Female representations in “Gulliver’s Travels”
In Jonathan Swift’s satire, “Gulliver’s Travels”, the representation of women can be seen, at a superficial level, as offensive and extremely misogynistic and in broad lines corresponding to the image of the woman in Swift’s contemporary patriarchal society. The woman was almost objectified, thus reduced to her physical appearance and its status as obedient wife, whose sole purpose was to attend to her husband’s need. This perception of women was what triggered the emerging feminist movement. With pioneers as Mary Wollstonecraft with her XVIIIth century “A Vindication of the Rights of Women”, the philosophy of feminism has reached its peak in the XXth century, starting with Simone de Beauvoir’s “The Second Sex”. Using a parallel between Mary Wollstonecraft and Simone de Beauvoir’s concepts of the image of the woman in canonical thinking, the aim of this essay is to discuss feminine representations in Gulliver’s Travels and the way in which Swift’s view of the nature of women coincided or not with the existing ones in his contemporary society. In this manner, we can conclude that perceiving Swift as a fierce misogynist is rather a hasty conclusion and, in fact, he used his masterpiece as a way of emphasising the wrong perception and cultivation of the female nature in the Augustan Age. Published as Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts; by Lemuel Gulliver in 1726, Gulliver's Travels is a satire against the Augustan society, focusing its tirade on institutions such as government, arts, education and individuals alike. His vehemence in illustrating each of the book’s sections has lead to the conception that Swift is a misanthropist and a misogynist in particular, given the fact that he often used women to illustrate the most appalling aspects of human decadence. Nevertheless, taking into account the fact that being both a convinced religious man (he was an Anglican clergyman) and a humanist (he defended the classical values in books such as “Battle of the Books” and “A Tale of a Tub”), his vision of man could not have been such a radical one. "I have ever hated all Nations, Professions, and Communities and all my love is toward individuals.” Therefore, he thought that the corruption of the human race comes rather from institutions and not necessarily from the inherent fallen nature of the human being. “The savage indignation which motivates all of Swift’s satires arises from his anger at the difference between what men are and what they might be if they would
only raise to the full height of their humanity.” (Johnston, 1) This emphasis on personal identity rather than the perception of an individual as belonging to a certain class was a revolutionary view at that time and it might be the key aspect in trying to embark on a feminist approach on Gulliver’s Travels. If we are to discuss Gulliver’s Travels using as support a feminist critical framework, firstly we have to define literature and its purpose from a feminist standpoint. To better understand what feminist had to react to, it is best to make an account of the women’s status throughout history in general and in the XVIIIth century, in particular. Women have been represented in literature through the writing of male writers; the image that emerged from literary writings was not that of women, but that of how men perceived women, therefore women didn’t even have the possibility of voicing their own vision on certain matters. It was the so-called supremacy of the “white, dead males”, of the canonical view in a patriarchal society, women being subjected to the influence of the father/husband and everything they did or said was a reflection of the patriarchal figure. The general view of women in the XVIIIth century was that “the sole purpose of a woman’s existence was that of an object to be enjoyed by men. Women were necessary for procreation, reproduction, and their domestic abilities. Women were...
Bibliography: Beauvoir de, Simone. “The Second Sex”. >>http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/ethics/de-beauvoir/2nd-sex/ >http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/beauvoir/ >http://records.viu.ca/~Johnstoi/introser/swift.htm
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