Hum 1 - Locke: Locke addresses the natural instincts of...

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Unformatted text preview: Locke: Locke addresses the natural instincts of people, or the state of nature, in order to define political power. In Chapter 2, Locke explains the state of nature as a state of equality in which no one has power over another, and all are free to do as they please. He notes, however, that this liberty does not equal license to abuse others, and that natural law exists even in the state of nature. Each individual in the state of nature has the power to execute natural laws, which are universal. Locke then posits that proof of this natural law lies in the fact that, even though a person cannot reasonably be under the power of a foreign king, if a person commits a crime in a foreign country they can still be punished. Locke states that natural law simply demands that punishment fit the crime--a person in the state of nature can redress any crime to discourage the offender from repeating it. Locke concludes by noting that all people are in a state of nature until a special compact or agreement between them (which he promises to describe later) makes them members of a political society. Locke starts off by defining war as a state of "enmity and destruction" brought about by one person's pre-meditated attempts upon another's life. The law of self-preservation, integral to the law of nature, dictates that a person may kill another person in self-defense. This definition rests upon the presumption that any aggression by one person against another constitutes a challenge to that person's freedom. By this reasoning, one can justifiably kill a thief since an attack on one's property represents a threat to one's liberty. Locke then outlines the differences between the state of nature and the state of war, noting that the two are NOT the same. The state of nature involves people living together, governed by reason, without a common superior, whereas the state of war occurs when people make designs of force upon other people, without a common authority. In this case, the attacked party has a right to war. Want of a common judge or authority is the defining characteristic of the state of nature; force without right is adequate basis for the state of war. Locke starts Chapter 4 by defining natural liberty as a person's right to be ruled solely by the laws of nature, and social liberty as the right to be under no legislative power other than that founded by the consent of the commonwealth, functioning for the commonwealth's benefit. Locke bases his ideas about slavery on the idea that freedom from arbitrary, absolute power is so fundamental that, even if one sought to, one could not relinquish it; it is therefore impossible for one to enlist into slavery voluntarily. The only possible state of slavery is the extension of the state of war, between a lawful conqueror and a captive, when the captive has been forced into obedience. Locke notes that even in Exodus, the Jews did not sell themselves into slavery, but simply into drudgery, for their masters did not have full power over their lives, and therefore, did not have full control over their liberty. Locke starts by stating that, whether by natural reason or the word of the Bible, the earth can be considered the property of people in common to use for their survival and benefit. He then posits a key question: if the earth and everything on it is the common property of humankind, how does one come upon individual property? For individual property to exist, there must be a means for individuals to appropriate the things around them. Locke starts out with the idea of the property of person--each person owns his or her own body, and all the labor that they perform with the body. When an individual adds their own labor, their own property, to a foreign object or good, that object becomes their own because they have added their labor. He uses the simple example of picking an apple--the apple becomes mine when I pick it, because I have added my labor to it and made it my property. This appropriation of goods does not demand the consent of humankind in general--each person has license to appropriate things in this way by individual initiative. Locke then places a bound on this type of acquisition--a person may only acquire as many things in this way as he or she can reasonably use to their advantage. To continue the apple example, I can only take as many apples as I can eat before they go bad; if I take too many apples and some of them rot and go to waste, I have overextended my natural rights of acquisition. One can only take so much as one can use. Locke applies these rules to land: a person in a state of nature can claim land by adding labor to it--building house on it or farming on it--but only so much as that person can reasonably use without waste. Locke then defines labor as the determining factor of value, the tool by which humans make their world a more advantageous and rewarding place to inhabit. Locke finishes the chapter by tracing the genesis of money. He notes that all useful goods--food, clothing, and so on--are generally of short life span. However, if one collects too many apples, one can then trade them for nuts with someone who has too many of those, and thus barter develops. Money fulfills the need for an imperishable valuation of worth, rooted in the property of labor. To review, briefly: in the