Books

Gulliver’s Travels, A Satire: (2) Up Close, We’re Ugly

gulliver-jackson-brobdingnagOkay, here’s the big one (pun intended).

In continuing yesterday’s post, Part 2 of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels takes place in Brobdingnag, where everything is twelve times bigger than it should be.

Here, Gulliver is abandoned by his crew as they flee a giant and he is still on shore. He gets picked up by a farmer, who uses him as a show to make some money, and is then sold to the Queen, who pampers him like a little purse dog. Throughout his stay, he is watched over by Glumdalclitch, or “Little Nurse” in Brobdingnagian, a young girl who takes care of him like a doll. (Isn’t that a fantastic name?)

When Gulliver finally makes it home after two years, he’s so used to enlarged surroundings, he thinks he’s back in Lilliput. He ducks under doorways, and yells for people to clear a path when he passes so he won’t squash them.

He’s officially going insane.

So how is it that Up Close, We’re Ugly? Well, Swift may be satirizing the fact that once we get to know someone, we learn all of the little things that make them annoying, cruel, and mean-spirited. And that’s certainly shown in the greed of the farmer who shows off Gulliver for a quick buck. When Gulliver explains English politics to the King, he finds the politicians and the entirety of the human race revolting.

But when Gulliver is in Brobdingnag, all he ever mentions is how people look. The first of many grotesque images is that of a nursemaid’s breast when a baby is fed. (We know the tyke is hungry because it tried to eat Gulliver.) And if that doesn’t gross you out, what’s worse is that due to his relative size, Gulliver can see all the splotches and pimples and pores on the nursemaid’s skin. EW.

But no, that isn’t the last of the breast imagery in this part, and cutting all the details, Gulliver finds that people are pocked with holes, bumpy with pimples, splotchy, and worst of all—stink to high heaven. That’s right people. We’re smelly.

I think this is a good message for a society that is so concerned with its appearance. Up close, we all look the same—and that similarity is butt-ugly.

“I cannot but conclude the Bulk of you Natives, to be the most pernicious Race of little odious Vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the Surface of the Earth.” – Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels

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