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Gulliver’s Travels

Jonathan Swift

Human Nature

Quotes Human Nature
Here the Emperor ascended with many principal lords of his court, to have an opportunity of viewing me, as I was told, for I could not see them. It was reckoned that above an hundred thousand inhabitants came out of the town upon the same errand; and in spite of my guards, I believe there could not be fewer than ten thousand, at several times, who mounted my body by the help of ladders.

Gulliver, a giant in the land of Lilliput, recounts his time as the emperor’s prisoner. Tied down by hundreds of tiny cords, he has become a curiosity. The inhabitants of Lilliput, like all the people Gulliver meets on his imaginary travels, exhibit universal human traits. Gulliver feels strong curiosity about all he sees and meets, so he naturally expects other people to be curious about him as well. Here and throughout the book, Swift plays with the viewpoints of the observer and the observed, using both perspectives to make comments about human nature.

They were the most mortifying sight I ever beheld, and the women more horrible than the men. Besides the usual deformities in extreme old age, they acquired an additional ghastliness in proportion to their number of years, which is not to be described, and among half a dozen, I soon distinguished which was the eldest, although there was not above a century or two between them. The reader will easily believe, that from what I had heard and seen, my keen appetite for perpetuity of life was much abated.

Gulliver describes the Struldbrugs, an immortal people he learns of while in the kingdom of Luggnagg. Gulliver thinks the Struldbrugs must be the wisest and most fortunate of beings. The reality disproves his illusions, for the Struldbrugs, though immortal, keep ageing. In his encounter with these tragically ancient people, Gulliver confronts the basic human fear of dying and the prevalent human desire for immortality. Both the fear and the desire contrast with reality. Visiting the Struldbrugs influences Gulliver’s evolving view that human nature must be improved by the cultivation of reason.

By what I could discover, the Yahoos appear to be the most unteachable of all animals, their capacity never reaching higher than to draw or carry burthens. Yet I am of opinion this defect ariseth chiefly from a perverse, restive disposition. For they are cunning, malicious, treacherous, and revengeful. They are strong and hardy, but of a cowardly spirit, and, by consequence, insolent, abject, and cruel.

Gulliver lives awhile in the country of Houyhnhnms, a land ruled by horses. The wise, rational rulers employ animals called Yahoos to do all their heavy labor. Gulliver admires the Houyhnhnms a great deal and absorbs their attitude toward the Yahoos as a lower form of life, which he voices here. Gulliver bears all the same physical characteristics of this humanlike creature that displays all the worst human faults. The irony implicit in the fact that Gulliver himself is a Yahoo develops into Gulliver’s self-awareness. As a result of observing the Yahoos, Gulliver comes to detest the entire human race.