Analysis of Gulliver's Travels
In Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels,” the concepts of Christianity are viewed through various satiric devices, among which, opposing doctrines of atheism and Deism, as well as humanism are posited. By satirizing both the skeptic and the believer, Swift manages to cast as ambiguous light upon spiritual faith as he casts upon notions of utopian society - Analysis of Gulliver's Travels introduction. By fiercely satirizing both ideals, the implied (but never articulated) “answer” to what the religious and social ideas which are satirized, is that both true spirituality and true utopia exist, but are equally unattainable.
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· One mode of satire is to mock the simultaneous notions of “truth” or religious doctrine and subjective authority and individual power, as in the following passage: “For the Words are these; That all true Believers shall break their Eggs at the convenient End: and which is the convenient End, seems, in my humble Opinion, to be left to every Man’s Conscience, or at least in the Power of the chief Magistrate to determine” (Turner 37).
· Another satirical mode is to set opposites such as hierarchical social ranking against the notion of an ideal society: “At first, indeed, I did not feel that natural Awe which the Yahoos and all other Animals bear towards them; but it grew upon me by Degrees, much sooner than I imagined, and was mingled with a respectful Love and Gratitude, that they would condescend to distinguish me from the rest of my Species” (Turner, 270).
· While in the Houyhnhnms’ land, Gulliver discovers an ideal society controlled not by spirituality but by reason, “their grand Maxim is, to cultivate Reason, and to be wholly governed by it” (Turner, 242) which implies that spirituality is not necessary to realize a social ideal.
· Again, playing hierarchy (of knowledge and size) Swift demonstrates the essential divisiveness of both politics and religion: the Prejudices of his Education prevailed so far, that he could not forbear taking me up in his right Hand, and stroaking me gently with the other; after an hearty Fit of laughing, asked me whether I were a Whig or a Tory (Turner 95)
· Finally, Swift denies “Christian” society any of the professed virtues of its avowed religion of Christianity. In closing the work he writes “But, as those Countries which I have described do not appear to have a Desire of being conquered, and enslaved, murdered or driven out by Colonies; nor abound either in Gold, Silver, Sugar or Tobacco; I did humbly conceive they were by no Means proper Objects of our Zeal, our Valour, or our Interest” (Turner 287) which, with one sweeping blow, seems to cast an ironic light on both Christianity and agnosticism.
“Gulliver’s Travels” was written at a time of personal and political crises for the author, Swift, and the work resides comfortably in the “Golden Age” of satirical literature in which it was created. Emerging “From the beast fables, fabliaux, and Chaucerian caricatures to the extended treatments of John Skelton, Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Erasmus, and Cervantes, the satirical tradition flourished throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, culminating in the golden age of satire in the late 17th and early 18th cent.” (“Satire”)
Turner, Paul, ed. Gulliver’s Travels. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
“Satire.” The Columbia Encyclopedia. 6th ed. 2007.