Swift_as_a_Misanthrope (1).docx | Jonathan Swift | Gulliver\'s Travels
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INTRODUCTION Jonathan Swift was born on November 30, 1667 in Dublin, Ireland, the son of Protestant Anglo-Irish parents: his ancestors had been Royalists, and all his life he would be a High-Churchman. His father, also Jonathan, died a few months before he was born, upon which his mother, Abigail, returned to England, leaving her son behind, in the care of relatives. In 1673, at the age of six, Swift began his education at Kilkenny Grammar School, which was, at the time, the best in Ireland. Between 1682 and 1686 he attended, and graduated from, Trinity College in Dublin, though he was not, apparently, an exemplary student. In 1688 William of Orange invaded England, initiating the Glorious Revolution: with Dublin in political turmoil, Trinity College was closed, and an ambitious Swift took the opportunity to go to England, where he hoped to gain preferment in the Anglican Church. In England, in 1689, he became secretary to Sir William Temple, a diplomat and man of letters, at Moor Park in Surrey. There Swift read extensively in his patron's library, and met Esther Johnson, who would become his "Stella," and it was there, too, that he began to suffer from Meniere's Disease, a disturbance of the inner ear which produces nausea and vertigo, and which was little understood in Swift's day. In 1690, at the advice of his doctors, Swift returned to Ireland, but the following year he was back with Temple in England. He visited Oxford in 1691: in 1692, with Temple's assistance, he received an M. A. degree from that University, and published his first poem: on reading it, John Dryden, a distant relation, is said to have remarked "Cousin Swift, you will never be a poet." In 1720 he began work upon Gulliver's Travels, intended, as he says in a letter to Pope, "to vex the world, not to divert it." 1724-25 saw the publication of The Drapier Letters, which gained Swift enormous popularity in Ireland, and the completion of Gulliver's Travels. The progressive darkness of the latter work is an indication of the extent to which his misanthropic tendencies became more and more markedly manifest, had taken greater and greater hold upon his mind. In 1726 he visited England once again, and stayed with Pope at Twickenham: in the same year Gulliver's Travels was published. In 1742, Swift suffered from a stroke and lost the ability to speak. On October 19, 1745, Jonathan Swift died. He was laid to rest next to Esther Johnson inside of Dublin's St. Patrick's Cathedral.
DISCUSSION In an introduction to Gulliver's Travels Paul Turner writes, “In Part I the human race is viewed in miniature, and at first seems rather charming; but the tiny creatures soon turn out to be treacherous and cruel. They are ready to sacrifice all humane feeling, whether towards Gulliver or the Blefuscudians, to their own petty ambitions”. George Orwell, widely known as a political and social satirist, has called Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift “a rancorous as well as a pessimistic book.” Many readers have come to the conclusion that Jonathan Swift was nothing more than a miserable misanthrope. However, Jonathan Swift wrote with an unmatchable flair. According to Webster a misanthrope is someone who hates or distrusts people. Now this is very interesting because hate and distrust are two very different things. One can distrust something without hating it. It's great that Swift begins his tale with the Lilliputians. Animals that are small tend to be thought of as cute and innocent. It's hard, almost, to take the Lilliputians seriously, but as we progress through Part I the cuteness of the Lilliputians disappears. I like the way Swift begins this story so matter-of-factly. The beginning is almost put one into thinking this will be another boring story, but that tone gives it a sense of it reality that might otherwise not have. There are three things that Swift is satirizing. The first is travel books in general. Many of the travel books of Swift's day contained outlandish tales only meant to entertain and amuse the reader, not present them with the truth of the place the author had visited. The great thing about Gulliver's Travels is that Swift presents, in his mind, the truth about humanity with
events that, obviously, could not have happened. Secondly, Swift is commenting on historical events that took place in England and Ireland sometimes involving his friends and himself. Thirdly, and this is the most important, Swift is commenting on humanity in general. Swift wrote Gulliver's Travels at a time of political change and scientific invention, and many of the events he describes in the book can easily be linked to contemporary events in Europe. One of the reasons that the stories are deeply amusing is that, by combining real issues with entirely fantastic situations and characters, they suggest that the realities of 18th-century England were as fantastic as the situations in which Gulliver finds himself. Society, in many cases, becomes so enthralled in being judgmental towards a person’s work that sometimes the truth of the situation is distorted. This is exactly the case for Jonathan Swift. Because of his renowned satire, Gulliver’s Travels, Swift was labeled as a misanthrope. This, however, is far from the truth. Jonathan Swift was a satirist. A satirist cannot be a misanthrope. Thus, deductive reasoning prevails; Jonathan Swift is a not a misanthrope. A satire is a piece of writing that exposes fault, may it be society or human nature, exposes fault none the less. Next, the satire mocks the fault. Lastly, it suggests a better way of doing something. A satirist, one who writes a satire, cannot be a misanthrope. This statement is true because he made an effort to improve the condition of or relinquish the problem. A misanthrope, on the other hand, would make no attempt to better any condition because he simply hates man. Thus, by definition, a satirist cannot be a misanthrope. Another thing should also be highlightend that it was human behaviour as a whole that he hated, not all individuals. Swift once wrote, “I have ever hated all Nations professions and Communities, and all my love is towards individuals; for instance, I hate the tribe of Lawyers, but I love Councellor such a one, Judge such a
one; . . . so with Physicians (I will not Speak of my own Trade), Soldiers, English, Scotch, French, and the rest, but principally I hate and detest that animal called man”. Swift is not a misanthropic, however what is clear is he was a humanitarian. Swift was most obviously concerned about social welfare, he believed in humans reaching above what they were and this is the very definition of humanitarian. Another way to think of is it is a blind man tells you that a flower smells beautiful do you laugh at him and tell him that he can’t tell you the flower smells beautiful because he has never seen beauty? The same way, even if Swift hated humanity he believed in humanities ability to overcome its short comings and he knew how humanity could do it.
CONCLUSION We have focused here weather Jonathan Swift is a misanthrope or not. While Gulliver may be viewed as a misanthrope, the story is not a misanthropic work. One cannot forget that Swift is writing from the Gulliver’s point of view for a reason. Through Gulliver and his misanthropy, Swift can point out the shortcomings of society without having to face the consequences of being bluntly critical himself. Swift does not write in hatred of the human race, but to show society it’s faults in hopes that people will improve themselves and their surroundings. He knows that there is good in people, though Don Pedro is keeping Gulliver captive, he is really trying to help. He is actually a very important character in the story. His purpose is to bring Gulliver back into society. Gulliver says that Don Pedro told him "as a matter of honour and conscience, that I ought to return to my native country, and live at home with my wife and children." Through Don Pedro, Swift is trying to tell us that we cannot simply hide away from the evils in the world. We must face them.