Now, here’s an odd book
. The plot of the story is an adventuring surgeon/seaman, who is shipwrecked or marooned on every one of his voyages, and comes ashore on some strange, undiscovered land. Gulliver has the dubious honor of discovering Lilliput, where the inhabitants stand six inches high; Broddingnag, which is inhabited by giants as tall as a church steeple; Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, and Glubbdubdrib, the people of which are ordinary except that they are so philosophically absent-minded that they need servants to tap their mouths and ears to remind them to listen, or to speak; and the land of the Houyhnhnms, where horses are the dominant intelligent being, and humans are merely disgusting beasts of the field, barely useful for menial tasks.
The theme of the book, however, is clear: that mankind is really rather silly and stupid. The dimunitive inhabitants of Lilliput are divided into divisive factions of the High-heels and Low-heels, while the giant king of Broddingnag spent much time criticizing Gulliver’s description of his country (concluding that, “Ignorance, Idleness, and Vice are the proper ingredients for qualifying a Legislator.”). And when Gulliver returned from living among the peaceful and noble Houyhnhnms (the horses, that is), he was so civilized in comparison with his English neighbors that it was years before he could bear his wife to sit across the table from him.
Jonathan Swift is justly famous as a satirist, and probably more of Gulliver’s travels would make sense to me if I were better-versed in the state of England in 1735, when it was first published. But my general impression at the end was one of depression: he surely proved that mankind was stupid, ignorant, irrational, disgusting and unreasonable, but he proposed no solution.
No doubt many of us are
ignorant and irrational, individually and in a body, but demonstrating that this is so is hardly useful, as a good many of us no doubt already know that. A more useful study would be an investigation into why people are the way they are, but there Swift has no answer.