Dissertation > Literature > Literary Theory > Countries in Literature

Rethinking and Reconstruction of Englishness in Gulliver's Travels

Author WangLingJuan
Tutor WangJianXiang
School Xiangtan University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords Jonathan Swift Gulliver’s Travels Englishness
CLC I561.074
Type Master's thesis
Year 2013
Downloads 132
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Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) is the most outstanding novelist for his ironic style in theeighteenth century. His novel, Gulliver’s Travels (1726) has got a lot of attention for its sharpironic style and profound reflection on the real world. Going with various critical theories,many critics have analyzed and reread the novel from different perspectives. Although somecritics have discussed imperialism and Eurocentrism of the eighteenth century Britain in thenovel, it seems that not enough attention have been given to Swift’s criticism to thehypocritical Englishness and his construction of the ideal Englishness.Englishness refers to national identity or national character. In a sense, it involves theconstruction of ethnic identity, with the color of ethnocentrism. British people use their ownculture as the yardstick to measure others’ civilization with the notion that their own societyis superior in any aspect, ignoring all the evils hidden in the fake civilization. In theeighteenth century, with the rise of trade, army and colonial activities, Britain became thecenter of the world with the image of “super power”. Subsequently, the image of “islandparadise” was spread to every corner of the world with the emergence of various travelliterature. The English people of that age were proud of their white civilization symbolized bythe racial complexion and advanced perfect systems. However, Swift presented us itsopposite aspects in eighteenth century British social life by his unique perspective and calmmind. By the analysis of Gulliver’s progress from identification to reflection andreconstruction of Englishness, this paper probes into the contradictory and complex Britishsociety in eighteenth century and explores Swift’s redefinition of the ideal society.There are three chapters in this paper besides introduction and conclusion. The firstchapter discusses Gulliver’s pride in Englishness. Gulliver as a white Englishman, his praisefor his appearance and skin color, his outstanding self-sufficient survival ability and hisemphasis on his noble morality convey the information that Gulliver is proud of the superiorEnglishness. When he arrives in a country, he will show Britain’s well-developed economy,advanced technology and rich culture. Gulliver’s unconscious presentation has expressed hispride in the strong and civilized Englishness which proves to be a kind of blind optimism andnationalism by marginalizing and despising other nations. The second chapter discusses Gulliver’s reconsideration of traditional Englishness. When he arrives in Brobdingnag, hestarts to rethink of British society and makes a denial to the white Englishness. When he haswitnessed Yahoo’s various ugliness and squalid behavior in Houyhnhnmland, Gulliverrecognizes the essence of white racial superiority is just the fair appearance without humannature. By talking with Houyhnhnms, Gulliver also recognizes the essence of war,colonization, money and realizes the civilized history is actually full of savages. The superiorEnglishness has been deconstructed by Gulliver’s reflection. Chapter Three discusses theideal society pursued by Gulliver. The national identity and character can not be defined bythe physicality, but by morality of social individuals. An ideal society with high civilizationshould be this: all the members from the monarch to the commons should hold their ownduties centered on morality. Besides, an ideal society should remove all kinds of bias andfollow the principle of keeping equal between genders, classes and nations, achievingequality and harmony in the whole society. In a sense, the ideal society for Swift is moreabout the national character for all nations than Englishness alone.In the eighteenth century, because of the optimism with Enlightenment, the Englishsociety was permeated with incredible nationalism. However, Jonathan Swift presents us amore real and all-sided Britain and expresses his yearn to redefine Englishness. By analyzingthe process of the narrator’s identification, deconstruction and reconstruction of Englishnessin Gulliver’s Travels, this paper exposes the evil aspects of the boasted English civilizationand also explores Swift’s redefinition of ideal Englishness.

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