Jonathan Swift possessed a mysterious character. He was a disappointed, frustrated, and embittered man. Cursed with excessive pride and arrogance, he became like a suppressed volcano.
So, various interpretations of his life and work have been offered. Critics differ widely on his attitude towards humankind and his society. Macaulay, Jeffrey, and Jeffrey produced unsympathetic studies on Swift.
However, many writers have devotedly defended him from being a hater of humankind or misanthrope.
Even so, the mystery surrounding him has not lifted the curtain. It is not easy to reconcile his attack on the woman with his love for Stella and two other women’s love for him.
Therefore, it is still a stigma whether he hated man really or tried to satirize him to cure him of the frivolities, follies, and vices prevalent during his lifetime.
Swift Exposes Man’s Negative Qualities in Gulliver’s First Two Travels
Gulliver’s travels are four in number. In the first two travels, i.e., to Lilliput and Brobdingnag, his attacks are not so turbulent, and he attacks man’s envy and other negative qualities.
In his journey to Laputa, Gulliver expressed his deep mistrust in the future and workings of science. However, in the last book, where he narrated his journey to the land of philosophical horses, he made the bitterest satire against humanity.
Gulliver reduces and lowers man’s position by describing them as yahoos, the brutal beasts responsible for all sorts of indiscipline and troubles in that country of heavenly peace and happiness. He had many difficulties convincing his master that he was not a yahoo.
Swift’s Emphasis on Love to Govern A Nation
Gulliver’s description of wars among human beings produced only disgust in the master Houyhnhnms. The virtues of the Houyhnhnms emphasize the satire on law and lawyers and the lust for gold. These intelligent animals are governed only by love, and their courtship is unknown.
Gulliver does not want to leave this country because of his profound respect for its ruler and inhabitants. However, when he returns home, he is filled with disgust against the members of his own family, and he practically swoons when his wife embraces and kisses him.
What annoys Gulliver most is to see the human being proud, a vice unknown to the Houyhnhnms.
Swift Reveals Man’s Pride of Achievements
Despite these bitterest remarks against man in part IV, we cannot call Gulliver a misanthrope summarily. In the first two parts, his attitude to man is mild and less aggressive.
In these parts, he pointed out the variety of human achievements of which humanity feels proud. Here he laughs at the man only to show the weaknesses of his character so that man can take the correct view of his position in the world and accordingly correct himself.
Swift Attacks Man’s Meanness through Lilliputians’ Political Affairs
In the country of Lilliput, Gulliver is a ‘man-mountain,’ whereas the inhabitants of this country are not taller than six inches. The satire in this book shows human motives at work on a small scale. The littleness of human affairs and the pettiness of political intrigues are the targets of his attack.
The dispute over which end an egg should properly be broken, which plunged Lilliput into civil war, is a comment on the seriousness of party divisions in the greater world. Swift wants to show the meanness of man.
Swift Shatters Man’s Pride of Greatness through Brobdingnag
Again, when Gulliver visits Brobdingnag, he finds its people to be as tall as sixty feet. The ‘man-mountain’ himself becomes a Lilliputian in that country.
The giant’s country shatters the pride of Gulliver as a ‘man-mountain.’ The king of this country expresses his amazement at the affairs of the ‘little men’ of which Gulliver is the representative.
The king is surprised when he hears that these little people have discovered gun-powder for their killing.
What We Learn from Gulliver’s Visit to Lilliput And Brobdingnag
The two pictures of two countries, Lilliput and Brobdingnag, make us humble, not haughty and insolent like the yahoos.
The man should intently learn his limitations. Swift deplores the proud sense of human beauty. He makes us naked only to teach that man should not boast of his power and vainglory.
An example is enough to prove that we certainly have a high admiration for physical beauty. It is nothing but an attitude of our mind. The queen of the Lilliputians had a beauty that Gulliver overlooked.
Conversely, the women of Brobdingnag are certainly portrayed as beautiful. However, to Gulliver, there is no beauty in such a giantess.
The size and shape of the breast of a nurse of this country cannot add to her beauty. Instead, such a big breast makes her ‘ugly’ to Gulliver.
Gulliver’s Travels has been described to be one of the supreme masterpieces of the world, equal to the best work of Chaucer, Dickens, Rabelais, Moliere, and Cervantes.
As a comedy, it aims at correcting the weaknesses of contemporary society. Therefore, Swift can never be a misanthrope in the first two books, although many critics accuse him of being one for his anti-human stand in book IV.