Jonathans Swifts’ Gulliver’s Travels Essay
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In Joanthans Swifts’ Gulliver’s Travels Part IV he uses a certain character to be his perfect example for what the human race should be. With this character he then will compare to the lowest of all beings to illustrate all the faults of man. These characters in his story are called the Houyhnhnms, which have a uniquely similar pronunciation to the word humans, and the Yahoos, who are the evil beasts of this particular island that Gulliver has washed up upon.
Throughout the story as Gulliver describes the people of his home to the Houyhnhnms the reader begins to see how Swift shines a light on all the faults that humans have; compared to a divine, simple and perfect creature as the Houyhnhnms. Gulliver tries to distinct himself from the Yahoos of this land, who he absolutely abhors, by explaining his people’s ways and showing they have the ability to reason, unlike the Yahoos. The reader easily begins to see what Swift is trying to accomplish with his writings.
He lets the reader make their own assumptions of the human race, but makes the assumption very clear. Within the story Gulliver describes how “his eyes had been opened and enlarged his understanding, which he began to view the actions and passions of man in a very different light”(puchner291). Gulliver begins to see that the thick skin, extra hair and long nails are merely the only thing separating himself from the Yahoos. This eye opening is exactly what Swift wants his readers to experience and see that there are so many despicable faults and useless ways of life in their society. The slow dissembling of the faults within man and questioning of the ways of mankind are in complete alignment with the ideas and ways of the Enlightenment, which was in short, to question everything. As Gulliver’s stay on the island continues, this questioning and examination of every aspect of his former life continues as well.
The Houyhnhnms, or voices of reason, go on to question the laws of Gulliver’s land. One Houyhnhnms states how he cannot even contemplate how “the law which was intended for every man’s preservation should be any man’s ruin” (puchner285). Swift takes a deep stab at the governments’ ways of workings at the time and simply shows how it is anything but just and does not make any sense. Swift also makes a remarkable point in the direction of women’s rights, and uses common since to show how the treatment of women of the time was entirely reckless. The voice of a Houyhnhnms explains how it would be “monstrous in them to give the females a different kind of education from the males” (puchner298). The Houyhnhnms says how this way holds no logic, because it would leave one half of their people only useful for the bringing of children into the world and leave them good for nothing else (puchner298). Swift does not stop there and states how irresponsible it would be to not only leave this group inadequate but to then trust the care and upbringing of their children with these completely incompetent creatures.
His reason here is very sound and unmistakable; how can you expect a society to flourish if the raising of man is done by the lowest creature of their society. Gulliver tries to prove to be different form the Yahoos by the fact that he can reason. The Houyhnhnms can see straight through this and one states that “when a creature pretending to reason could be capable of such enormities, he dreaded lest the corruption of that faculty might be worse than brutality itself” (puchner285). Through the Houyhnhnms response Swift dives into the depths of what humankind is capable of. He tackles how we may have the power of reason but have abused it to the full extent and instead of like the Yahoos caused destruction outwards on the world we have brought corruption into the inner beings of our society. Swift’s writings in Gulliver’s Travels question the entire makings of humankind and even the inability of people to dare to question.
The Houyhnhnms are Swifts example of how humans should be but even the Houyhnhnms in their perfectness have a fault. They have no ability to question any facts or speak of “the thing which is not”. In Swift’s story, Gulliver recants how he remembers how hard it was for him to get his master to comprehend the meaning of the word opinion, or how any fact could be brought to question because “reason taught us to affirm or deny only where we are certain; and beyond our knowledge we cannot do either” (puchner297). Swift wants the reader to understand that you must not be afraid to put your thoughts and what you have been taught all of your life into question, to not fear the unknown. The Houyhnhnms refuse to believe that there are nations outside of their own island, similar to the way people refuse to think that there are opinions and answers other than their own that could be right. Swift uses his story Gulliver’s Travels to ignite the idea that the world as you know may not be the best of what it could be, just as the way stories have been used to teach children lessons at a young age.
In Voltaire’s story Candide, his main character Candide is taken on a journey where he is determined to find his true love Cunegonde, which he is separated form in the beginning of the story. Through his journey Voltaire has Candide also in constant search for any man that is happier than he. In the story Candide has a friend named Pangloss who is a philosopher. In the beginning of this tale Pangloss states that “there cannot possibly be an effect without a cause” and that “things cannot be otherwise than they are, for since everything is made to serve an end, everything necessarily serves the best end” (puchner356). Voltaire takes these quotes throughout the story and commits Candide to question it at every chance, but is blinded by pure devotion to what his friend Pangloss has said and continues to push on. Voltaire uses the comparison of two opposites just as Jonathan Swift did in Gulliver Travel’s IV. Voltaire uses the land Eldorado in Candide to compare to Westphalia.
Eldorado is the example of the perfect world while Westphalia is full of everything that is wrong with the world in Voltaire’s opinion. In this sacred Eldorado Candide and Cacambo witnesses how the people have no desire or wants for the jewels that line their streets. He states that “the children of this land must be well trained, since they are taught contempt for gold and jewels” (puchner381). During their dinner with their host at the hotel Candide tries to use the gold for payment but in this perfect Eldorado people are courteous and hotels are made and paid for by the state and they do not need any money. Later Candide begins to ask about religion and finds that this land has the perfect religion where they do not have monks that dictate what they do and punish them if they do not practice their religion as they say they should (putchner383). Instead Voltaire describes a religion where people are all of the same mind and can freely practice their religion (puchner282).
