Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin in 1667 and died in 1745. During the Glorious Revolution of the 1688, he moved to England where he wrote and published his main literature works, as his masterpiece, Gulliver’s Travels, that he finished in 1726.
But in order to describe better the mentality and the thoughts of this person, I think that it’s more appropriated to begin with his pamphlet called A modest proposal and written in 1729. It is full of references to his point of view about the society in which Swift lives, that he always criticizes for its corruption, its conventions, its wrongs.
For example, a difficult that afflicts the world is the poor people without food to eat. In particularly, children, Irish and no, are the main part of this people. In his essay he suggested to use these children as food for the rich, in order to give a lot of food to the rich as well as to resolve the problem of the hunger of the most poor social classes. Moreover, he adds that this type of food is very delicious and suitable for English landlords. He describes also a recipe to cook them.
From this short text, marked by a biting irony, we can find the relationship of the author with the society and in particular his criticize purpose. Obviously, A modest proposal is an ironical provocation but this satirical exaggeration is important to underline and to take in evidence the real problems of a society that is based on the abuse of power, the exploitation and the injustice.
Jonathan Swift defined himself as “hater of man”. From this auto description, in becomes natural to understand the hate that Swift had always with the world and with the mankind in particular. He thought that actually the man is a very ban animal that desirers only to prevaricate to the others men. Probably, he was influenced but the radical theories of Hobbes about the feelings and the real man’s captivity. In his misanthropic attitude he wrote Gulliver’s Travels, too.
Printed in London in 1726, it deals the various and singular adventures of the ship’s surgeon Lemuel Gulliver, that he has in several travels all over the world. It is divided in four books.
- In the first book, after a shipwreck in the South Pacific, Gulliver is cast upon the shore of Lilliput, an island with a population particular for the slow dimension that makes Gulliver appear as a giant, from the point of view of Lilliputians. The author uses this meeting between different worlds to criticise the prejudice by which we are affected when we met an other dissimilar culture. The Inventory is an explicit example of this…
- In the second book, Gulliver, who is travelling to India, arrives in the country of Brobdingang, populated by giants twelve times as tall as Gulliver. This condition caused him many misadventures: he is considered as a pet or a toy. The author’s aim is to criticize the attitude of the English colonisation all over the world, that is full of pride and sense of superiority. At the end, Gulliver is taken off by a huge bird. Leaved in the middle of Ocean, he is found by a ship.
- In the third book, Gulliver’s ship is attached by pirates. He finds himself on the flying island of Laputa, that is inhabited by absent-mind astronomers, philosophers and scientists. Here, he visits the Academy of Lagado, full of extravagances and experiments without sense. This is an occasion for Swift to criticize the science and the progress.
- In the fourth travel, the last, Gulliver meets the Houyhnhnms, a population of horses capable of reason who rules over the Yahoos, a vile species of animals resembling uman being. This is an inversion that Swift uses to focalize the attention on the vices and the prejudice by which the man is affected. At the end, when he returns home, he hates the smell of the man, but it is only a pretext because actually he hates all the uman being.
This is a satirical novel that, through the irony and the exaggerations, underlines the misanthropic attitude of Swift, who defined himself as “an hater of man”.
Lorenzo Eugenio Guarneri