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Civil Laws and Religious Authority in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels

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Civil Laws and Religious Authority in Gulliver's Travels     


In part one of Gulliver's Travels, Swift present readers with an inverted world, not only by transplanting Gulliver to a land that's only a twelfth the size (a literal microcosm), but also by placing him into a society with different ethical and civil laws.  Swift uses these inversions not only to entertain the readers imagination, but more importantly, to transform our perspectives to understand alien worldviews (e.g. in part four, there is great detail given to explain the Houyhnhnms' views on marriage, health, astronomy, poetry, language, death, and reproduction).  The Lilliputian conflict that erupts from the egg law (found in part one, chapter four) is an inversion, which (1) parallels the conflict of the Protestant reformation; and (2) argues that warring over religious viewpoints is futile and destructive to society, and (3) mandates lawmakers to be wary of creating laws that contradict religious teachings. 

The conflict between the Lilliputians and Blefuscudians resembles the Protestant and Papist struggle because it's a struggle about interpretation of scripture. The "great prophet Lustrog, in the fifty-fourth chapter of the Brundecral" decrees that "all true believers shall break their eggs at the convenient end" (2353). The Blefuscudians (like Roman Catholics) hold a traditional view of scripture, and in their case, " the primitive way of breaking eggs . . . was upon the larger end" (2353), and that was "ancient practice" (2353). The Lilliputians (like Protestants), broke from tradition and held a personal view of scripture, as the Emperor decreed, "to break the smaller end of their eggs" (2353). And for "six and thirty moons past" (2353), the Lil...


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...egg law that caused so many wars because of religious persuasions, Swift causes all lawmakers (and thus democratic voters) to be wary of instituting laws that conflict with religion.  Thus the seemingly silly egg law, points to huge ideas that affect every society.

When Gulliver first awakes in Lilliput country, Swift has him strapped down staring at the sky, in a new land, with a new language, with new laws.  Swift, in a sense, straps us all down, to teach us about new perspectives and the importance of tolerance.  In Swift's inverted world, he parallels the Lilliputian conflict with the protestant reformation, argues for toleration of religious viewpoints and to not war over them, and instructs all lawmakers to be wary of creating laws that contradict religious teachings.

Works Cited:

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver's Travels. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1959.


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