illustrated portrait of Irish author and satirist Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift

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Discuss the view that Swift was a misanthrope.

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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.


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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.

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