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Born in Dublin of the year 1667, Jonathan Swift was a well-renowned satirical writer of his time. Swift wrote many different kinds of poems, compositions, and essays that are well known even to this day such as: Gulliver’s Travels, A Modest Proposal, Stella’s Birthday, A Tale of a Tub and many more. Each one of Swift’s work contained a political nature with satire as the main theme. In these different works, he showed his readers the economical, political, and scientific state of England and Ireland during his time through the elements of narrative.
In Book IV of Swift’s satirical work Gulliver’s Travel, we see the economical background and enslavement of Ireland during Swifts time being represented through the Yahoos and Houyhnhnms during his time of Ireland to England. According to Anne Cline’s article “Swift’s Explorations of Slavery in Houyhnhnmland and Ireland’ she states: “The misery of the Irish in the early eighteenth century shocked Swift and all others who witnessed it; the hopeless passivity of the people in this desolate land made it seem as if both the minds and bodies of the Irish were enslaved.
” England had imposed many different trade acts on Ireland such as The Navigation and Cattle Acts. The Navigation Act constituted a series of enactments designed to make more difficult and expensive the importation into Ireland of commodities from the colonies and exportation from Ireland to the colonies. The Cattle Acts of the same period reduced drastically a thriving trade between England and Ireland in cattle and animal products, to the detriment of Irish raisers of cattle, sheep, and swine.
(SWIFT ECOVIEW) As a result of these discriminatory acts, Ireland’s economy took a steep dive and produced impoverishment of the Irish people. In Francis G. Jams article ‘Irish Colonial Trade in the Eighteenth Century’ he states: ‘In contrast, writers on Irish history, with the exception of William O’Sullivan, have unanimously agreed that English mercantilism all but ruined Ireland’ (INSERT CITE) . When Gulliver arrives at Houyhnhnmland, he meets the Yahoos and the Houyhnhnms. The Yahoos are irrational, greedy, and violent beasts with humanlike traits while the Houyhnhnms are equine-like docile beasts that are rational and intellectual. Later on in the book, Gulliver sees that the Yahoos are enslaved by the Houyhnhnms. As Anne Cline Kelly states: “The Yahoos, there, can be seen as an emblem of the fate a waiting the Irish if they continue to remain a captive colony to England as well as captive to their own irrational urges.” (INSERT CITATION). Swift does not put the entire blame on England but also puts the blame on Ireland due to themselves because of their greed and for being so passive. We can also see this represented later in the book when the Houyhnhnms all decide to banish Gulliver from Houyhnhnmland because they fear that Gulliver himself will convince the Yahoos to revolt.
In Swift’s essay “A Modest Proposal”, Swift continues on the economical disparity and the food shortage situation of Ireland. Swift shows his readers that not only were the English responsible but also the Irish themselves for the lack of financial improvement with social and moral reforms. In the essay, Swift acts as the narrator and provides a solution to Ireland’s famine by resorting to cannibalism of children of the poor. Swift even provides us a rational way of selecting which children are best and even gives us numbers and calculations. According to Clayon D. Lein’s article ‘Jonathan Swift and the population of Ireland’ he states: “In the second and third decades of the eighteenth century, a number of Irish writers reopened the case of suffering Ireland by amassing and analyzing all statistics related to her economy. They were driven to undertake this enormous task by an alarming number of reports streaming back into England testifying that Ireland was experiencing unprecedented prosperity. This opinion drove the leading Irish patriots absolutely mad.” (INSERT CITE). This shows us that some people in Ireland were sending reports back to England saying that they were doing great but in reality were not.
Swift shows us a brief view of the scientific state of his time by attacking the Royal Society in Chapter 5 of Gulliver’s travel. According to Swift and Science by Colin Kiernan, he says that “The story of Laputa made it possible to condemn Newtonian science because of it’s inhumanity, which is what Swift intended.” (CITE) .When Gulliver is permitted access to see the Academy of Lagado, he sees that the projectors were studying things such as: extracting sunbeams from cucumbers, changing human excrement back into food, building houses starting from the roof, and etc. etc. He realizes that the things the projectors were studying were pointless and not helpful in their lives. This represents what the Royal Society was doing at the time. The Royal Society were studying useless things that pertained to abstract knowledge and failed to use their knowledge for the greater good. In Swift and Science by Colin Kiernan, he also states: “It was not Swift the scientist who was outraged by Newton, but Swift the moralist. That is why Swift leveled his criticism less at the error of Newton’s science than at its tendency to lead men away from their moral fulfillment.” (CITE)
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