state of nature, people are completely free and independent. Everyone is subject to natural law, however, and may execute that law when someone threatens his or her natural rights. People amass property in the state of nature, first by adding their labor to the land and the products of the land, then by bartering, and eventually developing money and acquiring the ability to gather large amounts of property together. At this point, natural law is no longer an adequate protection for the property and liberty of individuals, so people enter into civil society to protect themselves. By entering into society, people relinquish their freedom under natural law, and their right to execute law. Instead, in this society, they establish a judicial power to arbitrate disputes between members of the society, a set of laws that all the members of the society must obey, and an executive power to maintain and enforce the law. This commonwealth is valid and just so long as these three common powers serve to the best advantage of all of those who have relinquished their rights to join it. In Chapter 19, Locke finally arrives at the question of forming a new government. When the state ceases to function for the people, it is dissolved, and may be replaced. This occurs when the legislative is changed or usurped by a tyrannical executive po wer, when the legislative or executive breaches its trust, or when the executive ignores its own duties and renders the law meaningless, reducing society to chaos. When the government is dissolved, the people are free to reform the legislative in order to re-create a civil state that works in their best interest before they fall under tyrannical rule. Why does this doctrine not lead to excessive unrest and f requent rebellion? For several reasons: people are slow to change their old habits and customs; if the people are miserable, they will rebel under any system; and finally, revolutions occur only in the event of the leadership's flagrant abuse of p ower or breach of trust. This system, Locke argues, protects against rebellion because it allows the people to change their legislative and laws, rather than resorting to force to overthrow them. Locke also notes that all concerns about revolution are f oolish, because they represent a fear of a righteous process: it is rightful and dignified for people to rebel against unjust oppression. Locke then calls upon William Barclay, a protector of the rights of kings, to describe situations in which people may overthrow the kings. Locke uses Barclay to prove that even a great defender of royal privilege concedes that a king may abdicate himself by abusing the power of his position, and at that point the people have the right to overthrow him. Who judges when the leader has abused his power to such an extent that he may be overthrown? The people, Locke says. The people are the best judge of whether their protector is protecting them. Locke ends by noting that, as long as society lasts, the p ower that each individual gives it cannot revert back to the individual, and, so long as any government lasts, the power that the society gives the legislative cannot revert back to the society. Either of these institutions may be destroyed by the revers ion of the powers vested in them, people always being free to "erect a new form, or under the old form place it in new hands, as they think good." Tabula Rasa- Locke suggests that we are born as a blank sheet of paper. Refutes the idea that we are born a certain way. Robert Walton - The Arctic seafarer whose letters open and close Frankenstein. Walton picks the bedraggled Victor Frankenstein up off the ice, helps nurse him back to health, and hears Victor's story. He records the incredible tale in a series of letters addressed to his sister, Margaret Saville, in England. Robert Walton (In-Depth Analysis) Alphonse Frankenstein - Victor's father, very sympathetic toward his son. Alphonse consoles Victor in moments of pain and encourages him to remember the importance of family. Elizabeth Lavenza - An orphan, four to five years younger than Victor, whom the Frankensteins adopt. In the 1818 edition of the novel, Elizabeth is Victor's cousin, the child of Alphonse Frankenstein's sister. In the 1831 edition, Victor's mother rescues Elizabeth from a destitute peasant cottage in Italy. Elizabeth embodies the novel's motif of passive women, as she waits patiently for Victor's attention. Henry Clerval - Victor's boyhood friend, who nurses Victor back to health in Ingolstadt. After working unhappily for his father, Henry begins to follow in Victor's footsteps as a scientist. His cheerfulness counters Victor's moroseness. William Frankenstein - Victor's youngest brother and the darling of the Frankenstein family. The monster strangles William in the woods outside Geneva in order to hurt Victor for abandoning him. William's death deeply saddens Victor and burdens him with tremendous guilt about having created the monster. Justine Moritz - A young girl adopted into the Frankenstein household while Victor is growing up. Justine is blamed and executed for William's murder, which is actually committed by the monster. Then Frankenstein rejects him, the creature seeks the companionship of a blind man, only to be once again cast away. As the story continues, the monster's continued rejection causes him to become bitter and violent. Mary Shelley uses this transformation to suggest a link between the role