J. Swift, Gulliver's travels



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One of the English authors that we have studied during the year is Jonathan Swift. Swift was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1667. He studied at the Trinity College and in1688 he became the secretary of an English politician, Sir William Temple, and moved to London. During this period, he wrote some satires on the political and religious corruption that surrounded him. Unfortunately for Swift, the Tory government fell out of power in 1714 and Swift, despite his fame for his writings, fell out of favour. He returned to Dublin , where he became the dean of St. Patrick’s. After his return to Ireland, Swift became a strong supporter of the Irish against English attempts to fight against English economy and political power. He wrote in 1726 Gulliver’s travel, that gave him a lot of fame during the years and is still one of the most appreciated books all over the world. He died in Dublin in 1745.

Swift is without doubt one of the most controversial among English great writer. What clearly emerges from his works is that he was seriously concerned with politics and society; in fact, he was seriously involved into political themes during his permanence in England and Ireland, and in London he learned a lot of things about political power and its wrong use towards population, like corruption and abuse of power against miserable people. Swift found in irony and satire the means that suited his temperament and his interests. He usually achieved the effect of parody combining ironic intent with the simplicity of his style and his diction.
For Swift, reason is an instrument that must be used properly; too intensive a use of reason is an error of judgement and therefore unreasonable. So in his he uses reason in a right way, writing simple stories like Gulliver’s travels but with a deep meaning inside that involves social and political themes, criticising for example injustices made by English power all around the world.

In his most famous piece, Gulliver’s Travel, Swift describes the long voyage of Gulliver, a doctor with a strong passion for adventures In the first part Gulliver, after joining on a merchant ship, went on the island of Lilliput, where people were six inches tall, and everything else was in the proportion of their small size. In this adventure Gulliver had to help the king to fight the neighbours population. This ridiculous war made for insignificant reasons are the demonstration of how stupid but at the same time fierce a war can be.

In the second part Gulliver was accidentally left ashore on Brobdingnag, where the inhabitants were as tall as trees and everything else is in proportion. The third part deals with a visit to the flying island of Laputa, and its capital city, Lagado. Here the satire is directed against philosophers, men of science historians, projectors that try to find a scientific solution towards everything; for example in their Academy of projectors, professors tried to extract sunshine from cucumebers and similar absurd enterprises; Then, in the island of Sorceres, Gulliver was enabled to call up the great men of the past, and discovers, from their answers to his questions, a new version of history, very different from the one he learned. During another voyage He met The Strulbrugs, stranges creatures endowed with immortality; this attribute that could be at first time a positive characteristic at the eyes of Gulliver, actually turn them in be the most miserable of mankind.

In the fourth part Swift describes the country of the Houyhnhnms, populated by horses endowed with reason; their rational, clean and simple society is contrasted with the filthyness and brutality of the Yahoos; in Yahoos Gulliver recognized the brutality of humans. Gulliver was so alienated and disgusted from his own species that when he finally returned home he hated his world and humans for the rest of his life.

Swift describes through these strange and curious populations met by Gulliver the real world and the corrupted society of his time. Gulliver’s voyages show us defect, cruelty and absurdity of mankind in a pessimist vision of the whole world.

In fact, Throughout the book we could find a contrast between rationality and brutality. In Lilliput, Gulliver is the brute, he has only a big body but no mind; the little Lilliputians represents rationality but they corrupted it by their thirst of domination. In Brobdingnag is the opposite, people are brute giants while the rational being is the dwarf Gulliver even if he’d like to use his presumed superiority to kill and dominate offering the king the “great discovery” of the gunpowder. In Laputa, reason is used completely out of its natural directions and it doesn’t bring to any result or advantage. This is a criticism of abstract rationality.
In Houyhnhnms land represents the utopia, the perfect rational world, and this land could be perfect for men too because, with rationality used in the right way, men could find peace and serenity.
On the contrary Swift is pessimist about the possibilities of human capacities to build a new society based on rationality; He expalin that Reason isn’t sufficient to guide men in their lives, because it would need to delete any passion and as it’s not possible at all; Men have to find a compromise between rationality and passions to make a better world for society, in political questions, but also in their life and the future.