GulliverS Travels By Jonathan Swift And The

Gulliver?S Travels By Jonathan Swift And The History Of Rasselas, Prince Of Abissinia By Samuel Johnson Essay, Research Paper

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift and The History of Rasselas, Prince of

Abissinia by Samuel Johnson, seek to capture the nature of the ideal world as well as the

essence of human nature. Both works are satirical in temper, and take a rather grim look

at the human condition exists, as well as the attributes that compose it. Neither author is

praising human nature, rather both novels conclude similarly that the perfect world is

simply unattainable and completely out of the grasp of human reach.

Swift and Johnson both present their own idea of what the ideal world is. Yet

despite several similarities, the novels on a whole greatly differ. Swift presents the

society of the Houyhnhnms, a super intelligent race of horses, as that of achieved

perfection. In fact, the word Houyhnhnm means “perfection of nature,” showing that

these creatures are the apex of evolution in the mind of Swift. The Houyhnhnms are

governed by pure reason and are free from the temporal vices that mar the face of

mankind. The reason that they subscribe to “strikes you with immediate conviction; as it

must needs do when it is not mingled, obscured, or discoloured by passion or interest.”

Another type of creature that inhabits the land of the Houyhnhnms’ are the Yahoos, a

degenerate race representing humans. The filth and malevolence of this race reveals the

horrific nature that Swift believes is human character.

Johnson’s perfect world is that of the valley of Abissinia. The happy valley is

picturesque landscape and surrounded by mountains on all sides. In the valley, life is

perfect. All the needs of its inhabitants are accounted for, and all the their vices satisfied.

The two worlds are similar in their unique perfection but they are quiet different. This is

because each world is designed to fit what each author feels embodies utopia.

The authors feel that it is impossible for humans to achieve these worlds of

perfections for several reasons. Swifts feels that humans cannot accept pure reason,

rather they try to pervert it by legislation, lawyers, and such. Actually, Houyhnhnms

cannot understand the concept of opinion because it is simply a method of swaying

absolute reason. Johnson agrees with the power of Reason but feels that it is swayed by

human emotion, thus it is unattainable. This is shown in the episode with the philosopher

who is completely at peace until the death of his daughter shakes the foundations which

he stood upon. Both authors also criticize the human need for more. Rasselas, whose

name is very similar to restless, leaves the happy valley, a place of perfection, because he

is “pained with want, and not satisfied with fulness.” Gulliver is actually quite similar for

he cannot be content to live at home with his family; rather he jumps at the first

opportunities to go on voyages and neglect his responsibilities as a father and husband. In

fact, he leaves his wife at home pregnant at the start of the last voyage. He says, “I

continued at home with my wife and children for about five months in a happy condition,

if I could have learned when I was happy.” So he, like Rasselas, leaves contentment,

without knowing it, to venture the world.

Another aspect of the human condition that is attacked by Johnson is indecision,

which leads to the ultimate failure of Rasselas’ quest. Rasselas knows that he must

commit to a Choice of Life but by finding himself unable to do so, he must return to the

happy valley with no accomplishments worth mentioning. Also, he condemns Rasselas

for his baseless optimism. Rather, Johnson treats this outlook as closer to naivet? than

anything else. This is shown throughout the novel, but a prime example is when Rasselas

states that he wants to the see the world and implies that all of his exploits would end in

happiness. This is obviously the opinion of one who cannot comprehend the notion of the

suffering. Swift is very adamant about the evils of lying in the fourth chapter. The

Houyhnhnms, Swift’s supreme race, do not even have a word in their vocabulary for the

word falsehood, instead they refer to it as saying the thing which is not. Swift also

criticizes the human race for their greed. This is shown when Gulliver’s Master tells him

of the Yahoos hoarding of shining stones as well as the inability to share food with one

another. Johnson also condemns the human affinity to money. An example of this is

Imlac’s father. A man who spent his life acquiring wealth and spent the remainder of his

life preserving it, all the while not providing him with the happiness he envisioned. It the

paradox of affluence. Actually, the gravest attack on human condition is issued by Swift,

which is the lack of compassion shown by humans to one another. Gulliver demonstrates

this as he is completely repulsed by the other Yahoos and in return the Yahoo view him

with hostility. In fact, Gulliver cannot bear his own reflection when he realizes that he is

a Yahoo.

It is arguable that faults such as greed and lust for power can act as powerful

motivators, which futher technological advancement and economic prosperity, as writen

in Adam Smith theory of the “invisible hand”. Smith states that personal covetousness

will be the path of human advancement and financial stability. Still, Swift feels that

human greed and prejudice hinder people from successfully interacting with one another

without bias. This is a big factor in the human inability to comprehend absolute reason.

Johnson feels that baseless optimism, that was prevalent during his era , needs to

replaced with realism in order to effectively make the Choice of Life. Also, Swift thinks

that Reason rather than self-interest should chiefly govern humans. When it comes down

to it, Swift does not feel that humans could ever build an even remotely positive society,

thus his Utopia does not even included humans, accept for mindless, grunt work. Johnson

has actually come out and said that while he appreciates Gulliver’s Travels , he feels the

final chapter is completely and utterly odious. Rather, he feels that the possibilities of

humans transcend that of menial labor. His book simply states that Rasselas inability to

make the Choice of Life does not bring him any closer to the happiness he sought than

when he first begun.

While the books carry many similar themes, they vary greatly. While Rasselas is

forced to return home fruitless, Gulliver gets back to England he is a state of complete

disillusionment, to the point that when his wife kiss him he faints from the sheer shock of

the act. He becomes completely alienated from his species. It is this loathing that Swift

thinks humans feel for one another. It is clear that Johnson is much more forgiving of

mankind’s short coming than is Swift, a infamous hater of people


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