of a father in a boy's life and his eventual character development. She seems to assert that human nature is not, as Hobbes would state, a "constant state of war," but rather, gentle and innocent (Hobbes 76). Outside forces, such as abandonment by one's father and mistreatment by other human beings, are what cause violent behavior to manifest in a formerly innocent creature. While Mary Shelley is nave in saying that humans begin life in innocence, she is correct in saying that the evils present in the world are largely due to the slow corruption of character. We are born fully capable of evil, but we are also given the ability to deny our more base instincts. The fact that not all people learn to deny their flawed nature is what leads to the degradation of human kindness in daily interactions. Although the monster was born with the ability to do both good and evil, the monster was driven toward evil by the consistent rejection and hatred he received from all the humans he encountered. Despite his rejection by other people, the monster's soul may yet have been reclaimed simply by a word of kindness and understanding from his creator. However, Frankenstein refuses to offer the small kindness that could have prevented such tragedies from unfolding. Dangerous Knowledge The pursuit of knowledge is at the heart of Frankenstein, as Victor attempts to surge beyond accepted human limits and access the secret of life. Likewise, Robert Walton attempts to surpass previous human explorations by endeavoring to reach the North Pole. This ruthless pursuit of knowledge, of the light (see "Light and Fire"), proves dangerous, as Victor's act of creation eventually results in the destruction of everyone dear to him, and Walton finds himself perilously trapped between sheets of ice. Whereas Victor's obsessive hatred of the monster drives him to his death, Walton ultimately pulls back from his treacherous mission, having learned from Victor's example how destructive the thirst for knowledge can be Shelley recognizes that the attempt to create life from death is not uncommon. Yet, while she knows of these realities, she does not necessarily agree with them. Shelley states, "Frightful it must be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world" (Kemp). In this insightful remark, Shelley warns society of the dire consequences that can result when humans crosses ethical lines, and how without creative responsibility, man can become worse than the "monster" Frankenstein seeks to destroy. With this simple contextual background, one may now look at the ethical implications Shelley addresses. In examining the text, one reads that when Victor first goes to Ingolstadt, he becomes self-absorbed in his endeavor to discover the "Vital Spark" God used to create new life (Nocks 140). Frankenstein admits a "resistless and almost frantic impulse urged me forward; I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit" (Shelley 32). However, from this crazed fixation comes side effects not only for the monster, but for Frankenstein himself. Frankenstein transforms into a man he formally was not. He is motivated by an egotistical drive that blinds him from judging things rightly. He confesses to Walton, his sea companion, "No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success. Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should first break through, and pour a torrent of light into our dark world" (Shelley 32). He insinuates that by his discovering the source of life, he would be enlightening the world by his intelligence. Victor reveals his rather prideful desire to manipulate the powers of life, a responsibility not meant for mortal man to possess. Blinded by his pride, Frankenstein begins to see life as something for him to toy with and, as a result, starts changing his perspective on how he looks at people. This is apparent in the way Victor later associates with his beloved family. Although he claims to love his family to "adoration" (Shelley), he consistently ignores their request to come home. In fact, it is only upon the death of his brother William, six years later, that he sees them again. In Lisa Nock's essay "Frankenstein, In a Better Light," she discusses this topic, stating how the most "disturbing parts of the narrative have to do with Victor's gradual withdrawal from his family into an isolated working frenzy in which the corpses he uses lose their significance to him as human beings and become nothing more than raw materials" (139). Verily, Frankenstein changes not only in his relationship with his family, but he also slowly starts to dehumanize those around him due to his science. For instance, Frankenstein sees his creature not as a human, but rather as a lump of human parts used for his scientific advantage and thus does not consider the ethical responsibilities he has to care for him. Consequentially, Frankenstein runs head first into disastrous and irresponsible creative experimentation. To illustrate this truth, one can look at Frankenstein's logic surrounding the way he constructs the body. Frankenstein is more concerned with the speed with which he makes his new creation than he is with the creature's overall appearance. As professor Harriet Hustis explains, Frankenstein "acknowledges his unwillingness to allow seemingly insignificant minutiae to impede the progress of his creative impulse; he is interested in the principle of `life' only as an abstraction." For