Once Candide meets the king he finds that this perfect land has no parliament for there was no need and no prisons but they had a gallery full of places to study sciences with mathematical and physical instruments to help further knowledge (putchner383). Here you can see how Voltaire is creating a world that has no prejudices and is surrounded by the overall bettering and good of the people. Although Candide and Cacambo have found the perfect world they still are not satisfied. This is a major flaw in man, to continue to want even after they have everything they need. In response to this, Candide and Cacambo leave and take all the riches they need that they assume will bring them happiness but instead are presented with tragedy after tragedy that brings them right back to where they began.
Candide then by losing everything somehow is reunited with all his friends and they make it to a tiny farm to live where Pangloss continues to question. He finds a philosopher that he wants to discuss the “effects and causes, the best of possible worlds, the origin of evil, the nature of the soul, and pre-established harmony” (putchner412) all of which are prime examples of some of the main parts that have been in question during the Enlightenment; but instead Pangloss has the door slammed in his face; similar to the way man refuses to discuss these very same aspect.
Pangloss still does not stop asking questions and making philosophical assumptions even to the very end of the story and after all the terrible things that had happened to him. Candide then runs into a Turk that states that most of the time the people who get involved in others business, perish terribly (putchner413). The Turk then continues to tell Candide that he and his family cultivate their 20 acres “and the work keeps [them] from three great evils, boredom, vice, and poverty” (putchner413). Candide takes the Turks words very seriously and soon sets out his life to imitate the Turks and sets up a garden to cultivate. After meeting all the people throughout his journey he finds this man to be the only person happier than him and he had found a way to make life bearable; so Candide commits to doing the same. Voltaire has much to say through his character Pangloss and Martin, about men who choose to live their lives working. Pangloss states that “man was not born to take his ease” and Martin comments that “working without speculation is the only way of rendering life bearable.”
Candide finally has everything that he wanted all on their farm but sees that what he wanted and thought is not anymore what he wants or thinks. Cunegonde has lost all her beauty and he does not love her anymore and Pangloss’s theory does not hold a light in Candid’s’ mind anymore. He decides to change his life and stop wanting more and make a life that is focused on one goal; to cultivate his garden and not worry about the trifles amongst the world. He then sees clearly that he makes his own happiness and others do not. The garden will keep him away from the evils in which he has met all his life. He will not have to want for food and beg, and he will only have enough for what he needs and not what he wants and this will keep his mind busy and away from boredom. Pope’s writings differ greatly from Swift’s or Voltaire’s. In Pope’s Essay on Man, he uses poetry to illustrate his philosophical points. The start of his essay states “what can we reason but from what we know”(putchner345).
Pope gains the reader’s attention by simply saying that he is just going to examine Man. This alone is what the Enlightenment was about, to take into account all that you thought you knew and then ask yourself, is this really what I know. Pope goes to ask the question, are we the only system or universe? He says to just “observe how system into system runs”(putchner345). How can we be the only world is the question he wishes to ignite in us; if we just look at our world we can clearly see that we are too a system within a system and perhaps we have a purpose within this very sphere. He continues to ask question among question to further state, why are we the way we are? And are we the highest being above all on earth and if so, should we be in this place? We can see where he asks “if God has placed him wrong” and should we have the power over the world that we do (putchner345). If God has placed us in this high position then shouldn’t we be perfect, but he describes free will by saying that “man’s as perfect as he ought” and that we are as good as we let ourselves be (putchner346).
The Essay on Man discusses fate and why we do not know our own fate or more then the very page that we are on in life. If “had he thy reason, would he skip and play” (putchner346) and continue to live our lives if we knew how it would all end. He gives the answer that hope of the unknown is what keeps man going. He examines the Indian people, a prime example of living in the unknown; for they had no sciences to let them see the planets and the universe but still remained to have God in their culture. He said they have a “humbler heaven” before the Europeans came to conquer their land and torment them for their gold (putchner347). Pope describes to the reader that pride is our error and we blame God for everything when we are not happy. Our pride gives us the right to think that earth is for our own use. He explains “why has not man a microscopic eye”, his response is simple “that man is not a fly” (putchner347). Pope wants the reader to see that God has made us the way we are and we are not meant to see that far; that we are meant to inspect the earth not to understand the heavens.
He ends his essay by saying that “all partial evil [is] universal good” and that “whatever is, is right” (putchner351). This very statement was examined greatly by Voltaire’s work Candide and has been examined by many philosophers and thinkers even to this very present day. The Rape of the Lock is another story written by Pope in which he also uses poetry to reach the reader but in my case went over my head. He illustrates a beautiful story of a girl named Belinda that his great at playing cards and wins the heart of every man and Sylph she comes across.
The Sylphs follow Belinda throughout her entire day and Pope begins to show how man has no control over anything that happens; whether that may be the folding of her sleeves or the safety of Belinda. Pope may be continuing his theory that man has his own fate but that he cannot know it and certain Powers that are out of our understand control our day to day life. That this is the way things are and it is in our best ability to be happy with the life we are given. Even the fair Belinda blessed with all the beauty in the world is not spared by fates hand. The loss of her strand of hair in the end may resemble the loss of virtue and her pride for even the perfect can be brought down.
Puchner, Martin, Suzanne Akbari, Wiebke Denecke, Vinay Dharwadke, and Barbara Fuchs. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. 3rd ed. Vol. D. New York, London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. 269-413. Print.