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The novel Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift shows the problems of basic human society through the dynamic journey of a shipwrecked doctor. Many of the societies that are encountered have the same views, while each has its own colorful twist. Jonathan Swift satirizes war, the separation of social classes, and the power of perception; all issues remain universal to present society.
The societies that Gulliver encounters are extremely diverse. Though each is different, the act of war is a commonly addressed issue. Gulliver encounters the ridiculous nature of war. His first encounter of war is in the form of a dispute over the way to eat an egg. A former king took the right of personal preference away from his people by telling them to eat the egg from the small end instead of the large end. Swift relates this trait to the situations where a dominant ruler oppresses nations. It also shows how a simple, ridiculous act can bring forth war. The fight continues through generations, soon the people continued to fight without really understanding why. This is very common in present day. Generations fight and die for a cause that is never really understood by either side. Later on, Gulliver finds a land oblivious to war that is ruled by giants. He makes an attempt to explain the complex subject of war to the giants. Swift tries to use this oblivious nature to prove that life can exist without conflict. Gulliver spends a lot of his time trying to explain war. It is obvious that Swift is showing how important war is to modern society. Gulliver also finds on the floating island. In this place the war is within the family. It splits the family and places the son in the middle. Here Swift is using the family to explain the extent of war. Not only can war destroy nations but it can also destroy the strong bonds of family.
Swift continues his satirization of war when Gulliver visits a man who can bring to life important figures from the past. Almost all of the important figures are those who had done horrible acts, or who were war heroes. This is another example of just how influential war is on society. Later on in the land of the horses, conflict is hardly a term in their vocabulary. Even here controversy is met in the form of Yahoos. There is no war, but rather a separation of societies in order to avoid conflicts. The land is split into two societies, that of the Yahoos who are barbaric in their actions, and that of the horses who are peaceful and logical. Gulliver quickly realizes how beautiful life can be without conflict. He desires to continue life with this peaceful society of horses, but his nature of conflict has deep roots. He is unable to live up to the expectations of the horses. Swift is showing how people wish to be peaceful and gentle, but it is so engrained in past events that it is nearly impossible to function in society without some form of conflict. People constantly fight because people are never content with the way things are. They also hold grudges against one another which cause constant turmoil.
In the novel it is shown that war often times sets up the social classes. This is issue is shown most vividly when Gulliver encounters the giants. He comes from a world that sees him as a giant, to a world that could trample him without even realizing it. He offers little more than entertainment to the giants, but that is enough to get him to the queen’s palace. Swift is showing how the poor are never truly taken seriously by the upper classes. When the queen feels she has had enough of a certain service she simply has them replaced by something that brings her more amusement. This is often evident in modern society. The world is controlled by an upper class but is held together by the lower part of society. When the upper class decides to take a new interest, the lower class tends to follow. When Gulliver is questioned about his lifestyles he is given the opportunity to show the magnificence of his people. This attempt fails when he shows how complex the system is, but also how ruthless it is. Swift is telling of the cut throat nature of human society and that no matter how controlled it seems that pure greed drives it.
Through his journey into other cultures Gulliver’s views on some issues begin to change. He sees how the world is outside of his comfort zone. He encounters this reality when he visits the horse society. He sees a life that is without violence or oppression. He begins to understand that the idea of man as the superior species is not true. He finds that power is not all about domination but more about tolerance. The horse society could probably destroy the Yahoos at any time. Though this is true they choose not to, because they realize that that would make them no better than their foe. When Gulliver witnesses the destruction and theft of his belongings his true nature comes out, while the entire horse society is there to witness it. He sees that violence is all he knows and that people are only “superior” to other species because they blind themselves to all other possibilities. Human beings never take the time to gather what is around them to find power in anything else but their own desires. This is what Swift is trying to portray in this encounter.
The story of Gulliver’s Travels is one that pushes the imagination. It is a strong example of the uses of satire to make society view things from a different perspective. The lessons taught through the journey of Gulliver sheds light on how diverse human nature can be. It sets up the structure of modern society while slowly revealing all that is wrong with the way in which it is controlled. The story of Gulliver is one that not only looks deep into human culture but also explores the true nature of people as a whole. It shows what potential lies in patience, determination, and perception. The most ironic part of the whole piece is when Gulliver finally returns home. Once he arrives he no longer desires to be there. He has witnessed all that the world has to offer and is humbled by it. He no longer views his leaders with the kind of respect he once did. He no longer feels proud to be included in the human race. He feels ashamed of what he represents to all that he has encountered. Instead of wallowing in despair he takes a lesson from his journey and takes another look at that which is around him. Rather than a dreadful home, he sees a loving family. He realizes from his journey that life is to be lived from all angles; it is to be explored and studied without loosing touch of home. People are given the ability to take a sense of pride of where they are from, but not to let that pride lock them away form all the diversity the world has to offer.
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