Upon Gulliver’s arrival in Laputa, it is not long before the reader is made aware of something particularly off-kilter about the inhabitants of the floating city. Members of the social elite are so intently focused on their own cognizance that they are impossible to rouse without the aid of an attendant known as a “flapper”. In Swift’s words: “This flapper is likewise employed diligently to attend his master on walks, and upon occasion, give him a soft flap on his eyes; because he is always so wrapped up in cognition, that he is in manifest danger of falling down every precipice” (93). While this notion may have been ludicrous and inconceivable in Swift’s time, people today are frequently injured or killed while feeding themselves their daily dose of media from their smartphones. In a way, this critique of improperly focused attention is more valid currently than at the time of Swift’s publication. Science, too, is found in the crosshairs of Swift’s satire.
The most pointed critique of sciences found in the novel comes whe...
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... by their hatred of the “yahoos”. Swift writes: “Their old debate, and indeed only debate . . . The question was, ‘whether the yahoos should be exterminated from the face of the Earth?’” (160). For a society that is supposedly unable to comprehend evil in rational creatures, this proposition is particularly sinister. Modern readers, with atrocities such as the Holocaust brought to mind, have no trouble seeing that the Houyhnhnms are on a dangerous course with unchecked reason at the helm.
To conclude, let it suffice to say that science and reason provide wonderful advancements to society, but, if left uncontrolled, can bring about great harms. Jonathan Swift knew this, and he offers an ominous warning to readers of Gulliver’s Travels through his satire. Swift’s critiques are as valid today, if not more so, as they were when Gulliver’s Travels first went to press.
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