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The Assessment of Society in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels

Satisfactory Essays
"In its most serious function, satire is a mediator between two perceptions-the unillusioned perception of man as he actually is, and the ideal perception, or vision, of man as he ought ot be," (Bullitt, 3). Likewise, "misanthropy" can be understood as being the product of one of two world views: 1) The Pure Cynic or Misanthropist has no faith in human nature and has given up on any notion of ideals. This type lies and manipulates as a matter of course and these are the types that tend to run the world. 2) The "Burned" or Disillusioned Idealist's misanthropy arises out of disappointment in humankind. In many ways, the second type exhibits more bile as he is constantly frustrated by what men do as opposed to what they ought to do. Jonathon Swift is the second type of misanthropist and Gulliver's Travels is arguably his greatest satiric attempt to "shame men out of their vices" (Ibid., 14) by constantly distinguishing between how man behaves and how he thinks about or justifies his behavior in a variety of situations. Pride, in particular, is what enables man to "deceive himself into the belief that he is rational and virtuous when, in reality, he has not developed his reason, and his virtue is merely appearance," (Ibid., 66). This satire works on so many levels that a paper such as this allows me to deal with only three elements, and in a necessarily superficial way: the ways in which the structure and choice of metaphor serve Swift's purpose, a discussion of some of his most salient attacks on politics, religion, and other elements of society, and his critique on the essence and flaws of human nature. Swift's purpose was to stir his readers to view themselves as he viewed humankind, as creatures who were not fulfilling their potential to be truly great but were simply flaunting the trappings of greatness. Gulliver's Travels succeeds in this goal brilliantly.

The form and structure of the whole work enhanced Swift's purpose, as did the specific metaphors in each of the four voyages. Firstly, Swift went to great pains to present Gulliver's Travels in the genuine, standard form of the popular travelogues of the time. Gulliver, the reader is told, was a seaman, first in the capacity of a ship's surgeon, then as the captain of several ships. Swift creates a realistic framework by incorporating nautical jargon, descriptive detail that is related in a "factual, ship's-log" style, and repeated claims by Gulliver, in his narrative, "to relate plain matter(s) of fact in the simplest manner and style.
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