Please explain the significance of this quote from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels: "Hence it follows of necessity, that vast numbers of our people are , ... I was at much pains to make him...

Please explain the significance of this quote from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels: "Hence it follows of necessity, that vast numbers of our people are , ... I was at much pains to make him understand."  

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Stephen Holliday | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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This quotation from Swift's Gulliver's Travels is from Chapter 6 of Gulliver's fourth voyage--to the land of the Houyhnhnms, a race of highly intelligent, rational horses whose servants, known as the Yahoos and characterized by wildness and irrationality, are humans.  The context of this quote is a discussion between Gulliver and his master, one of the Houyhnhnms, in which Gulliver is attempting to describe the problems of English society, in particular, why England suffers from so many economic difficulties when the country itself is so productive.

Gulliver's master, the rational horse, simply cannot understand--after listening to Gulliver describe England's ability to produce food and drink--why England suffers so much from the lack of such things.  As Gulliver notes,

. . . we sent away the greatest Part of our necessary Things to other Countries, from whence in return we brought the Materials of Diseases, Folly, and Vice, to spend among ourselves.

In other words, the English exported the majority of its useful goods to other countries--food, clothing, and other goods required to maintain a healthy economy--and imported what we know call "luxury goods," nice things to have but totally unsuitable to maintain the basic needs of a society.

The consequence of exporting useful goods and importing useless goods has, unfortunately, profoundly negative effects on the society, and English citizens are now

compelled to seek their Livelihood by Begging, Robbing, Stealing, Cheating, Pimping, . . . Scribbling, Poysoning, Whoring . . . and the like Occupations. . . .

Gulliver depicts a society and culture that has literally fallen from a highly-productive one to one in which everyone is now engaged in morally corrupt activities and, more important, turned away from producing those things that can allow a society to continue to support its own population.

Although he blames this societal decline on the "Intemperance of the Males, and the Vanity of the Females," Gulliver's (actually, Swift's) real satiric target is the governing class that has allowed England to follow a path that has led to its economic and spiritual destruction--a society in which "Stealing, Cheating, Pimping" have become accepted occupations because there no longer exist productive occupations of an economically healthy society.

 

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