In Jonathon Swift's Gulliver Travels and in John Milton's Paradise Lost, the reader is presented with two lands representing utopias. For Swift this land is an island inhabited by horse like creatures called Houyhnhnms who rule over man like beasts called Yahoos. For Milton, the Garden of Eden before the Fall of man represents Paradise. In it, Adam and Eve are pure and innocent, untested and faithful to God. The American Heritage Dictionary defines utopia as "an ideally perfect place, especially in its social, political, and moral aspects." And while Houyhnhnm Land and the Garden of Eden may seem like ideally perfect places, they are not. Indeed, they contradict our ideas of utopia.
Our fascination with utopias stems from our attraction to and pursuit of progress within our own society. We study utopias with the hope that our society will someday evolve into one. But what often goes unnoticed is that if our society improves enough to become utopian, it won't be able to improve any longer. Hence, it will be rigid and unchanging, the complete opposite of what it was as it evolved to its elevated state. This is an awful truth for us because we place value and virtue in the ideas of desire and progress. Our reason tells us: once in an ideal land, desire cannot simply cease to be, because desire is part of our human nature. And our reason is right. An ideal society should accentuate our human nature, not suppress it. As we desire a perfect society we know that a perfect could not exist without our desire. And as long as we desire, we hope for progress. The idea that an utopia wouldn't allow such progress to occur is enough to make us stop believing in utop...
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...ames Holly. "Milton and the Art of War." John Milton, Poet and Humanist: essays by James Holly Hanford. Cleveland: Press of Western Reserve U, 1966. 185-223.
Lock, F. P. The Politics of Gulliver's Travels. Oxford, Great Britain: Oxford University Press, 1980.
Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Ed. Roy Flannagan. New York: Macmillan, 1993.
Patrides, C.A. Milton and The Christian Tradition. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966)
Revard, Stella Purce. The War in Heaven. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1980.
Rodino, Richard H. "The Study of Gulliver's Travels, Past and Present." Critical Approaches to Teaching Swift. New York: AMS Press, 1992.
Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver's Travels. Mahwah, NJ: Watermill Press, 1983.
Tuveson, Ernest. (Ed.) Paradise Lost: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1964.
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