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On the Margins of Society: The Cult of Alienation in World Literature Essay

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Spanning nearly two centuries of literature, Gulliver’s Travels, Notes from Underground, and The Metamorphosis maintain a concurrent theme. Jonathan Swift, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Franz Kafka, respectively, portray the complex dynamic between the community and the individual. The writers’ iconic protagonists similarly become estranged from society, in spite of the markedly different historical contexts behind them. Upon reading the aforementioned works, it could be deduced that achieving a sense of connectedness within one’s community is a feat irrespective of time period and any scientific and technological advances therein; that the plight of loneliness is programmed into the individual on a visceral level. However, it could also be argued that while the three authors all capture an essential element of modern society; alienation, most of their readers do not feel it as acutely as their protagonists, if at all, and the few who do can find their solace knowing that in being alone, they are not alone.
When Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels in 1726, Europe was in the midst of the Enlightenment. Decades of scientific progress resulted in widespread adoption of rational thought, challenging previously accepted beliefs of determinism while embracing the concept of free will. In Gulliver’s Travels, Swift utilized satire to creatively translate the ideological shift toward individualism and its consequent cultural fragmentation. The preoccupation with intellectual autonomy and reason are reflected in Gulliver, a man who becomes so overwhelmed by the inadequacies of a foolish society that seclusion was the only remedy for his misanthropy.
Although Gulliver’s Travels is most perceptibly a social commentary critiquing the flaws of a greedy,...


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...resigned to their particular fates, the reader can find solace in maintaining hope that substantial thoughts exist, good hearts prevail, and eloquent, purposeful bonds with other people may be achieved, and be all the more appreciated for their rarity.





Works Cited

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. “Notes from Underground.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature: 1800 to 1900. Ed. Sarah Lawall and Maynard Mack. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002. 1307-1379. Print.
Kafka, Franz. “The Metamorphosis.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature: The Twentieth Century. Ed. Sarah Lawall and Maynard Mack. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002. 1999-2030. Print.
Swift, Jonathan. “Gulliver’s Travels.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature: 1650 to 1800. Ed. Sarah Lawall and Maynard Mack. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002. 433-483. Print.


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