Essay on Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Orwell's 1984

Essay on Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Orwell's 1984
Jonathan Swift?s Gulliver?s Travels and George Orwell?s 1984, two of English literature?s most important and pervasive political criticisms, have helped to mold world opinion by offering new viewpoints and attitudes, yet these two novels differ in their means of conveying their satire of human nature. Whereas Gulliver?s Travels touches humanity with a humorous note and absurd situations, in order to reveal the public?s hypocrisy and society?s reprehensible behavior, 1984, in contrast to Gulliver?s Travels, presents dismal and depressing circumstances which forebode a heinous future and threaten human existence.
On his quest to reveal the inconsistencies and follies of humankind, Swift first offers the readers an opportunity to laugh at themselves (disguised as a Lilliputians), yet later, the readers find these humorous portrayals underscored with scorching and harsh social and moral satire. Observing the Lilliputians struggle for power in the little wars that they fight, Gulliver laughs at what he considers a joke, but in reality he laughs at human beings and their petty disagreements as well as their obsessions. ?There is a good deal of fun in Lilliput, and with Gulliver we are able to assume a certain superior detachment and amusement at the ways of the pigmies? (Davis 86). Another instance of entertainment for the bystander and reader occurs when the Emperor of Lilliput attempts to conquer the entire ?world? (obviously not cognizant of a world much larger than his Lilliputo-centric sphere), and to overtake the navy of his mortal enemy. Still laughing and unsuspecting, Gulliver initially follows blindly during his stay, and completes all the tasks assigned to him, for he believes in the goodness of the princes. Not until Gulliver?s disillusionment with the iniquity of the princes and emperor, and hence with human beings, does he refuse to follow orders. These initial feelings of blind trust seem comparable to the party members? unquestionable devotion towards Big Brother in the novel 1984. At the moment that the Emperor of Lilliput accuses Gulliver of treachery, Swift clarifies his satire, that the Lilliputians merely represent miniature humans. (Davis 87). Words, then, that the Emperor and his staff had previously used, such as ?degenerate nature of man, the great laws of nature, the miseries of human life? break the mold of the Lilliputian world and apply universally to the state of all humans (Davis 90). This short-lived humorous storytelling, offers a glimpse at the ultimate misanthropic messages and subtleties, which underlie the novel.

Because Swift?s work serves as what he hopes will become a corrective lens to the world, Gulliver?s eye glasses also serve as a symbol of the ability to comprehend the true nature of humans. In addition, these glasses depict ?secrecy, privacy, ownership, identity? (Rogers 179). When he relinquishes all of his other personal possessions, he does not give up his spectacles to the Lilliputians. Gulliver represents the ??myopic hero? whose lack of understanding is symbolized by the weakness and vulnerability of his eyesight.? (Rogers 183). These glasses truly serve as correcting lenses and add to the ?competence? of the protagonist, as an observer. Essentially, Gulliver metaphorically uses his glasses more frequently as the four books progress. The recurrence of the word observe reflects this increase. ?The word observe and its derivatives occur some 140 times in the work: the frequency increases steadily from twenty-five in the first voyage, thirty-four in the second, thirty-eight in the third, to forty-five in the forth? (Rogers 184). Swift relays all of the thoughts and actions in the book by filtering them through Gulliver?s perceptual senses and mind. In fact, Swift describes many of the episodes and " the narrative through sense impressions; passages are introduced with verbs indicating Gulliver?s awareness of what is happening to himÉ ?I found my Arms and LegsÉ/I likewise feltÉ/I heard a confused Noise/I felt,?" etc. (Rogers 185).

What first appears as acceptable and well-taken criticism, later degenerates into harsh, eremitic, and misanthropic subliminal messages. While on a final voyage, Gulliver visits the land of the Houyhnhnms. There, he discovers horses that represent animal perfection incarnate. These remarkable creatures posses extraordinary moral and intellectual capabilities, which dwarf human beings. Humans become Yahoos, wild creatures lacking all and any ability to possess any thought past those of their own corporeal needs. Clearly, for the purposes of irony, Swift inverts nature: Men become beasts, and beasts become men. Swift swapped the positions of rationale and reason between the humans and the horses in order to ?shock his reader?s complacency as human beings by inventing a world in which horses appeared where the logicians had put menÉ? (?Jonathan Swift? 518). This realization calls for introspection, on the part of the reader. In effect, the pristine immaculateness of the Houyhnhnms mesmerizes Gulliver, and like 1984?s brainwashing, represented by the dictum ?He loved Big Brother? Gulliver?s motto essentially becomes ?I love the Houyhnhnms.? (Donoghue 161). These obsessions both appear at the ends of their respective books, after arduous trials and discoveries of human nature and human frailties. However, the two attitudes differ in that Gulliver?s incorporates anti-human tendencies, while Winston Smith?s includes a more positive love and devotion for the ubiquitous and human-like Big Brother. Upon Gulliver?s first meeting with Yahoos, he refers to them using pejorative terms such as ?odious, ugly monster, disagreeable, distorted, filth, cursed, mischief, contempt, aversion, antipathy.? When Gulliver recounts his memories at the end of the novel, these adjectives and their synonyms incessantly precede the word Yahoo, which indicates his absolute loathing of these beasts. Before having met the laudable Houyhnhnms, Gulliver expresses his disgust with the Yahoos. One cannot help the way that the Yahoos act, they are in the wild, and they mirror human action, a conclusion on the part of the reader, as Jonathan Swift clearly intended.

