Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Orwell's 1984

Topics: Nineteen Eighty-Four, Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift Pages: 9 (2864 words) Published: September 6, 2006
Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels and George Orwell's 1984, two of English literature's most important and pervasive political criticisms, have helped to mold world opinion by offering new viewpoints and attitudes, yet these two novels differ in their means of conveying their satire of human nature. Whereas Gulliver's Travels touches humanity with a humorous note and absurd situations, in order to reveal the public's hypocrisy and society's reprehensible behavior, 1984, in contrast to Gulliver's Travels, presents dismal and depressing circumstances which forebode a heinous future and threaten human existence.

On his quest to reveal the inconsistencies and follies of humankind, Swift first offers the readers an opportunity to laugh at themselves (disguised as a Lilliputians), yet later, the readers find these humorous portrayals underscored with scorching and harsh social and moral satire. Observing the Lilliputians struggle for power in the little wars that they fight, Gulliver laughs at what he considers a joke, but in reality he laughs at human beings and their petty disagreements as well as their obsessions. "There is a good deal of fun in Lilliput, and with Gulliver we are able to assume a certain superior detachment and amusement at the ways of the pigmies" (Davis 86). Another instance of entertainment for the bystander and reader occurs when the Emperor of Lilliput attempts to conquer the entire "world" (obviously not cognizant of a world much larger than his Lilliputo-centric sphere), and to overtake the navy of his mortal enemy. Still laughing and unsuspecting, Gulliver initially follows blindly during his stay, and completes all the tasks assigned to him, for he believes in the goodness of the princes. Not until Gulliver's disillusionment with the iniquity of the princes and emperor, and hence with human beings, does he refuse to follow orders. These initial feelings of blind trust seem comparable to the party members' unquestionable devotion towards Big Brother in the novel 1984. At the moment that the Emperor of Lilliput accuses Gulliver of treachery, Swift clarifies his satire, that the Lilliputians merely represent miniature humans. (Davis 87). Words, then, that the Emperor and his staff had previously used, such as "degenerate nature of man, the great laws of nature, the miseries of human life" break the mold of the Lilliputian world and apply universally to the state of all humans (Davis 90). This short-lived humorous storytelling, offers a glimpse at the ultimate misanthropic messages and subtleties, which underlie the novel.

Because Swift's work serves as what he hopes will become a corrective lens to the world, Gulliver's eye glasses also serve as a symbol of the ability to comprehend the true nature of humans. In addition, these glasses depict "secrecy, privacy, ownership, identity" (Rogers 179). When he relinquishes all of his other personal possessions, he does not give up his spectacles to the Lilliputians. Gulliver represents the "'myopic hero' whose lack of understanding is symbolized by the weakness and vulnerability of his eyesight." (Rogers 183). These glasses truly serve as correcting lenses and add to the "competence" of the protagonist, as an observer. Essentially, Gulliver metaphorically uses his glasses more frequently as the four books progress. The recurrence of the word observe reflects this increase. "The word observe and its derivatives occur some 140 times in the work: the frequency increases steadily from twenty-five in the first voyage, thirty-four in the second, thirty-eight in the third, to forty-five in the forth" (Rogers 184). Swift relays all of the thoughts and actions in the book by filtering them through Gulliver's perceptual senses and mind. In fact, Swift describes many of the episodes and " the narrative through sense impressions; passages are introduced with verbs indicating Gulliver's awareness of what is happening to himÉ 'I found my Arms and LegsÉ/I...

Cited: Davis, Herbert. The Satire of Jonathan Swift. Glenwood Press, Publishers: Westport, 1947.
Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Dennis Poupard and James E. Person, Jr. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1985. 306-307.
Company, 1985. 512-523

Rogers, Pat. "Gulliver 's Glasses." The Art of Jonathan Swift. Ed. Clive T. Probyn. London: Vision Press, 1978. 179-187.

Gale Research Company, 1985
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