A Conversation for How 'Gulliver's Travels' Comments on Society

Swift - Irish - Kierkegaard

Post 1


Hello Sir -

A fine article. If I may be allowed to append a couple of points -

1) The satire (especially of the last bit with the horses) becomes a lot more pointed if you think of Swift as an Irishman. With this reading, the hounyhms are a 'civilised' colonising power (i.e. the English). When I first read the book I thought the hounyhms were purely and simply good guys, but this is a superficial analysis.

2) Kierkegaard wrote a famous essay on irony sometime in the 1850s I think, where he expounded on the concept of 'total irony', which leaves the reader with no refuge. This is useful with respect to GT, because of the overreaching nature of the ironies. Towards the end of Gulliver's Travels total irony is what you get, because Gulliver has gone off his rocker, the horses are snobs and the yahoos are savages. There isn't anywhere else to go. Fantastic.

Swift - Irish - Kierkegaard

Post 2


Swift was in fact Irish by birth (a minor cleric in Dublin's Prot church) so he had ample opportunity to observe the Irish situation with dissident eyes... his short work "A Modest Proposition" is, on the face of it, a callous and uncaring piece suggesting that in time of famine, the peasant Irish should stop bleating about it and eat the only food resource left to them which is ample for their needs, and which will fill their bellies without draining the public purse on unproductively supporting them, and tempting them to indolence.

That is, the bogtrotters should eat their own young, they sire enough of them...

A deeper reading of the piece, however, reveals it to be vicious satire aimed at the sort of people (upper-class English and prosperous Anglo-Irish)who would take it at face value and agree with every word...

It's a go at the sort of mentality that allows famine to happen in the first place and which will not lift a finger to help when it does. It's a veiled go at British attitudes towards the Irish - a people so ignorant that they think of the Irish people as being so low and subhuman that they would resort to cannibalism.

Incidentally, for Irish and enlightened British readers: when Swift calls a country "Laputa", who do YOU think he's getting at by using the Spanish La Puta - The Whore?

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Swift - Irish - Kierkegaard

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