The monkey-like behavior appalls proud Gulliver. Proud Gulliver doesn?t consider the vile creatures to be similar to himself, and continues searching for civilized creatures. Gulliver gives quite a different portrait he had given of the ?noble? Houyhnhnms upon meeting them for the first time (McNeill Internet). ?Yahoos are the natural end of the satirically conceived human line. Their very beastliness conforms to the larger regressive inheritance of the Travels? (Seidel 80). Having effectively turned the tables of reason, Swift then reveals that the Yahoos represent the humans who have become the subject of this ever increasing and progressively degrading satire.

Upon first meeting the horses/Houyhnhnms, Gulliver describes them as ?walking softlyÉmanifestÉ mildÉnever offering the least violence.? These terms attribute a conscious and benign caution, beyond animalistic and instinctual prudence, to the Houyhnhnms and offers an enviable and awesome aura which surrounds these creatures. This first encounter sets the stage for later enchantment of the mind and soul of Lemuel Gulliver and what he considers magnificent paradigms of perfection.

After learning the Houyhnhnm language and adapting to their culture, a complete transformation occurs within Gulliver; upon returning home to England, he becomes a misanthrope. In order to defend his book, Gulliver?s testimony refers to the Houyhnhnms as animals who ?abound in all excellenciesÉ a rational creature.? Like animals which humans can recognize by their odors, Gulliver equates humans with beasts, using olfactory images, such as the ?offensive smell? of the Yahoos. Swift couples all of his references to the Yahoos and humankind with derisive adjectives and later starts to refer to members of his own family and society as Yahoo?s, culminating in the complete indictment of society. ?Neighbor Yahoo? stands for all individuals with ?detestable qualities? and their ?offensive smell? metaphorically symbolizes all of their abhorrent characteristics.

In Gulliver?s Travels the Houyhnhnms are superior to man because they have achieved this harmonyÉFrom our point of view, it is done by eliminating the causes of discord: in Swifts view these are chiefly man?s arrogance and pride (Donoghue 171).

A once humorous parody has become a blistering commentary on the nature of humans and conveys the message that humankind consists of filthy, greedy, odious, and irrational beings, whom conceit and self-importance dominate. While Swift scrutinizes the nature of human beings through an absurd, yet forceful analysis, George Orwell?s 1984, provides a viewpoint which includes a possible society that humans could develop as a result of their frailties and shortcomings. Initially, Orwell offers a more horrific and menacing portrayal of the future which immediately commences when the author christens the protagonist and describes his apartment. Primarily, Orwell intends this book of harsh warning to apply to the common person on the street, and, as a result, he effectively gives Winston the common English last name, Smith, thus creating a symbol for the generic ?everyman.? Having generalized his purpose, Orwell then proceeds to describe the depressing appearance of Winston?s apartment.

As Winston Smith comes home for lunch from his officeÉwe are first of all aware of the depressing seediness of things?the ?gritty dust? in the street, the smell of ?boiled cabbage and old rag mats? in the corridor, the elevator that seldom works because electricity must be saved (Schorer 300).

In addition to the cold and bare surroundings and the inhospitable atmosphere, the circumstances and conditions of a totalitarian state, wracked with constant food and supply shortages, have callused Winston. His skin has been ?roughened by coarse soap and blunt razor blades,? with the persistent nuisance of the ?varicose ulcer.? (Schorer 300). The deterioration of his physical condition foreshadows his later mental disintegration.

In contrast to Gulliver?s experience in lands of abundance, where either Lilliputians or Houyhnhnms attended to his every need and to his appetites for food and drink (a rather hedonistic existence), Winston experiences a ?bright cold day in April.? Archetypally, April, a spring season, representing rebirth, freshness, and fertility clashes, ironically, with, with the stark, winter-like conditions of the city marred with the ?vile wind.? All of these words, ?cold, vile, escape,? seem to present an inescapable barren atmosphere, especially as Winston attempts to run indoors without any of the dirt clinging to him. Sadly, he fails, for an eddy of ?gritty dust,? reminiscent of the outside world and a reminder of insecurity and the inability to remain in solitude, manages to follow him and coat his garments.

