Term Paper: Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift

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[. . .] To further drive this point home, he suggests hat anyone who feels his ideas are superior, to:

Ask the parents of these mortals, whether they would not at this day think it a great happiness to have been sold for food at a year old, in the manner I prescribe, and thereby have avoided such a perpetual scene of misfortunes, as they have since gone through, by the oppression of landlords, the impossibility of paying rent without money or trade, the want of common sustenance, with neither house nor clothes to cover them from the inclemencies of the weather, and the most inevitable prospect of intailing the like, or greater miseries, upon their breed for ever. (2180)

This statement illustrates how Swift combines compassion with satire. Of course, we also see the arrogance of the satirist in this statement, despite his eagerness to help out his fellow man. This is further illustrated in his last statement, in which he suggests that he has no interest in recommending his plan. From this statement, he also offers his comment on society. His statement that he has no motives insinuates that the poor people have no love or compassion for their children. That they would be motivated by money but that the same thing does not motivate him is quite interesting.

In Gulliver's Travels, we see many elements that echo the eighteenth-century world in which Swift lived. It is important to remember that there was not an organized field of reliable scientific knowledge and no scientific classes such as biology and astronomy. John Ross asserts that even with these facts taken into account, Gulliver's Travels "seems to lie outside Swift's time" because human nature and the nature of his subject have not changed enough to "invalidate his general picture" (Ross xiv). For this reason, Gulliver's Travels has "enduring excellence" (Ross xiv) as a work of art.

Gulliver's Travels is a satire that operates on many levels. John Ross asserts that the first level is its narrative aspect. The scene level is the its allegorical significance, which Ross claims makes the story a "comic and corrosive satire of universal application" (Ross ix). In Voyage II, we see the brilliance of Swift's satire. Ross notes that as this point in the story, Gulliver has become the "object of our amusement" (Ross x) and Swift effectively allows Gulliver to tell the story as it appears to him" (Ross x).

Ross also maintains that as the hero of Gulliver's Travels is "near perfection" (Ross xi). Part of this is because we never lose sympathy for Gulliver on the narrative level nor do we ever completely believe what Gulliver is telling us on the satirical level.

The object of size cannot be ignored when Gulliver finds himself in Lilliput. The fascinating thing about this society is that they never come to realize the most obvious facts -- that Gulliver could squash them with one wrong step. They believe they have power of him, when in reality, they have virtually none.

We can see this biting satire directed at the British Crown when Gulliver is entertained by the Lilliputians, who are judged according their skills at jumping over thread. In addition, Swift is poking fun at humanity in general, for its own feeling of superiority. We can also see Swift pointing at the government when we see how the conflict between the High Heels and the Low Heels can be related to the conflicts between the Whigs and the Tories.

In addition, Lilliput and Blefuscu represent Britain represent France. We also see references to the Reformation and the violence that existed between the Romans and the Protestants. We see the absurdity behind some of the fighting in the egg argument. Everyone knows that there can be no right or wrong way to crack an egg, so regulations enforcing how it must be done is absurd. This illustration forces us to realize that there is no right or wrong way to worship. Swift also uses his encounter with at Houyhnhmland to expose the complexity of Christianity. The saved individual, although saved, works very hard to reach perfection not to mention separate himself from further sin. We can also see satire in Gulliver's conversion when he tells us:

The many virtues of those excellent quadrupeds placed in opposite view to human corruptions, had so far opened my eyes, and enlarged my understanding, that I began to view the actions and passions of man in a very different light, and to think the honour of my own kind not worth managing. (Swift Gulliver's Travels 250)

Gulliver's response to this Eden-like community is to retreat from society and live there forever. When he is rejected, we see how Swift is satirizing how society emphasizes group participation. Gulliver's desire is to remain at Houyhnhmland and when he is expelled, he reacts much like a separatist and is afraid of returning to Britain. He only wishes to remain alone where he could, "at least enjoy my own Thoughts, and reflect with delight on the virtues of those inimitable Houyhnhnms, without any opportunity of degenerating into vices and corruptions of my own species" (277). The reaction of his publication further emphasizes the absurdity of trying to convert anyone for any reason.

Gulliver's Travels also works with metaphors by representing the Yahoos and the Houyhnhnms in the extreme. When this in mind, we can more clearly see the humor in the Yahoo's reprehensible and the Houyhnhnm's dullness. Gulliver, left in a state of limbo because he rejected the Yahoos and was then rejected by the Houyhnhnms, is just like we are -- in limbo between the angelic and the beastly. We can also see that the satire operates between passion and reason.

To conclude, Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope were both satirists that provided insight on the social and economical conditions of the eras in which they lived. They are successful because their satire operates on many levels without being condescending. Both men balance humor and honesty in a way that is more entertaining than offensive. Pope is more straightforward with his observations while Swift would rather remain elusive and force us to when satire ends and truth begins.

Works Cited

Abrams, M.H. "Alexander Pope." The Norton Anthology of English Literature W.W. Norton and Company. pp. 2209-14.

Pope, Alexander. "The Rape of the Lock." The Norton Anthology of English Literature W.W. Norton and Company. pp. 2233-52.

The Dunciad." The Norton Anthology of English Literature W.W. Norton and Company. pp. 2291-6.

Ross, John. Gulliver's Travels. Introduction. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. 1948.

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver's Travels. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. 1948.


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