The Ideals of Jonathan Swift Essay

This essay has a total of 3051 words and 16 pages.

The Ideals of Jonathan Swift




The Ideals of Jonathan Swift

The tale of Gulliver’s Travels can be described as a written criticism of the society in
which Swift lived. In each of the worlds Gulliver encountered the problems he saw with
the civilizations were actually the political and social aspects Jonathan Swift disliked
about his own world. He also accomplishes this by giving the inhabitants of these worlds
superior traits and attitudes in order to compare them to and belittle the culture that
surrounded Swift. An example of this could be the intellectual and proper race of
houyhnhnms.


One of the most interesting questions about Gulliver’s Travels is whether the Houyhnhnms
represent his ideal of rationality or whether they are also part of Swift's satire. In
Book IV, is Swift poking fun at the talking horses or does he intend for us to take them
seriously. If we look closely at the way that the Houyhnhnms act, we can see that in fact
Swift does not take them seriously: he uses them to show the dangers of pride.


First we have to see that Swift does not even take Gulliver seriously. For instance, his
name sounds much like gullible, which suggests that he will believe anything indicating
that his perceptions of what is good and bad may not be accurate making the teller of the
story bias. Also, when he first sees the Yahoos and they throw excrement on him, he
responds by doing the same in return until they run away. Even though as a human he is
suppose to be the most rational being there is, according to our beliefs. This here is a
perfect example of the way Swift shows the weakness of the human race and how we can
easily be influenced to behave immaturely and uncivilized even though we see ourselves as
the height of the living world.


Lemule Gulliver is clearly satirized as a human, but does that make the Houyhnhnms Swifts
ideal society? They walk on two legs instead of four, and seem to be much like people. As
Gulliver says, "It was with the utmost astonishment that I witnessed these creatures
playing the flute and dancing a Viennese waltz. To my mind, they seemed like the greatest
humans ever seen in court, even more dexterous than the Lord Edmund Burke"


As this quote demonstrates, Gulliver is terribly impressed, but his admiration for the Houyhnhnms
is short-lived because of their intense pride. For instance, the leader of the Houyhnhnms claims that he has
read all the works of Charles Dickens, and that he can single handily recite the names of all the Kings and
Queens of England up to George II. Swift subtly shows that this Houyhnhnms pride is misplaced when, in
the middle of the intellectual competition, he forgets the name of Queen Elizabeth’s
husband. If he intended for the Houyhnhnms to be the medium in which his satire was to be
based he would not show them to be capable of error.


Swifts satire of the Houyhnhnms comes out in other ways as well. One of the most
memorable scenes is when the mare attempts to woo the horse. First she acts
flirtatiously, parading around the bewildered horse. But when this does not have the
desired effect, she gets another idea:


"As I watched in amazement from my perch in the top of a tree, the sorrel nag dashed off
and returned with a yahoo on her back who was yet more monstrous than Mr. Pope being
fitted by a clothier. She dropped this creature before my nag as if offering up a
sacrifice. My horse sniffed the creature and turned away."


It might seem that we should take this scene seriously as a failed attempt at courtship, and that
consequently we should see the gray mares attempt as just a failure. But it makes more sense if we see that
Swift is being satiric here: it is the female Houyhnhnm who makes the move, which would not have
happened in eighteenth-century England. Is this Swifts way of expressing his views on
women’s liberation by making their society out to be more equal and therefore more
advanced? Or is he trying to put them down by focusing on the mares foolishness for
"hitting on a horse not capable of the level of though in which she is? More likely than
not he Swift was not concerned with the sex equality aspect and used this scene to hurt
the pride of the mare which shows more imperfection in the Houyhnhnms.


A final indication that the Houyhnmns are not meant to be taken seriously and are not
Swifts model for the ideal in which his satire derives occurs when the leader of the
Houyhnhnms’ visits Lilliput, where he visits the French Royal Society. He goes into a room
in which a scientist is trying to turn wine into water. The scientist has been working
hard at the experiment for many years without success, when the Houyhnhnm arrives, "The
creature no sooner stepped through the doorway than he struck upon a plan. Slurping up all
the wine in sight, he quickly made water in a bucket that sat near the door". He has
accomplished the scientists goal, but the scientist is not happy, for his livelihood has
now been destroyed. Swifts clear implication is that even though the Houyhnhnms’ are
smart, they do not know how to use that knowledge for the benefit of society, only for
their own individual accomplishments.


