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Upon reading “Gulliver’s Travels” I investigated the nature of man, his weaknesses, his capabilities, and the way of life that was fitting for him. Swift constantly stressed the evil of human pride as the greatest defect in human nature. Showing the dangerous consequences of our refusal to recognize our limitations as human being.
In the first part of the “Travels”, Swift takes a simple, agreeable, man named Gulliver who has thought very little about life, and places him into a situation where he becomes victim of the uncontrollable pride of tiny creatures who act as if they were masters of the universe. The Lilliputians behave as if they were lords and masters of the universe, appearing to be unaware how ridiculous their ways are in relation to their size. Gulliver sees that pride is a basic human sin, the causes of all other evils. Political
corruption in Lilliput causes Gulliver to leave disillusioned about the good of man. This book begins Gulliver’s “education.”
In Book II Swift tricks us into identifying with Gulliver, and realize how morally inferior we are to “giants.” The Brobdingnagians were far from perfect. As we saw through the actions of the farmer they were capable of greed and exploitation. He can be contrasted to King who represents the highest of moral development we have yet encountered. He is aware of the limitations of man. We see this when the King refuses the gunpowder because he believed it is too much power to be put in the hand of such imperfect a creature as man. This is so true; it is evident when Gulliver describes the destructive potential of a cannon without showing the pain and terror they can create. When the King refuses the gunpowder he also refuses absolute control over his subjects. This is unlike the Lilliputian Emperor who was mad at Gulliver for putting the Blefuscudians under his authority. Ironically, it appears that Gulliver has embraced the belief of the Lilliputian Emperor; he believes the Brobdingnag King is foolish not to want to be a tyrant.
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In Book III, we do not see Gulliver’s character develop. Gulliver’s responses to the world of Laputa, to the Academy of Projectors, and to the Count do not appear to be in the voice of Gulliver, but rather that of Swift. Except when he meets the struldbruggs from which he learns if we refuse to come to terms with death, we will fail to incorporate the most important condition of life, at some point it must end. The longing for eternal life is another type of human pride. If we are aware of our limitations, then we are aware of our abilities, and being aware of these abilities is one of the functions of this book.
In Book III science and technology are being attacked. Science appeared to be distrusted. It was another symbol of human pride, through intellect to deal with human problems. This is why the Academy of Projectors devised projects, but the problems were devised only with thought, this was impractical. This can be compared with the common sense of Count Munodi whose mansion is beautiful and whose fields were filled with crops. He relied upon traditional wisdom, while he searched for answers to human problems. His mansion was beautiful while the rest of the buildings around Lagado were in ruins or barren land. Count Munodi does not rely on his own intellect, but also upon the best past human experience has to offer. Scientist and Projectors are unaware of the limits of the human mind, and are victims of pride. Like in Lilliput the victims of pride defeat themselves. By letting Gulliver go, they lost someone who could have been a real asset to their land. The life of the Laputians is miserable, the projectors schemes never work, projectors and scientists are blind to the limits of humans. A good life is achieved when one realizes their capabilities and does not try to exceed them.
In the first three books the institutions, the customs, the beliefs, and the behavior of man have all been mocked. In Book IV he looks at human nature. He looks to find a definition of man, a definition, which will give reason to; the mess man has managed to make of his life and his world. Gulliver is amongst bodies of perfection the Houyhnhnms, and bodies of deprivation the Yahoos. The reaction of Gulliver when he saw man as animal was incredible. It was as if the Yahoos were the result of man without reason and removed from civilization. To distinguish himself from these animals, Gulliver attaches himself to the Houyhnhnms. They are beings of absolute reason, different from human reason. He judges mankind by Houyhnhnms standards. In doing so he begins to remove himself from his race, and cannot live amongst people who do not meet the Houyhnhnms standards.
What Swift is trying to make us realize is that man is neither Yahoo nor Houyhnhnm. One can live a good life if he realized that he is limited. Men like Count Munodi and Captain Mendez are decent, caring, wise, and humble men who are aware of what they can do by realizing what they cannot. In doing so they appear to live good lives. Gulliver goes mad when he realized that man cannot be perfect. He cannot come to terms with what he cannot do, his limitations. He to is proud! His madness and pride ironically show how imperfect man really is. By striving for perfection, Gulliver misses his chance for goodness.