Narrow Principles: A Critique of England

In Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, the narrator goes through captivity by royalty multiple times, and his narrative is one of awe for both Lilliput and Brobdingnag. On page 125, Gulliver describes an episode during which he expects that the “Opinion of the English Reader” will be lessened in regards to the King of Brobdingnag. This very scene is a harsh criticism upon the human race in Europe for delighting in machines of war and injury. Gulliver, in offering to make gunpowder for the king, is refused in what he calls his “nice unnecessary scruple” that would have made the king the “Master of the Lives, the Liberties, and the Fortunes of his People.” Although the character of Gulliver is aghast at this refusal and believes that any European would never have turned down such an offering, the author in no way believes such a refusal to be the result of “narrow Principles and short Views.” Swift is pointing out the cruel bloodlust and thirst for power that the monarch and nobles of Europe have at this time. Unlike the utopian fiction of the time, Gulliver’s Travels at face value presents England as an utopia in comparison to these fantastical lands, but this interpretation is completely misleading. The complete surprise and disgust of Gulliver when he realizes that the king is faithful to his people and does not wish to have complete power over them is total irony intended to show that Swift is not criticizing the made up country of Brobdingnag, but England itself. When he describes the small minded principles of the king and criticizes his preference of swift justice and mercy opposed to drawn out political scandals, a very clear picture of England’s political problems is presented. Using the ideas of utopian fiction and captivity narratives, Swift completely turns these works of literature upside down and points to the flaws of those in England being awed and upset by the images of so-called savages and barbarians. Describing an, albeit fictional, foreign society in which political games and power plays appear to be crimes is Swift’s way of presenting his readers with a society that is better than their own. Gulliver is the exact type of Englishman Swift despises, and it is his criticisms and small mindedness that our author is warning to be detrimental to society in this passage.

-Meredith Leonardo

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