Essay, Pages 5 (1077 words)
Also, what Swift shows is that it is reason itself and man’s ingeniousness that prevent him from reducing life to a few moral principles. Paradoxes and countercurrent tendencies pervade the human mind, as it moves from good to evil. The Houyhnhnms would not be able to construct the complex society specific to humans. They have no books, no systems of thoughts or philosophies. Their enlightened and perfect state depends thus on minimal reasoning and on a few righteous principles.
The human society, by contrast, builds intricate systems that often contradict other systems and philosophies.
It is not only vice that is proper of human nature but also curiosity and a perpetual thirst for knowledge. The Biblical myth of the first man’s corruption through knowledge stands true in Gulliver’s narrative. The other societies that Gulliver meets in his travels point to the human tendency towards discovery but also manipulation. Man hunts the truth but also manipulates and interprets reality according to his own inner impulses.
The Yahoos’ condition as the servants of the Houyhnhnms is also very significant. They seem to represent humanity in its basest form, without the polish of civilization. The Houyhnhnm that houses Gulliver during his stay in their country remarks that this mixture of reason and vice makes the human race more dangerous and more powerful than mere brutality: “But 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” (Swift 183).
The Houyhnhnms cannot attain the technological and scientific progress mastered by man because they do not manipulate truth and they do not know the meaning of power and corruption. By contrast, the dwarfish people of Lilliput manage to subdue Gulliver, despite the fact that he is a giant among them. The human society can progress but it cannot advance significantly in morality. The Houyhnhnms’ society is perfect because it is based on an economy of just ideas and principles.
They cannot understand crime as a concept and think it absurd because of its lack of utility: “He was wholly at a loss to know what could be the use or necessity of practicing those vices” (Swift 195). The utopian world cannot belong to man because he is inevitably driven by feelings and passions that often do not conform to the common moral standards. Moreover, the Houyhnhnms world is one where absolute truth dominates and there is no falsehood: “…They have no word in their language to express lying or falsehood” (Swift 187).
This is also unattainable in the human society since man will always be biased because of his subjectivity. Overall, Swift shows that a utopian society is impossible for man on account of the inherent faults and particularities of the human spirit. Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground reveals a similar conception of the utopian society. According to the underground man, the human society will always construct ideal and fantastical worlds to escape from reality. The paradox is that man seems to be equally infatuated with both happiness and sufferance.
The “crystal palace” represents the unattainable ideal that lives in the lofty regions of the human imagination. As a utopian representation, the palace is made of crystal precisely because it contains all the answers and no questions: “Then … new economic relations will be established, all ready-made and worked out with mathematical exactitude, so that every possible question will vanish in the twinkling of an eye, simply because every possible answer to it will be provided. Then the ‘Palace of Crystal’ will be built” (Dostoevsky 69).
This mathematical and transparent construction is a symbol for perfection and self-sufficiency. The palace does not harbor any doubts: “What would be the good of a ‘palace of crystal’ if there could be any doubt about it? ”(Dostoevsky 77) However, the human world is not even satisfied with its own ideals. The underground man believes resents that this ideal edifice cannot be mocked and derided: ”You believe in a palace of crystal that can never be destroyed — a palace at which one will not be able to put out one’s tongue or make a long nose on the sly” (Dostoevsky 77).
The palace is therefore the object of man’s desires for but also the object of his mockery. Dostoevsky puts forth the idea that the human world can never fit into the crystal palace with all its desires and aspirations although it can neither renounce this dream completely. As Swift had pointed out, man is torn between opposite principles, between sufferance and happiness and is unable to reduce his feelings to a few linear and uniform desires.
Moreover, the ideal can be inconsistent with reality but man will persevere in his desires merely because it has an actuality for him: “But what does it matter to me that it is inconsistent? That makes no difference since it exists in my desires, or rather exists as long as my desires exist. ” (Dostoevsky 78) Another issue that Dostoevsky emphasizes is that man will always pursue his ideals no matter how inadequate they are precisely because he is a complex being, entirely different from the animals.
Dostoevsky gives as an example the basic necessity for shelter and compares a hen-house with the crystal palace: “You see, if it were not a palace, but a hen-house, I might creep into it to avoid getting wet, and yet I would not call the hen-house a palace out of gratitude to it for keeping me dry” (Dostoevsky 78). Man is not satisfied with mere principles of utility and economy. This idea is also identifiable in the representation of the utopian world of the Houyhnhnms, as already mentioned. The perfect world of the horses is content with a few basic and absolute principles that also serve the ideal of economy.
Both Swift and Dostoevsky show that man could not live in a utopian world. While Swift shows that man the utopian world could never be created by man because of the inherent vices that corrupt human nature, Dostoevsky points out that man would actually be dissatisfied if he inhabited an ideal society. The two authors reveal the essential aspects of the human nature and the human society, pointing out that man could not live in a utopian state although this will always be his ideal.
- Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Notes from the Underground. New York: Macmillan, 1918.
- Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. New York: Penguin, 1981.