Jonathan Swift Essay

2402 words - 10 pages

Jonathan Swift

In an age of where rationality and morals were held to the accepted values, Jonathan Swift stood out as a champion of humanism. All his life he attacked pretense and begged people to see that life is not always what it seems when you look harder and think deeper. In addition, Swift was one of the most powerful writers of his time; able to rally people and nations around the caustic and moral views expressed in his works. His political writings for the Tories exposed the corruptions of government and paved the way for his acclaimed satires. Swift's great strength lied in impressing people into believing his ideals without blatantly professing them or becoming preachy.
Swift was raised in Dublin, and was schooled well despite getting just average grades. After getting a job as a secretary, he moved on to being a priest in Ireland. By this time, Swift was already approaching thirty, but still had not published anything of much worth. His years of reading in the church libraries and his growing acute eye for the vices of society were honed at this time, and his great works were about to come.
Swift had the power to easily implement new ideas and insights into people with his writings. A great satirist has explicit convictions about right and wrong, but he must be able to make these convictions sound convincing in words. Swift had a sharp perception into the delusions and hopes of people's everyday lives, so he often filtered his ideas through characters and tales that were easy for common people to relate to. When we read Gulliver's Travels, it almost seems like a straightforward adventure story, filled with tales of new creatures and distant countries. On further inspection, it can be seen as a biting satire on society, an attack on the Whigs, or a tale of the foolishness of human nature.
Swift's genius lies in the way he weaves his satirical motives into stories like Gulliver's Travels indirectly. We do not merely agree with the moral evaluations implied; we have lived, in our imaginations, through a moral experience (Williams 4). Swift doesn't simply tell us his beliefs; he makes the reader sort it out through the context of the story. By placing his ideas and morals upon other characters, Swift himself stands distant from these scenes he writes about. In doing so, he artistically, yet implicitly, defines the interval between the normal and the absurd. We attain normality by guarding against pride, and this we could do easily by observing the distorted figures in comedy and satire (Quintana 39).
An example where Swift uses his satire in a crafty, implicit way is in one of his first major works, A Tale of A Tub. The book is about exposing the corruption and abuses of religion at the time. In section VI of the book, Swift takes the form of an earnest storyteller but in fact he is telling the history of the major Christian Churches. The three main characters are obviously personas for the three main churches at the time. There...

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