Discuss the view that Swift was a misanthrope.
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In "A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms", Swift expresses through Gulliver that he deeply detests the human race. In fact, Swift himself was once quoted as saying that of all animals in this earth the one he likes least is the animal called "man."
Each of the stories in Gulliver's Travels depict the lowest aspects of human nature, from how we think, to how we look. It is an instant slap in the face of pride, and even though the story claims to not be accurately reflecting human nature, the fact is that Sift is a satirist and the entire novel was a satire of humanity, hence, the misanthropy comes in.
The question of whether or not Swift was a misanthrope essentially relates to the question of his attitude toward humanity in his satirical works. The title of misanthrope is reserved usually for someone who hates or distrusts humanity. Much of Swift’s satirical work exhibit neither hatred nor distrust. Swift, however, clearly finds humanity flawed. Those flaws, particularly the pride of humanity, serve as the meat of his work. In “A Modest Proposal,” arguably one of Swift’s most controversial and “misanthropic” works, Swift does not target humanity on a large scale. He directs his very harsh criticism against English landholders who take advantage of the Irish poor at every turn and the Irish who sit by and let it happen. In an earlier pamphlet, “A Short View of the State of Ireland,” in many ways a companion piece to “A Modest Proposal,” Swift expresses a similar sense of indignation, but within that indignation there is the hope that Ireland can improve its lot. In these works, it is not humanity itself that fills Swift with such disdain; it is the situation into which humanity has wedged itself and the characteristics of humanity that allow it to happen that fuel his outrage. For all of the flaws inherent in humanity – and for Swift there are a lot – they do not add up to Swift wanting little or nothing to do with humanity as a whole. If anything, perhaps Swift is antisocial.
Misanthropy is a nature of man in which a man detests and hates other people. A man who detests and hates other human being is called misanthrope.
Gulliver’s Travels is the masterpiece of Jonathan Swift. In this book, he describes about the voyages of different lands like Lilliput.
In his first voyage, he goes to the land named Lilliput. Where he meets the human beings who are only six inches in height.
In his fourth voyage, he goes to the land of Houyhnhnms. Where he meets the race of rational and reasoned horses whose servants are Yahoos. Yahoos are presented as human being. It is a proof of his misanthropy that he employs the word ‘Yahoo’ for mankind. Actually, the word ‘Yahoo’ is used for heinous, uncivilized, wicked and vicious people.
In a letter of Swift that he wrote to his friend Alexander Pope he says,
“I hate and detest that animal called man”
The quotation that has given above is a proof of Swift’s misanthropy. In this line of letter, Swift claims that he does not like human being.
His rejection to live with Yahoos on asking of his master shows his fierce attitude towards mankind. He says,
“I expressed my uneasiness at his giving me so often the appellation of Yahoo, an odious animal, for which a had so utter and hatred”
Swift’s misanthropy reaches the climax when Gulliver says,
In fourth voyage, Gulliver especially singles out “pride” as the greatest defect of mankind. When Gulliver has become absolute and uncompromising hater even of his own family, it shows the extreme misanthropy of Jonathan Swift. For example Gulliver says,
“I began last week to permit my wife to sit at dinner with me”
All these things show that Swift was a misanthrope.
When we look at the pages of this novel, we find extreme disgust of the writer in the values and customs of mankind. But the point to consider is that the writer shows disgust in the values and customs of the mankind that are completely and entirely useless. He, at no point, shows disgust in the mankind in general. So it's a better thing to consider him a reformist, rather than a misanthrope. He is not a philanthropist, but a reformist.
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