CHARACTERIZING SWIFT AS A MISANTHROPE 1
CharacterizingSwift as a misanthrope
Misanthropyis a general feeling of hatred of human beings and humanity as awhole. One feels contemptuous and has a distrust of fellow humans. Amisanthrope is that kind of person. In this essay, we will look atwhether Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels, is acynic based on his attitude towards his characters in the story.Gulliver’s Travels is a book based on human nature’s anatomy andwas very popular way back in history. The indicted loved thisliterary work very much.
Aboutmisanthropy, Jonathan Swift said that he detests and hate humanbeings. He termed man as an animal that can be reasonable, but manyof them choose not to be (Swift p 27). This author is undisputedly aprolific writer. He criticized man as being brutal but used a mask ofhumanism for them not to be seen as brutal. During Gulliver’s days,corruption and other vices were rampant, but surprisingly, no one wasdissatisfied. In his last voyage, the satire used advances tobitterness especially when he sees horses as being more intelligentand reasonable than man. Jonathan Swift is seen as a misanthropist inthe last pages of his book. Book critics attribute the blunders doneby Gulliver to the author, Swift. He writes to Alexander Pope sayingthat the greatest end of all his work is vexing the whole worldinstead of diverting it and declares that he hated all people andtheir professions (Swift p 260)
Swiftsays that he loves the man but hates people. He dislikes theimmoralities done by the man that resembles animal behavior, not thebehavior of the greatest creation of the Supreme Being. He getsshocked by the terrible and unreasonable actions done by hisage-mates. What he wrote to Pope tells the opposite of what we think:That he hates human beings. He is only angry that people areunreasonable, according to what they do and like doing. JonathanSwift tries to show us that he is not a misanthropist. When we lookat the pages of this book, there’s extreme criticism of customs andvalues of humanity. It’s important to note that the writer onlyhates values and traditions of human beings and not humanity ingeneral. Swift, therefore, is a reformist and not a misanthropist.
Thenovel, Gulliver’s Travels is Swift’s one of the best works ofart, a masterpiece! Here, he talks about Gulliver’s voyages of manydifferent countries like Lilliput where Gulliver met the dwarfs. Healso meets two groups in his last trip where he was seen as amisanthrope. Yahoos were the servants of the Houyhnhnms, and both ofthe two groups were horses. The Yahoos represent human beingsaccording to Gulliver. The word “Yahoo” is used by the characterto mean primitive, brutal and unreasonable people.
Thecharacter in Swift’s book, Gulliver becomes a misanthropist in hislast voyage, and this phenomenon is undeniable. Gulliver enters acountry of animals with their rules as explained in his fourth tour.The two categories of habitats in that nation were Houyhnhnms whowere a bit rational and intelligent compared to the second group, theYahoos who were very brutal. Gulliver started hating the brutes(Yahoos) because they were kind of nasty and trouble makers. He,however, liked the other group (Houyhnhnms) and had an excellentexperience with them. The smart team protected him against the Yahoosand accorded him hospitality. Gulliver grew to love them and theirway of living and saw nothing wrong with the hospitable Houyhnmsuntil he started showing characteristics of a misanthrope. He got sofond of the Houyhnms that he began hating human beings as he equatedthe brutal Yahoos with men. He started hating all men and the way hedismissed the captain, and his whole family depicted the height ofmisanthropy in him (Swift p 265).
Thebiggest mistake Gulliver did was putting all his trust on theHouyhnhnms because he got tired of the vices committed by a man likecorruption and brutality. He depicted the Yahoos as full ofthemselves, are sentimental and are stupidly emotional. He thoughtthat the Houyhnhnms were better paced than their counterparts, theYahoos. The former were not corrupt and were not slaves of emotions.Gulliver felt that the only solution for men to be better beings wasto get rid of their feelings and be more intelligent and lesscorrupt. When he was forced to flee to his country, he started hatinghis fellow men naturally. Gulliver finally began to change hisattitude and reconcile with the world after finding no better option.A similar character in Shakespeare’s works of art “King Lear”did the same after he saw no alternative after hating fellow humanbeings, especially after being nursed by his daughter.
Thesame way we should not see Shakespeare as a misanthropist is how weshould treat Jonathan Swift. Gulliver changing during the storylineand becoming a misanthropist at the end doesn’t mean that theauthor, Swift has the same characteristic. The most miscomprehendedpart is Chapter 4. People saw Swift in the person of Gulliver afterthe latter started hating on the Yahoos. I think this is becausechapter 4 is full of satire and it’s true that Gulliver became amisanthropist. But why should we relate Gulliver’s misanthropy toSwift?
Gullivermight only resemble Swift in the previous voyages and not in thefourth one, where the former’s selfishness is clearly seen.Gulliver demonstrates Swift’s ideas in the first three trips butlater speaks for himself as the story advances to the last part.Gulliver even becomes a victim of Swift’s satire. It should havebeen good if Gulliver could have rejected both the Yahoos and theHouyhnhnms because they were not men. He distanced himself frompeople the moment he started liking the wise and hospitableHouyhnhnms. Swift uses irony to condemn Gulliver’s choice and giveshim a psychological torture searching for options after hating on menas a punishment. Gulliver is portrayed as degrading himself from thelevel of being a human being because of his pride.
Swifttries to tell us that we need to have a balance of sensuality andrationality and not degrade ourselves to choose between the twogroups. When we choose either to be the Yahoos or the Houyhnhnms, wechoose not to be human beings but animals. We should not directlycompare a character in one’s literary work to the author. Swift,therefore, is not a misanthrope but a reformist.
Swift,Jonathan. "Gulliver’s travels." Gulliver’s Travels.Palgrave Macmillan US, 1995. 27-266.