essence to which it was created, to reveal the definition of rationality and its effect in identifying good and evil with human nature. Clearly Gulliver’s Travels provides an interpretation of what can be criticized to human beings nature and character, and its misuse of reason. (Stingfellow, 1993) Although the author challenges abstract theories, readers are also suggested to keep the ideal ideas “ideal”, because disregarding the ideal is a misuse of reason and an impediment to society’s development.

With this point raised, we define rationality based on philosophical context as a requirement to achieve social order and human order. The standard of rationality is different depending on the person and the situation where it is practiced, but more importantly, the standard of rationality requires critical interpretation of the desires of men and the requirements to conform in the society. With Gulliver’s Travels, we realized the implication to which Swift calls for human beings to consider the importance of rationality and the effects of its misuse.

Rationality also requires morality, in which Swift criticizes by presenting in satire the flaws and the impediments to progress of a dysfunctional political and learning institutions established during his time. The novel presented a society that is geared with greed and influence of wealth and power, and to this, rational beings can only establish a human order when reason is applied. We can understand this interpretation as such is explained by Kant with his definition of rationality, where truth realized that moral philosophy and rationality is fueled, even “slaved”, to man’s passions.

Self-governing reason will ultimately result to a justifiable creation of social order, but nonetheless, the ideal is a pursuit to reach rationality before the effects of its misuse will derive a fall of human nature. Swift’s criticism of the misuse of rationality can be exemplified through identifying human beings with such inclinations to the “bad” things in life or the obsession with wealth and power. The passions in life can either be beneficial and detrimental to the advancement of social and human order.

When man is greatly emphasizing the need for wealth and power, the consequence will only be defined by the lack of rational thinking as depicted in the voyages of Gulliver. At that time the novel was published, it was criticized for raising issues and challenging the definite definitions of the concepts in the learning, political and philosophical institutions. As mentioned, Gulliver Travels has no ultimate reason other than to ignite critical thinking and to suggest that either man can pursue their own desires for wealth or power, or they can choose to end with reason and be led with the abstract ideal.

For the ideal needs to remain ideal because the purpose to which it can be of use to human life is identified with it being “ideal”. In contemporary literature, Gulliver’s Travels is deemed as a significant work because it justifies the purpose and creation of the idea of rationality. Not only does Gulliver’s Travels pose the challenge of greatly emphasizing the use of rationality, but also the extent to which man should extend his rationality to form a human order purposively aimed to make life worthy.

It entices the philosophical agenda to explain how the world works, and how human nature is identified in each society.


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Bloom, Allan. “An Outline of Gulliver’s Travels. ” Ancients and Moderns. Ed. Joseph Cropsey. New York: Basic Books, 1962. reprinted in Greenberg, Gulliver’s Travels (1970) 297-311. extracted in Greenberg, Writings (1973) 648-61. Brady, Frank, ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Gulliver’s Travels: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968. Davis, Herbert, ed. Gulliver’s Travels, 1726. Introd. by Harold Williams. vol. XI. The Prose Works of Jonathan Swift. Ed. Davis.

1939-74. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1941, 1965. Donoghue, Denis, ed. Jonathan Swift: A Critical Anthology. Baltimore: Penguin, 1971. Foster, Milton P. , ed. A Casebook on Gulliver among the Houyhnhnms. New York: Crowell, 1961. Stringfellow, Frank. “Irony and Ideals in Gulliver’s Travels. ” Palmeri, Critical Essays (1993) 91-103. Voigt, Milton. “The Sources of Gulliver’s Travels. ” Swift and the Twentieth Century. Detroit: Wayne State, 1964. reprinted in Brady, Twentieth Century Interpretations (1968) 13-22.