Victor, the creature's appearance is insignificant; accomplishing the task takes precedence over such minor or secondary considerations. And yet, when the creature comes to life, it is precisely because of its appearance that Victor abandons it. Indeed, Victor's scientific irresponsibility makes him more abhorrent than the victimized "monster" he seeks to destroy. Gulliver's Travels The Emperor - The ruler of Lilliput. Like all Lilliputians, the emperor is fewer than six inches tall. His power and majesty impress Gulliver deeply, but to us he appears both laughable and sinister. Because of his tiny size, his belief that he can control Gulliver seems silly, but his willingness to execute his subjects for minor reasons of politics or honor gives him a frightening aspect. He is proud of possessing the tallest trees and biggest palace in the kingdom, but he is also quite hospitable, spending a fortune on his captive's food. The emperor is both a satire of the autocratic ruler and a strangely serious portrait of political power. The farmer - Gulliver's first master in Brobdingnag. The farmer speaks to Gulliver, showing that he is willing to believe that the relatively tiny Gulliver may be as rational as he himself is, and treats him with gentleness. However, the farmer puts Gulliver on display around Brobdingnag, which clearly shows that he would rather profit from his discovery than converse with him as an equal. His exploitation of Gulliver as a laborer, which nearly starves Gulliver to death, seems less cruel than simpleminded. Generally, the farmer represents the average Brobdingnagian of no great gifts or intelligence, wielding an extraordinary power over Gulliver simply by virtue of his immense size. Glumdalclitch - The farmer's nine-year-old daughter, who is forty feet tall. Glumdalclitch becomes Gulliver's friend and nursemaid, hanging him to sleep safely in her closet at night and teaching him the Brobdingnagian language by day. She is skilled at sewing and makes Gulliver several sets of new clothes, taking delight in dressing him. When the queen discovers that no one at court is suited to care for Gulliver, she invites Glumdalclitch to live at court as his sole babysitter, a function she performs with great seriousness and attentiveness. To Glumdalclitch, Gulliver is basically a living doll, symbolizing the general status Gulliver has in Brobdingnag. The queen - The queen of Brobdingnag, who is so delighted by Gulliver's beauty and charms that she agrees to buy him from the farmer for 1,000 pieces of gold. Gulliver appreciates her kindness after the hardships he suffers at the farmer's and shows his usual fawning love for royalty by kissing the tip of her little finger when presented before her. She possesses, in Gulliver's words, "infinite" wit and humor, though this description may entail a bit of Gulliver's characteristic flattery of superiors. The queen seems genuinely considerate, asking Gulliver whether he would consent to live at court instead of simply taking him in as a pet and inquiring into the reasons for his cold good-byes with the farmer. She is by no means a hero, but simply a pleasant, powerful person. The king - The king of Brobdingnag, who, in contrast to the emperor of Lilliput, seems to be a true intellectual, well versed in political science among other disciplines. While his wife has an intimate, friendly relationship with the diminutive visitor, the king's relation to Gulliver is limited to serious discussions about the history and institutions of Gulliver's native land. He is thus a figure of rational thought who somewhat prefigures the Houyhnhnms in Book IV. Yahoos - Unkempt humanlike beasts who live in servitude to the Houyhnhnms. Yahoos seem to belong to various ethnic groups, since there are blond Yahoos as well as dark-haired and redheaded ones. The men are characterized by their hairy bodies, and the women by their low-hanging breasts. They are naked, filthy, and extremely primitive in their eating habits. Yahoos are not capable of government, and thus they are kept as servants to the Houyhnhnms, pulling their carriages and performing manual tasks. They repel Gulliver with their lascivious sexual appetites, especially when an eleven-year-old Yahoo girl attempts to rape Gulliver as he is bathing naked. Yet despite Gulliver's revulsion for these disgusting creatures, he ends his writings referring to himself as a Yahoo, just as the Houyhnhnms do as they regretfully evict him from their realm. Thus, "Yahoo" becomes another term for human, at least in the semideranged and self-loathing mind of Gulliver at the end of his fourth journey. Houyhnhnms - Rational horses who maintain a simple, peaceful society governed by reason and truthfulness-- they do not even have a word for "lie" in their language. Houyhnhnms are like ordinary horses, except that they are highly intelligent and deeply wise. They live in a sort of socialist republic, with the needs of the community put before individual desires. They are the masters of the Yahoos, the savage humanlike creatures in Houyhnhnmland. In all, the Houyhnhnms have the greatest impact on Gulliver throughout all his four voyages. He is grieved to leave them, not relieved as he is in leaving the other three lands, and back in England he relates better with his horses than with his human family. The Houyhnhnms thus are a measure of the extent to which Gulliver has become a misanthrope, or "human-hater": he is