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The Nature of Man in Gulliver's Travels Essay

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The Nature of Man in Gulliver's Travels

Swift uses many personae to sketch the nature of man in Book 4 of Gulliver's travels. The problem with this is that none of the personae give us the same definition of the nature of man. First of all, there is Gulliver himself, who bases his judgments on the ways in which the Yahoos behave and the way the people from his country behave. He ties it all together at the end in his reflections. Most of all, throughout the book, we get an idea of the nature of man through Gulliver's behavior. The Yahoos cannot comment on the nature of man, however, they display it in the ways they behave and interact. Lastly, the Houyhnhnms give us some ideas on the nature of man, through their observations of the Yahoo's and Gulliver.

Swift creates the personae of the houyhnhnms as ignorant, and therefore open to interpreting Gulliver's stories. Gulliver is created to be knowledgeable of the ways of civilized man. The yahoos, on the contrary, are created as something primal to compare Gulliver to. The way in which all of these personae interact, represent, and explain the nature of man, is the one way you can get a somewhat clear idea of Swift's ideas on the subject. It seems that the obvious observation to be made about the nature of man in this account, is that man is innately a lazy and greedy consumer.

In the beginning of the book Gulliver discovers that he is much like a Yahoo, and quickly despises them because of how disgusting he finds them. This is interesting, because in essence he is despising his own kind. Gulliver explains to his master houyhnhnm the ways of Englishmen; their "desire of power and riches, (and the) terrible effects of lust, intemperance, malice and envy" (1081) and then goe...


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... already lost some of his virtue. He despises his wife and cannot deal with the idea that he fathered children on the yahoo race. This is not the type of behavior one would expect from such a newly enlightened man.

In conclusion, the nature of man is expressed in book four of Gulliver's Travels through three different personae. Each personae has a different role to play in describing what might be Swift's beliefs on the inherent nature of humankind. It is obviously not possible to know for sure what exactly Swift was trying to say, but from as much as one can gather from his writing, he seems to be suggesting that humans are essentially greedy, lazy and careless unless they are trying to better their personal situation.

Works Cited

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver's Travels. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 7ed. W.W. Norton and Co. New York: 2001.




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