Is Gulliver's Travels a misanthropic work?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Gulliver's Travels is a satire on human society, particularly the worst excesses of British Imperialism, but it is not directly misanthropic or anti-human. Swift uses the various societies that Gulliver encounters to satirize various aspects of human culture and to show how preconceived notions about human superiority are not necessarily correct. The section that some interpretations decry as misanthropic is Gulliver's life among the Houyhnhnms, intelligent horses that live in a rational society while the human-like Yahoos are little-more than animals. However, this section is mostly informed by the subjective opinions of Gulliver, who becomes enamored with Houyhnhnm culture; Swift did not necessarily share their views, as Gulliver's character is easily swayed and convinced throughout the book. Instead, the Houyhnhnm section is a satire on race-based prejudice, showing how simple physical similarities do not equate with superiority; the Houyhnhnms are essentially horses, while the animalistic Yahoos are similar to Gulliver himself. In this manner, Swift deconstructs racial tensions and shows how easy it is to generalize based on meaningless differences.