certainly, at the end, a horse lover. Gulliver's Houyhnhnm master - The Houyhnhnm who first discovers Gulliver and takes him into his own home. Wary of Gulliver's Yahoolike appearance at first, the master is hesitant to make contact with him, but Gulliver's ability to mimic the Houyhnhnm's own words persuades the master to protect Gulliver. The master's domestic cleanliness, propriety, and tranquil reasonableness of speech have an extraordinary impact on Gulliver. It is through this horse that Gulliver is led to reevaluate the differences between humans and beasts and to question humanity's claims to rationality. Don Pedro de Mendez - The Portuguese captain who takes Gulliver back to Europe after he is forced to leave the land of the Houyhnhnms. Don Pedro is naturally benevolent and generous, offering the half-crazed Gulliver his own best suit of clothes to replace the tatters he is wearing. But Gulliver meets his generosity with repulsion, as he cannot bear the company of Yahoos. By the end of the voyage, Don Pedro has won over Gulliver to the extent that he is able to have a conversation with him, but the captain's overall Yahoolike nature in Gulliver's eyes alienates him from Gulliver to the very end. Brobdingnagians - Giants whom Gulliver meets on his second voyage. Brobdingnagians are basically a reasonable and kindly people governed by a sense of justice. Even the farmer who abuses Gulliver at the beginning is gentle with him, and politely takes the trouble to say good-bye to him upon leaving him. The farmer's daughter, Glumdalclitch, gives Gulliver perhaps the most kindhearted treatment he receives on any of his voyages. The Brobdingnagians do not exploit him for personal or political reasons, as the Lilliputians do, and his life there is one of satisfaction and quietude. But the Brobdingnagians do treat Gulliver as a plaything. When he tries to speak seriously with the king of Brobdingnag about England, the king dismisses the English as odious vermin, showing that deep discussion is not possible for Gulliver here. Lilliputians and Blefuscudians - Two races of miniature people whom Gulliver meets on his first voyage. Lilliputians and Blefuscudians are prone to conspiracies and jealousies, and while they treat Gulliver well enough materially, they are quick to take advantage of him in political intrigues of various sorts. The two races have been in a longstanding war with each over the interpretation of a reference in their common holy scripture to the proper way to eat eggs. Gulliver helps the Lilliputians defeat the Blefuscudian navy, but he eventually leaves Lilliput and receives a warm welcome in the court of Blefuscu, by which Swift satirizes the arbitrariness of international relations. Laputans - Absentminded intellectuals who live on the floating island of Laputa, encountered by Gulliver on his third voyage. The Laputans are parodies of theoreticians, who have scant regard for any practical results of their own research. They are so inwardly absorbed in their own thoughts that they must be shaken out of their meditations by special servants called flappers, who shake rattles in their ears. During Gulliver's stay among them, they do not mistreat him, but are generally unpleasant and dismiss him as intellectually deficient. They do not care about downto-earth things like the dilapidation of their own houses, but worry intensely about abstract matters like the trajectories of comets and the course of the sun. They are dependent in their own material needs on the land below them, called Lagado, above which they hover by virtue of a magnetic field, and from which they periodically raise up food supplies. In the larger context of Gulliver's journeys, the Laputans are a parody of the excesses of theoretical pursuits and the uselessness of purely abstract knowledge. The abuse of power Who holds power, why they hold it, and how they use or abuse it, are recurring themes throughout Gulliver's Travels. The Lilluptians, despite their small size, wield considerable power over Gulliver, taking advantage of his well-meaning, non-aggressive, and gullible nature to attack him with arrows, hold him prisoner, and finally try to entrap him through treachery. Lilliput is governed by a vain and despotic ruler who has his subjects tortured and executed for trivial matters. His ministers are appointed to office not based on their suitability, wisdom, or virtue, but on their skill at "leaping and creeping." The correspondences between Lilliputian people and events and English political life means that Swift intended his portrayal of Lilliput to reflect abuses of power in the English monarchy and government. The Brobdingnagians could, if they wished, dominate through their superior size, but they do not. Although they treat the relatively tiny Gulliver as a plaything and one of them, the farmer, is prepared to work him to death for personal gain, in general the Brobdingnagians do not abuse their power. The King of Brobdingnag is a wise ruler who only wishes to do good for his nation. When he is offered the secret of gunpowder, he refuses on humanitarian grounds, even though this would vastly increase his nation's power. Swift implicitly questions the reasons why certain people hold power over others. The Laputan king assumes that he has a right to hold power over the Balnibarbians on the mainland simply because he is more devoted to abstract and theoretical knowledge than they are. To the reader , on the other hand, he appears ridiculously impractical and not fit to hold power. Similarly, the Laputans view Lord Munodi as hopelessly backward because he does not embrace the reforms of the professors of Lagado Academy; it seems likely that his estate and house will be seized by the government. The reader, however, can clearly see that common sense lies on the side of Munodi, and that if he held power, the kingdom would prosper. A more ambiguous example of power is that wielded by the Houyhnhnms over the Yahoos. Difficult moral questions can be asked about whether the Houyhnhnms have the right to dominate and exploit the Yahoos because they are more rational, intelligent, moral, and virtuous. These qualities may take on a different light when seen from the point of view of the Yahoos, whose very right to exist is debated by the Houyhnhnms in their council. The absurdity of pride Many examples of misplaced pride occur in the novel. The Lilliputians are proud of their military capability, although if Gulliver-sized human beings launched an invasion they would be instantly crushed. Swift draws attention to the absurdity of their pride by having them arrange a military parade in view of Gulliver's exposed nether regions. Gulliver's stay among the Brobdingnagians punctures human pride and vanity as it relates to appearance. Gulliver sees the bodily features and functions of the Brobdingnagians in magnified form. Hence he notes how even a woman who might appear beautiful to her similarly sized compatriots appears to him as a mass of unattractive huge skin pores and mountainous pimples, who is in the habit of voiding gallons of urine. The Laputans are proud of their knowledge of mathematics and music and their habit of abstract contemplation, but the reader can see that these qualities only make them so impractical that their houses fall down, their clothes fail to fit, and their subjects starve. Although Gulliver attacks pride in his final chapter, he fails to notice that he himself has fallen victim to it in his rejection of humanity on the grounds that they are Yahoos. His pride blinds him to genuine virtue, such as that of Don Pedro, and makes him cruelly reject his wife and family. Excrement and bodily functions Swift's emphasis on bodily functions and excrement provides a satirical counterweight to the tendency of his age, which championed man as a rational creature and became known as the Enlightenment. Swift was eager to remind humanity that underneath their pretensions to rationality and superiority, they were made of the same skin, blood, and bone as the animals, and shared their basic needs, appetites, and functions. The individual and society Most of the time during his travels, Gulliver feels isolated from the societies he visits. He does not fit in anywhere, and even during his brief returns to England, he expresses no wish to stay and leaves as quickly as he can. This has led to some critics calling Gulliver's Travels the first novel of modern alienation. The country of the Houyhnhnms is unique among the nations Gullliver visits because of its subjugation of the individual to the good of society as a whole, which leads to an orderly and well-run nation. The price is that there is little room for human-style individuality. Nobody can become attached to their children because they may be assigned to another family that has a shortage of children; mates are chosen not by individual preference, but for the good of the race; servanthood is genetically mandated. Only during his stay with the Houyhnhnms does Gulliver wish to assimilate into society. His attempts are ridiculous, leading to his taking on the gait and speech patterns of his horse hosts. More seriously, they are doomed to fail: the Houyhnhnms decide that he is not one of them and expel him. The only society to which Gulliver wishes to belong will not have him. Swift raises questions about the conflict between the individual and society, but does not resolve them. Knowledge versus wisdom Swift emphasizes in Gulliver's Travels that knowledge is not equivalent to wisdom. Certain Lilliputian politicians are knowledgable about the leaping and creeping necessary to gain power, but the people live in fear of their rulers' edicts condemning the innocent to death. Laputans study abstract mathematics and music, and research high-flown theories in their academy, while the ordinary people starve. Brobdingnagians The Brobdingnagians symbolize the private, personal, and physical side of humans when examined up close and in great detail. The philosophical era of the Enlightenment tended to overlook the routines of everyday life and the sordid or tedious little facts of existence, but in Brobdingnag such facts become very important for Gulliver, sometimes matters of life and death. An eighteenth-century philosopher could afford to ignore the fly buzzing around his head or the skin pores on his servant girl, but in his shrunken state Gulliver is forced to pay great attention to such things. He is forced take the domestic sphere seriously as well. In other lands it is difficult for Gulliver, being such an outsider, to get glimpses of family relations or private affairs, but in Brobdingnag he is treated as a doll or a plaything, and thus is made privy to the urination of housemaids and the sexual lives of women. The Brobdingnagians do not symbolize a solely negative human characteristic, as the Laputans do. They are not merely