Throughout Gulliver’s Travels, the Houyhnhnms are shown to be an ideal gone wrong. Though
their intent might have been good, they don’t know how to do what they want to do because
they are filled with pride. They mislead Gulliver and they even mislead themselves. So
what is the ideal against which Swift seems to be judging people and society? In fact
none of the civilizations in the story are entirely ideal. Each have their good and bad
traits which in it self could be a message Jonathan Swift intended to get across to the
reader, "nobody is perfect".



















The Ideals of Jonathan Swift

The tale of Gulliver’s Travels can be described as a written criticism of the society in
which Swift lived. In each of the worlds Gulliver encountered the problems he saw with
the civilizations were actually the political and social aspects Jonathan Swift disliked
about his own world. He also accomplishes this by giving the inhabitants of these worlds
superior traits and attitudes in order to compare them to and belittle the culture that
surrounded Swift. An example of this could be the intellectual and proper race of
houyhnhnms.


One of the most interesting questions about Gulliver’s Travels is whether the Houyhnhnms
represent his ideal of rationality or whether they are also part of Swift's satire. In
Book IV, is Swift poking fun at the talking horses or does he intend for us to take them
seriously. If we look closely at the way that the Houyhnhnms act, we can see that in fact
Swift does not take them seriously: he uses them to show the dangers of pride.


First we have to see that Swift does not even take Gulliver seriously. For instance, his
name sounds much like gullible, which suggests that he will believe anything indicating
that his perceptions of what is good and bad may not be accurate making the teller of the
story bias. Also, when he first sees the Yahoos and they throw excrement on him, he
responds by doing the same in return until they run away. Even though as a human he is
suppose to be the most rational being there is, according to our beliefs. This here is a
perfect example of the way Swift shows the weakness of the human race and how we can
easily be influenced to behave immaturely and uncivilized even though we see ourselves as
the height of the living world.


Lemule Gulliver is clearly satirized as a human, but does that make the Houyhnhnms Swifts
ideal society? They walk on two legs instead of four, and seem to be much like people. As
Gulliver says, "It was with the utmost astonishment that I witnessed these creatures
playing the flute and dancing a Viennese waltz. To my mind, they seemed like the greatest
humans ever seen in court, even more dexterous than the Lord Edmund Burke"


As this quote demonstrates, Gulliver is terribly impressed, but his admiration for the Houyhnhnms
is short-lived because of their intense pride. For instance, the leader of the Houyhnhnms claims that he has
read all the works of Charles Dickens, and that he can single handily recite the names of all the Kings and
Queens of England up to George II. Swift subtly shows that this Houyhnhnms pride is misplaced when, in
the middle of the intellectual competition, he forgets the name of Queen Elizabeth’s
husband. If he intended for the Houyhnhnms to be the medium in which his satire was to be
based he would not show them to be capable of error.


Swifts satire of the Houyhnhnms comes out in other ways as well. One of the most
memorable scenes is when the mare attempts to woo the horse. First she acts
flirtatiously, parading around the bewildered horse. But when this does not have the
desired effect, she gets another idea:


"As I watched in amazement from my perch in the top of a tree, the sorrel nag dashed off
and returned with a yahoo on her back who was yet more monstrous than Mr. Pope being
fitted by a clothier. She dropped this creature before my nag as if offering up a
sacrifice. My horse sniffed the creature and turned away."


It might seem that we should take this scene seriously as a failed attempt at courtship, and that
consequently we should see the gray mares attempt as just a failure. But it makes more sense if we see that
Swift is being satiric here: it is the female Houyhnhnm who makes the move, which would not have
happened in eighteenth-century England. Is this Swifts way of expressing his views on
women’s liberation by making their society out to be more equal and therefore more
advanced? Or is he trying to put them down by focusing on the mares foolishness for
"hitting on a horse not capable of the level of though in which she is? More likely than
not he Swift was not concerned with the sex equality aspect and used this scene to hurt
Continues for 8 more pages >>




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