Social Sensitivity

Since any attack on human nature can be disturbing, some readers may have problems with Swift’s pessimistic view of humankind. Only a few admirable examples of humanity are presented in Gulliver’s Travels, and these characters do not receive any kind of recognition or praise from Gulliver. The Brobdingnagian king is kind and sensible, but Gulliver scorns his understanding. The people of Laputa and Balnibarbi, and especially Gulliver’s host in Lagado, are friendly, kind and generous, but Gulliver seems unaware that they are acting in an admirable manner. Don Pedro de Mendez, the kindest and most generous of all the characters, at best is tolerated by Gulliver. The Houyhnhnms, whom he admires beyond all reason, seem to us lifeless, ruled only by cold reason. Gulliver himself becomes an object of our scorn as he turns away from his fellow man. The reader, then, is left with a most depressing view of humankind.

Swift avoids any overt mention of religion, but he does ridicule religious controversies in a veiled manner. The reader who expects to find Christian virtues promoted as a way of elevating humanity will be disappointed. Also, Swift was fascinated with bodily functions, odors, and anatomical parts. This fascination is not expressed in vulgar terms, but the issue is not avoided, and some may feel that Swift deals with it more than necessary. Gulliver graphically describes his own problems related to answering the call of nature when he becomes the target of another creature’s excrement. Swift certainly felt that the functions of the body belong to our lower natures, and for some reason he uses these functions as one means of expressing the disgust he felt toward humanity. While Gulliver’s Travels is not an obscene book, it does contain images that some readers may find offensive.

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