Swift, like Orwell, uses feelings and sensual perceptions to communicate the mood. Just as Swift evokes atmosphere and setting through what Gulliver feels, hears, tastes, touches and observes, Orwell?s ?gritty dust? and ?cold? day, and itching ?varicose ulcer? convey his discomfiture and isolation. Foreshadowing Winston?s possible fate, the first paragraphs offer an action-packed, descriptive and complete setting, while in Gulliver?s Travels, Swift allows himself much time to develop attitudes and feelings. 1984 does not gently move the reader, rather Orwell?s rhetorical strategy immediately consists of the horror and shock appeal. Orwell?s purpose of outrightedly writing a horror story of a tyrannical nation, with virtually no civil liberties, forces the reader to remember the story and themes, as disturbing as they may be. Swift also utilizes this shock appeal, for the purpose of memorablility, when he switches the places of humans and beasts in nature, and the audience cringes in embarrassment at the realization of their follies and wrongdoing.

Appropriate research into George Orwell?s life, sound recognition, as well as a word-association game offer possible explanations of the odd term ?memory hole.? Primarily, if these holes served the purpose of disposal of garbage, then the authorities would not have called them ?memory holes,? an obvious contradiction. Beyond this verbal irony lies the basis of selection, that the womb represents a place and area of destruction, chaos, and turmoil, a central theme in Orwell?s work. ?Memory? sounds very similar to mammary, already pointing towards the womb as a place of destruction. ?Mem? of memory, in the Anglo-Indian dialect, of which Orwell was cognizant, while growing up in India, means ?lady.? When joined with the fact that the ?room? in ?room 101? rhymes with womb, and that ?101? implies the beginning of all things and learning, Room 101 serving as a place of torture intensifies Orwell?s horrific message. ?It is a room below ground in the center of a white, windowless pyramid named the Ministry of Love?female symbolism can scarcely go further than that.? Orwell suggests that Room 101 is ?an unconscious symbol for the uterus? (Kornbluth 309). Like Swift and his glasses, Orwell utilizes a common object, a room in this case, in Winston?s life, to represent and convey the theme of inner and outer turmoil of both now and the world to come.

Artificiality of mind and spirit becomes a large topic that Orwell deals with in 1984. It is not only food, gin, and cigarettes that are ersatz in the ?utopia? Orwell unfolds before us. The language of Oceania, too, is thoroughly phony; it is deliberately designed to conceal reality wherever possible, to distort it (Harris 307). The gin and cigarettes that Orwell describes are hardly tasteful and of the coarsest quality so that calling them their generic product names requires exaggeration. Newspeak, the language of Oceania, in and of itself, is the epitome of phoniness. Naturally inherent with paradoxes such as ?War is Peace,? ?Freedom is Slavery? and ?Ignorance is Strength,? this mode of communication encompasses one goal: to erase all ability for original, creative, and therefore possible heretical thought.

Newspeak in [sic] a system dedicated to the elimination of free thought; as the range of vocabulary, and thus meaning, is limited, the ability to form and communicate ideas is substantially and proportionately reduced. Newspeak, when used exclusively, appears as a block of inanimate, monotonous logic (The Use of LanguageÉ, Internet). Newspeak consists of words ?purposefully inert, simplistic in structure, fatal in limitation.? This ?staccato? sounding language bridles any type of emotion with its limited vocabulary, turning people into mere automatons (The Use of LanguageÉ, Internet). The sounds that the characters and animals emitted, in both novels, helped determine the attitudes of the readers and protagonists towards the other characters. Whereas Orwell uses the Newspeak language, one which incorporates abbreviations and a system of speech that becomes hardly recognizable to the everyday human being as a symbolism of the mindlessness of society, Swift compares the neighing of the Houyhnhnms to a song, representative of rationality, even though he does not initially understand the Houyhnhnm tongue. Such oxymorons as Minitru (Ministry of Truth) , Miniluv (Ministry of Love), Miniplenty (Ministry of Plenty), and Minipax (Ministry of Peace), names of the departments of Ingsoc, the government system of Oceania, prove the inconsistencies of the language with their own names. Minitru fabricated lies, while Miniluv executed torture; Miniplenty consistently had to deal with rationing and shortages, and Minipax was constantly fighting wars. These paradoxes convey the message that the world to come, ridden with doublethink and Newspeak, will fall victim to a hellish atmosphere with no permissible conscious thought.

While Swift utilizes a satire of the world of what presently is, he inverts the planet so that the animals have the brains and the humans become the mindless Yahoos; Orwell offers a vision of what the world will become, when humankind loses all of its creative intelligence. Both authors comment on society and the frailty of the human race, one through absurd humor, the other through grave and serious suggestion, and both through shock appeal. Sensual images and language convey their respective characterizations of the human condition. Both visions remain powerful, often fearful, but always thought provoking.

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