The Loss of the Ideal in A Tale of a Tub

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A Tale of a Tub is a mass of text seemingly thrown together with the purpose of deliberately confusing the reader, but its digressions upon digressions cannot mask the inevitable theme of loss, which is ultimately found in all of Swift's works. The satire holds the present against an ideal of past perfection, and the comparison always shows the modern to be lacking. The church adulterates religion; moderns, the ancients; critics, the author. The narrator of Swift’s text seems to believe that the moment a great work or idea is put forth, it can be pure, but will always degrade with time. Because it is impossible to return to this former state, there is a heavy sense of disappointment that weighs down the more transparent wit and humor. The entire tale could be nothing more than a joke, which is aimed at not only the moderns and the church, but the audience as well.1 But no matter how many quips or crude attacks Swift makes, the purpose of the story is not just to laugh at the expense of others, but to mourn the fall of an ideal that can never exist again. It is impossible to return to an original source in the Tale because it seems as if the narrator holds a model of a linear time-line in his head. As time passes, the distance between each passing moment and the originating point must increase, and any attempt to return to the beginning must fail. Just as it is impossible for someone living in the eighteenth century to return to the first, a man who is taught to be a modern can never think exactly like an ancient. Because of this view, the narrator can almost be seen as a modern-day phenomenologist. This philosophy asserts the impossibility of observing any object as it actually is, since the viewer is separated from the obje... ... middle of paper ... ...m must fall short of the original. And if his talent cannot be used to add to the glory of the classics, then it might as well be used to condemn the moderns. If all writing is ultimately a corruption of that which preceded it, as the narrator seems to believe, then it is better to write of something that is despised rather than revered. At times the Tale appears to be nothing more than a prank, due to all of the digressions and unintelligible passages that are inserted. Swift states that he is giving his readers exactly what they want, because mankind “receives much greater Advantage by being Diverted than Instructed,” and happiness “is a perpetual Possession of being well Deceived” (327, 351). Swift views this as the exact problem that is ruining current learning, and puts it under the readers’ nose to frustrate them with the same method they are promoting

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