Top positive review
4 people found this helpful
on February 21, 2004
Who would have expected that I would come away from this book liking it so very much? Trying to read it on my own, I failed, but reading it in class helped me to see it in context, and appreciate it as a funny, thoughtful, and sometimes cruel work, a satire that can be real fun and thought-provoking once you get into the right mood for reading it.
Jonathan Swift was an Irish-born Tory who possessive of a famous aversion to humantiy in general. (Or so I am apt to classify him. There is something charming about misanthropes, one can really sympathize with them when one is cranky.) His Captain Lemuel Gulliver ends up stranded in various wondrous and edifying lands. I needn't tell you about Lilliput (six inch high people) and Brobdingnag (giants), but you might have forgotten Laputa, the floating island, and the land of the H----'s (don't bother me with the bloody spelling), those uber-intelligent horses. It's that last part, with the H----'s that is pretty shocking even today. You and me are both Yahoos of a kind, and Gulliver sails back to his people in raft with a sail made from Yahoo-skins. With Yahoo meat as provisions.
But there are lots of disturbing, warped things in this book. I remember passages in Brobdingnag with the most fondness. There Gulliver, reduced to the status of a plaything, is quite helpless, and delightfully so. He is dropped into a bowl of cream by a dwarf and embarrasingly discommoded by a pet monkey. The ladies at the court take a perverse delight in bouncing him up and down on their breasts. Gulliver, being tiny, is able to note the physical human imperfections of his captors magnified--cancerous lumps, blemishes of the skin, moles and wrinkles appear in all their sordidness. And what interesting things these are to read about, in retrospect. I think that we as modern human beings--I mean as Westerners, swamped in our materialism and complacency--need to sample the muck in our "entertainment" sometimes, just to get in touch with reality. Tear yourself away from MTV, from the supermodels and the actors, from semi-kiddie porn anime, and admit that the physicality of our human bodies can be pretty disgusting.
And also the psychology of Us, when we don't study ourselves and our values--
Gulliver himself is a little man, a contemptible nincompoop most of the time. I didn't notice it while I was reading the book, but afterwards, I thought about it, and decided so. When he recommends gunpowder to the King of Brobdingnag, he even comes across as significantly--stupid. (Is there logic in presenting a country of giants with the ability to make gunpowder, when you and the rest of your kind are 1/100th of their size? Derr. Not really. Even if you want to suck up to said king.)
But it's Swift on whom I can't quite place my finger... The more I think about him alongside his book, the more ambiguous he seems. Does he really mean to present the values of the H----'s as Good with a capital G in all particulars? (I was struck with their arrogant bitchiness, myself. Perhaps Swift would dislike me.) How about the Lilliuputian way of raising children, is that meant to be construed as desirable? (I do like it better than the cruel Puritanical strain of childraising, all that honor your mother & father ad nauseum beyond the bounds of compassion kind of crap--but the Lilliputian way doesn't seem to allow for that thing called love, either...)
I dunno. You tell me.
Ahh, but don't tell me Gulliver's Travels is outdated, or boring, 'cause I won't believe you.