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Civil Laws and Religious Authority in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels

Civil Laws and Religious Authority in Gulliver’s Travels

In part one of Gulliver’s Travels, Swift present readers with an inverted world, not only by transplanting Gulliver to a land that’s only a twelfth the size (a literal microcosm), but also by placing him into a society with different ethical and civil laws. Swift uses these inversions not only to entertain the readers imagination, but more importantly, to transform our perspectives to understand alien worldviews (e.g. in part four, there is great detail given to explain the Houyhnhnms’ views on marriage, health, astronomy, poetry, language, death, and reproduction). The Lilliputian conflict that erupts from the egg law (found in part one, chapter four) is an inversion, which (1) parallels the conflict of the Protestant reformation; and (2) argues that warring over religious viewpoints is futile and destructive to society, and (3) mandates lawmakers to be wary of creating laws that contradict religious teachings.

The conflict between the Lilliputians and Blefuscudians resembles the Protestant and Papist struggle because it’s a struggle about interpretation of scripture. The “great prophet Lustrog, in the fifty-fourth chapter of the Brundecral” decrees that “all true believers shall break their eggs at the convenient end” (2353). The Blefuscudians (like Roman Catholics) hold a traditional view of scripture, and in their case, ” the primitive way of breaking eggs . . . was upon the larger end” (2353), and that was “ancient practice” (2353). The Lilliputians (like Protestants), broke from tradition and held a personal view of scripture, as the Emperor decreed, “to break the smaller end of their eggs” (2353). And for “six and thirty moons past” (2353), the Lil…

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…egg law that caused so many wars because of religious persuasions, Swift causes all lawmakers (and thus democratic voters) to be wary of instituting laws that conflict with religion. Thus the seemingly silly egg law, points to huge ideas that affect every society.

When Gulliver first awakes in Lilliput country, Swift has him strapped down staring at the sky, in a new land, with a new language, with new laws. Swift, in a sense, straps us all down, to teach us about new perspectives and the importance of tolerance. In Swift’s inverted world, he parallels the Lilliputian conflict with the protestant reformation, argues for toleration of religious viewpoints and to not war over them, and instructs all lawmakers to be wary of creating laws that contradict religious teachings.

Works Cited:

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1959.

Romantic and Enlightenment Ideas in Frankenstein

The Enlightenment age encouraged everyone to use reason and science in order to rid the world of barbarism and superstition. In fact, Kant argued that the “public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men” (Kant 3). Enlightenment thinking not only influenced philosophy and the sciences, but also literature (especially in Pope’s Essay on Man). In reaction to Enlightenment’s strict empiricism, Romanticism was born. In Frankenstein, Shelley argues (1) that Victor Frankenstein’s role as an Enlightenment hero, not only pulled him out of nature, but made him a slave to his creation; (2) that Frankenstein’s role as a revolting romantic failed, because he didn’t take responsibility for his creation; and (3) mankind must find a balance between the Enlightenment and Romantic ideologies.

In his youth Victor spent his time secluded from nature, studying books. Victor spent every hour trying to learning how to “banish disease from the human frame and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death” (Shelley, 26). He was the perfect enlightenment hero, as he pursued education over everything else. He declared to Captain Walton that the:

world was to me a secret which I desired to divine. Curiosity, earnest research to learn the hidden laws of nature, gladness akin to rapture, as they were unfolded to me, are among the earliest sensations I can remember (22).

His pursuit of knowledge became even more important when he entered the university of Ingolstadt. He “read with ardour” (35) and soon become “so ardent and eager that the stars often disappeared in the light of the morning whilst I was yet engaged in my laboratory” (35). He was a proud product of the Enlightenment…

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…or Frankenstein, does not live up to his role model. He lacks compassion for his creation (perhaps a reflection on the lack of belief in a benevolent deity in which Mary was raised), and shirks his moral responsibility by refusing to disclose his experiments to the community around him.” (Madigan 3)

Works Cited

“Condorcet, Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Progress of the Human Mind.” The History Guide: Lectures on Modern European Intellectual History. Steven Kreis, 3 December 2006. 12 October 2014.

Kant, Immanuel. Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. 1990.

Madigan, P. The Modern Project to Rigor: Descartes to Nietzsche. Landham: UP of America, 1986.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus. Edited by: D.L. Macdonald

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