Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Irony and satire abound in this critique of human nature from 1727.
As the novel was being born Jonathan Swift gave the world a new thing with his outlandish tales told as truth, and with his obvious and onerous criticism using satire. He was a man disgusted and disillusioned with human behavior. He suffered at man’s manipulations himself, and became a misanthrope.
With the Lilliputians, Gulliver sees mankind as small, petty, self-absorbed with their own kingdoms and gaining dominance over others. With the giants, he sees mankind as crass and vulgar, thoughtless and taken up with trivial novelties – like himself. With the horse-race, he sees mankind as bestial and filthy, probably only fit for extermination though they make adequate servants for the horses in the meantime.
Swift’s satire goes too far, forgetting that God created man good. While we should critique our sins, and satire is a fine instrument to do it, we may not become disgusted with ourselves to the point of despair, disgust and reclusivity. Redemption is possible.
But apart from Christ all men swerve from pride to despair and back again. Swift followed Nebuchadnezzar’s path. God punished his pride with insanity. Swift, cured of pride, got a touch of the bestial and mad as a result.
Gulliver is a dead end, offering nothing but disgust with humanity. In the last few sentences the author wishes he never even tried to reform mankind. Along the way, he wrote an entertaining and enlightening tale that sheds light on the folly and sinfulness of human behavior.
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