ridiculous--some aspects of them are disgusting, like their gigantic stench and the excrement left by their insects, but others are noble, like the queen's goodwill toward Gulliver and the king's commonsense views of politics. More than anything else, the Brobdingnagians symbolize a dimension of human existence visible at close range, under close scrutiny. Laputans The Laputans represent the folly of theoretical knowledge that has no relation to human life and no use in the actual world. As a profound cultural conservative, Swift was a critic of the newfangled ideas springing up around him at the dawn of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, a period of great intellectual experimentation and theorization. He much preferred the traditional knowledge that had been tested over centuries. Laputa symbolizes the absurdity of knowledge that has never been tested or applied, the ludicrous side of Enlightenment intellectualism. Even down below in Balnibarbi, where the local academy is more inclined to practical application, knowledge is not made socially useful as Swift demands. Indeed, theoretical knowledge there has proven positively disastrous, resulting in the ruin of agriculture and architecture and the impoverishment of the population. Even up above, the pursuit of theoretical understanding has not improved the lot of the Laputans. They have few material worries, dependent as they are upon the Balnibarbians below. But they are tormented by worries about the trajectories of comets and other astronomical speculations: their theories have not made them wise, but neurotic and disagreeable. The Laputans do not symbolize reason itself but rather the pursuit of a form of knowledge that is not directly related to the improvement of human life. Houyhnhnms The Houyhnhnms represent an ideal of rational existence, a life governed by sense and moderation of which philosophers since Plato have long dreamed. Indeed, there are echoes of Plato's Republic in the Houyhnhnms' rejection of light entertainment and vain displays of luxury, their appeal to reason rather than any holy writings as the criterion for proper action, and their communal approach to family planning. As in Plato's ideal community, the Houyhnhnms have no need to lie nor any word for lying. They do not use force but only strong exhortation. Their subjugation of the Yahoos appears more necessary than cruel and perhaps the best way to deal with an unfortunate blot on their otherwise ideal society. In these ways and others, the Houyhnhnms seem like model citizens, and Gulliver's intense grief when he is forced to leave them suggests that they have made an impact on him greater than that of any other society he has visited. His derangement on Don Pedro's ship, in which he snubs the generous man as a Yahoo-like creature, implies that he strongly identifies with the Houyhnhnms. But we may be less ready than Gulliver to take the Houyhnhnms as ideals of human existence. They have no names in the narrative nor any need for names, since they are virtually interchangeable, with little individual identity. Their lives seem harmonious and happy, although quite lacking in vigor, challenge, and excitement. Indeed, this apparent ease may be why Swift chooses to make them horses rather than human types like every other group in the novel. He may be hinting, to those more insightful than Gulliver, that the Houyhnhnms should not be considered human ideals at all. In any case, they symbolize a standard of rational existence to be either espoused or rejected by both Gulliver and us. England As the site of his father's disappointingly "small estate" and Gulliver's failing business, England seems to symbolize deficiency or insufficiency, at least in the financial sense that matters most to Gulliver. England is passed over very quickly in the first paragraph of Chapter I, as if to show that it is simply there as the starting point to be left quickly behind. Gulliver seems to have very few nationalistic or patriotic feelings about England, and he rarely mentions his homeland on his travels. In this sense, Gulliver's Travels is quite unlike other travel narratives like the Odyssey, in which Odysseus misses his homeland and laments his wanderings. England is where Gulliver's wife and family live, but they too are hardly mentioned. Yet Swift chooses to have Gulliver return home after each of his four journeys instead of having him continue on one long trip to four different places, so that England is kept constantly in the picture and given a steady, unspoken importance. By the end of the fourth journey, England is brought more explicitly into the fabric of Gulliver's Travels when Gulliver, in his neurotic state, starts confusing Houyhnhnmland with his homeland, referring to Englishmen as Yahoos. The distinction between native and foreign thus unravels-- the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos are not just races populating a faraway land but rather types that Gulliver projects upon those around him. The possibility thus arises that all the races Gulliver encounters could be versions of the English and that his travels merely allow him to see various aspects of human nature more clearly. ...
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This note was uploaded on 09/15/2009 for the course HUMN 221 taught by Professor Waddy during the Fall '08 term at SUNY Geneseo.

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