Jonathan Swift (1667 – 1745)


He wrote a lot of books. The main ones are “Battle of the books”, “Tale of a Tub”, “Gulliver travels”, “Modest proposal for preventing the children of poor people in Ireland from being a burden for their parents & country” etc.

Swift inherited from Defoe: to make his books credible Swift gives us true-to-life details, but if Defoe uses enumeration, Swift resorts to comparison as the main means for creating his images. Sometimes he compared things & events, belonging to the same class, sometimes he used analogy for comparing things from different classes, and very often he used contrast. He developed Defoe’s devices that were meant to create perfect credibility. At the same time his book “Gulliver’s travels” was as much popular among children as Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe”. This is even more surprising because reading this book one finds out that this is the most savage satire on human race.

The life of Jonathan Swift was very unhappy. He was born several months after his father’s death. He graduated from the university with little credit & then compensated this by years of studies. His attitude to humanity was formed by the bitterness of his own expectations. It was his critical mind & the developing feeling of hatred for the humanity being an animal. His early books (“Battle of the books”, “Tale of a Tub”) describe humanity not at its very best.

“…what is Man himself but a38 Micro-Coat, or rather a compleat Suit of Cloaths with all its Trimmings? As to his Body, there can be no dispute; but examine even the Acquirements of his Mind, you will find them all contribute in their Order, towards furnishing out an exact Dress: To instance no more; Is not Religion a Cloak, Honesty a Pair of Shoes, worn out in the Dirt, Self-love a Surtout, Vanity a Shirt…” (“The Tale of tub”)

“I have been assured by a very knowing American of my Acquaintance in London; that a young healthy Child, well nursed, is, at a Year old, a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome Food; whether Stewed, Roasted, Baked, or Boiled; and, I make no doubt, that it will equally serve in a Fricasie, or Ragoust.” (“Modest Proposal”)


“Gulliver Travels”

“Travels into several remote Nations of the World. By Lemuel Gulliver” appeared when Swift was already middle-aged & then he became famous almost immediately. “Gulliver’s Travels” speaks of 4 journeys made by the main character. It describes Gulliver’s voyages to exotic countries. He made use of the fact that his country-men were very much interested in traveling. His intention was t to pack his ideals & satire into a case made of stories about different countries. That’s why his books are very much popular among children & his country-men swallowed up the most bitter & biting satire on the political, moral & social drawbacks. Swift commented on life & compared these exotic countries to the life that people led in England.

The 1st voyage is the voyage to the country of Lilliput. These people are very small & live in the world where practically everything is 12 times smaller than in real life (the exact proposition is observed; comparisons make the book life-like). After a shipwreck Gulliver reached the shore of a strange country & remained senseless. He was captured & spent several months among his captors. This very fact serves Swift to create the satire on his own country. The small size of the lilliputes gives Swift an opportunity to show the pettiness of their desires & by this contrast he manages to criticize all the political sides of life in GB. It’s court of George I, Vigues & Tories & the religious controversy of England. The High-heel are Tories, the Low-heels are Vigues. The Big-Endians & the Little-Endians are Protestants & Baptists.

“He is taller by almost the Breadth of my Nail, than any of his Court; which alone is enough to strike an Awe into the Beholders. His Features are strong and masculine, with an Austrian Lip, and arched Nose, his Complexion olive, his Countenance erect, his Body and Limbs well proportioned, all his Motions graceful, and his Deportment majestick.”

In the 2nd part (The voyage to Brobdingnag) the device that Swift uses is quite opposite in direction but similar in function. This is his voyage to the country of giants, who are 12 times bigger than a human being. Gulliver is taken to the court as an insect – he learns the language – tells the emperor about his country – the Emperor wonders now such insects can be so blood-thirsty. This proportion enables Swift to show how ferocious human beings are & this gives Swift an opportunity to criticize the wars & the intention of Britain to conquer the world.

Swift uses these two books to accumulate necessary details.

The 3rd voyage is the voyage to Laputa – a flying island. The inhabitants of the island live on the taxes they impose on the population of towns that are below, because they had managed to install magnets & if people do not pay they can descend & crush the town.

The 4th voyage is the voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms. The name of a country was invented to resemble the neigh of a horse, because this is the land of clever horses. Here Swift’s fancy runs ride.

Swift wanted to prove that clever horses were wise, honest, truthful, because they did not have pockets. They couldn’t pile up problems. They had no sense of money. They knew nothing about property. It did not guide their lives & they did not depend upon it. But there were the other creatures in the country – Yahoo. They were human beings without reason. All of a sudden Gulliver, a human being, comes to the country. Horses cannot accept Gulliver because he very much reminds them of yahoos, & yahoos cannot accept him because he looks too civilized. Gulliver’s superiority in reason is recognized by the clever horses & all of a sudden it causes much embarrassment. The horses cannot understand how a human being makes use of a reason. Horses did not know anything about cunning & wickedness. This enables Swift to explain everything in the tale.

The device of presenting the human as they would have been presented to a naïve & ignorant listener must be regarded as one of the most effective stylistic descriptions. This is the way Swift wants to emphasize what he wants to bring to the reader. This brings a pre-planned result.

We’re obliged to consider yahoos in a new light. They are more primitive, dirty, & filthy, but they are not human beings with their complex diseases, moral as well as physical. Swift describes the behavior of yahoos. Yahoo is a mirror, in which human nature must see itself. Horses lack emotions – they do not know what live is. They feel no sorrow at the death of their relatives, they marry according to the wishes of their parents, and they can not make their life exciting even if they try to. They have all the reason & the yahoos have all the life.

Swift argues through images, gives images to prove who is right & who is wrong. This device was absolutely new. He uses & arranges facts like Defoe, but invents proportion, comparison, uses images, not words as arguments.

Swift’s book is a multi-leveled investigation of life & its wisdom lies in the fact that reading of it acquires experience of literary criticism though at the same time it’s read & praised by common people; and Swift himself inevitably takes on the status of a tragic hero. He is big to the imagination; a kind of Promethean defiance is forever revealing itself in his attitudes.


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