A Comparision of the “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” and Gullivers Travels

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A comparision of the “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” and Gullivers Travels Gulliver sails across the wide expanse of an ocean on a voyage, just as Icarus, son of Daedalus did on a pair of wax welded wings. Both met their disasters on the waters of their journeys. Gulliver was ignorant and naive and Icarus proud and arrogant. Both expressed having weakness as only human nature can have. Bruegel’s painting, ‘Landscape with the Fall of Icarus”, portrays this artist’s opinion of the Greek legend as well as human nature in relation to moral dilemmas.

Jonathan Swift, the writer of Gulliver’s Travels, also uses his written art to voice his opinion regarding morality and the follies of mankind. These men used their talents in such a way as to try and awaken and affect change in the society of their time. Despite the incredible, even heroic invention of Icarus’s wings, his over-confidence and arrogance by disregarding the warnings of his father destroyed him in the end. The message can be interpreted from the painting that the poison of the human condition comes from such vices, and eventually leads to downfall in a person’s life and in society.

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Human Pride and arrogance are not lasting qualities in the scheme of world order. The higher Icarus choose to fly towards the sun, the more his wings melted away, much like high-flying ambitions fueled by selfish desires erode our life. One way in which Bruegel’s painting has a moral voice is in the sense one gets of a lack of society’s remorse for the passing of Icarus. Even with his passing, life seems to go on and perhaps for the better. In comparison, Jonathan Swift’s written work of Gulliver’s Travels also has many characters who exhibit a stubborn pride or selfishness which resulted in traumatic consequences.

Probably the most obvious example is in the first adventure of Lilliput. The Lilliputian government shamelessly took advantage of Gulliver’s good nature on several accounts and waged war for petty reasons. Even if it could be made apparent to the Emperor and his court that the war was not worth the cost of lives, their need to be right seems to be the central reason for waging the war. Swift’s influence could have come from England’s war with France; he was very strongly opposed to much of what went on in the politics of his country.

In another voyage, Gulliver describes his visits to the flying island of Laputa and then to the Academy. The islanders are not completely unlike the Lilliputians in that they too have an arrogance of their own, but the pride of this people and king is in the power of technology and confidence of their intellect. During Swift’s time, he watched the Enlightenment come into being and the subsequent effects it had on society. His work exemplified his anxiety over the attitude which characterized the enlightenment.

Although Swift was not completely against scientific advancements, he believed that life was meant to be more than a mechanized quality. In Swift’s era, reason seemed to have become a substitute for faith and religion was cast aside. In Bruegel’s Painting, society is again graphically depicted. The golden light of the sun gently caressing the land within this painting is deceptively a peaceful scene. This gentle scene is broken only when the viewer notices that there is a pair of legs of a drowning boy hidden away in the waters. The energy and focal point of this painting is on the busy society, not the pair of legs .

Bruegel uses light, intense colors and adjusts the composition to draw our interests away from Icarus and to the different men pleasantly consumed in their work. In spite of Icarus’s prideful mistake, in his humbled state needing to be saved, the people around him seem too preoccupied and absorbed in their own life to notice the desperate Icarus about to die. . Only then does the true intent become apparent of this painting’s nature: To awaken the viewer to a deep moral concern, much like the light of spring would awaken the land from numb, unfeeling slumber.

This is yet another theme that can been interpreted out of this painting – that the real tragedy isn’t specifically in Icarus’s pride, but in the insignificance of his death. The complete unconcern of the people for the extinguishing of a life illustrates the attitude of unimportance. A symbolic interpretation could be the ignorance of (Bruegel’s) society to the vices of pride and arrogance or also perhaps the unconcern of moral decline and injustices. Though Gulliver was a simple man, he represents the man plowing his fields in Bruegel’s painting. The central focus of the painting is on the plowman and his horse.

They steadily plod in one direction with their faces turned downward. This symbolically portrays the narrow-minded view of Gulliver; his focus is straight ahead and down, unaware of the irony of his life. Gulliver consistently expresses a naive ignorance to the follies of each people group he encounters, even of his own England. The plow horse’s back side is thoughtlessly and shamelessly exposed like Gulliver’s innocent but unbecoming behavior, i. e. the instance where Gulliver urinated on the palace to put out the fire in his concern for having the majestic palace burn to the ground.

Both Gulliver and the farmer are the image of the common man’s ignorance and naivete. The sheppard and his flock of sheep can also be included in this category. He is so deeply embedded in his thoughts that he doesn’t notice how close his sheep have wandered to the edge of the cliff. Even the sailors are so involved that they continue to sail away in the opposite direction of Icarus. Each of these common men seems to portray something about Gulliver’s person and the kind of society that Swift and Bruegel appear to be mocking: Both works illustrate the dangers of a society which is oblivious or numb to tragedy.

Perhaps the main conclusion of both Swift and Bruegel’s works, is that their societies lacked the awareness to recognize the atrocities of their times and the vices of the human condition. Both works seemed to indicate that pride, arrogance, narrow-mindedness, and ignorance, lead to the destruction of the positive human qualities necessary for a healthy society. A society which is built on mechanization and reason without compassion will eventually lead to its demise. This point is best illustrated by the unnoticed drowning of Icarus which clearly shows the futility of pride and arrogance to make a true impact on society.

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A Comparision of the “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” and Gullivers Travels. (2016, Dec 16). Retrieved from


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