Monday, March 08, 2010

Gulliver's Travels

Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels is a wonderful satire that is much more rich than the Lilliputian kids book I recalled. Written from the perspective of Gulliver, the book recounts meetings with 4 groups of "people": small people, big people, flying people and 'wild' people that are subservient to intelligent horses.
The entertaining tales of his visits to the various groups, however, are secondary to the sly commentary on 18th century British (and European) life. By comparing other societies with the English, Swift is able to bring out additional subtleties that would be much more challenging than saying them outright. He also spends significant time discussing child-raising and societal mores - with an obvious view of what he thinks superior.
Gulliver presents a naive optimism throughout the stories. He is willing to go with the flow to properly live with the many different groups. However, he is not exempt from failing to grow from others' shortcomings. In particular, with the Laputians, he observes the society that is obsessed with advanced math and erudition, yet can't see past this learning to apply the practical knowledge. His next trip to the Houyhnhnms leaves him with a great distaste for "Yahoos". On return to society, he applies the "Yahoo" label to all humans, including his own family. He attempts to live a life apart from humans by adhering to the higher social plane of the horses; he does not realize that by doing so, he is failing to apply his great store of knowledge and committing a fault similar to those of Laputa.

No comments:

Post a Comment