African-American Culture and the Satire in Gulliver’s Travels

This week we read two parts from the book Gulliver’s Travels: A Voyage to Lilliput and A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms. Both of these parts have to do with the main character Gulliver coming into contact with different, strange cultures and civilizations. In a Voyage to Lilliput, Gulliver comes into contact with a civilization of humans who are tiny and in A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms he discovers a race of intelligent horses who look down upon a deformed humanoid race that also lives there. Pinning down the exact themes of these parts was somewhat difficult. At the time, the European mode of thought was that Europe and Europeans were superior to the rest of the world and this theory were often used to justify racism and slavery. Ironically, Gulliver comes to hate humanity after coming into contact with the Houyhnhnms, believing them to have a perfect society. He sees more of himself and humanity as a whole in the Yahoos, the deformed humanoid creatures. In contrast to this, Gulliver is critical of the Lilliputians and their obsessions with politicking and trivial matters. Whether or not this was intended by Swift, it seems to shed light on the stupidity of racial superiority by commenting on it with humor and absurdism. Another interesting point that is connected to the other reading for the week, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is the idea of innate evil vs corruptibility. While Gulliver Would not be considered evil, he goes from cheerful and optimistic in the beginning of the book to hating humanity and being a cynic toward the end. This would suggest that negative traits like these are Learned rather than innate. In Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass explains how when he was sold to a new master, his new mistress became Sophia Auld. He explains how she started off as kind but slowly turns cruel the longer he was her slave. This point sheds light on the corrupting nature of slavery And how racism isn’t innate but rather hatred and prejudice that is learned. Another interesting point which I think is related to African American culture today is how Douglass explains at the beginning of the book how he, and all the slaves he met, did now know their birthdays. Along with this fact, slaves were often separated from their families, particularly their mothers, at a young age. This shows how slaveholders essentially erased any sense of identity that slaves could have, since family heritage and their previous African culture could not be passed down when families were separated. I believe this was one of the causes of the developing of African American vernacular and African American culture as a distinct culture from that of Africa. 

One Reply to “African-American Culture and the Satire in Gulliver’s Travels”

  1. I like how you brought up how negative traits like racism are learned and how it was demonstrated in the multiple readings. I also liked that you mentioned how culture was erased leading to a loss of identity in the enslaved peoples. This erasure was then unfairly used against African-Americans who were accused of “lacking originality” which Zora Neale Hurston discusses in her Characteristics of Negro Expression book.

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