What is Swift's attitude towards Mankind in Gulliver's Travels?
In general, it is clear that Swift's depiction of the societies his protagonist, Gulliver, encounters during his adventures suggests a cynical perspective. Swift's point of view is not positive or encouraging. Many interpreters regard his character, Gulliver, as a symbolic representation of the objective viewer--someone who does not make any judgments and who does not discriminate. It is through Gulliver's eyes that we are made aware of humankind's iniquities, idiosyncrasies, and foolishness. Each adventure depicts an experience that exposes one or more of these shortcomings.
Gulliver's experiences in Lilliput, for example, seem to depict our desire for material wealth, our arrogance, and our obsession with pride and self promotion. We are, in our feebleness, intent on proving ourselves better than others by conducting irrelevant excursions and undertakings to prove an insignificant point. In the end we are really left with nothing.
Gulliver's experiences in Brobdingnag accentuate our insignificance. We are small, feeble, and unimportant in the greater scheme of things. Gulliver's encounters here show how we can be fooled by our own perspective when we believe that we are superior and above everything. Gulliver is humbled by his encounters in Brobdingnag and becomes a mere plaything. This depiction surely indicates that there are powers greater than ours that dominate us. We should therefore not allow our egos to lay claim to a greater importance.
Through his depictions of Gulliver's adventures on the flying island, Laputa, Swift ridicules our foolish adherence to impractical and idealistic philosophies and theories which serve no real purpose. He clearly expresses disdain for the fact that we adopt these as ultimate proof of our intellectual superiority when, in fact, such ideologies do not prove anything nor empower our advancement. It is all smoke and mirrors.
Swift's most damning criticism of humankind is revealed in Gulliver's journey to the land of the Houyhnhnms. The onomatopoeic nature of the name sounds like a jeer and, to a certain extent, copies the neighing of a horse. This, in itself, depicts Swift's view of humankind. It is as if the superior horses are displaying their contempt for humans when they neigh. The horses are depicted as wise, intelligent, compassionate, and caring, unlike the humans, the Yahoos, who are shown to be savage idiots.
It should be evident that Swift, through the persona he has created, is deeply disappointed by the folly of humankind. Being human, it seems, means very little or nothing at all.