Comparing Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe And Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels

1459 words - 6 pages

In both Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, the main characters suddenly find themselves in radically different environments than what they are used to. Robinson Crusoe finds himself shipwrecked on an uninhabited island, and Gulliver is forced onto a strange island by his wayward crew. The endings of these stories could not be more different from each other. Gulliver is tragically unable to transition back into normal society. In fact, he has developed a bitter disdain for humanity, and meeting his family for first time in years “filled me only with hatred, disgust, and contempt.” Crusoe manages to regain some semblance of normal human interaction such as ...view middle of the document...

He insists that his routine remains normal, as if nothing has happened. In fact, just days after being shipwrecked, Crusoe worries that he might "forget the Sabbath days from the working days." He insists on keeping order. Gulliver, on the other hand, starts speaking the language of the horses. On his first day on the island, Gulliver has already decided that the "behaviour of these animals was so orderly and rational, so acute and judicious, that I at last concluded, they must needs be magicians..." A second factor explaining the two different returns-to-civilization can be found in the rhetorical and ideological motives behind the texts. Warren Montag has observed in The Unthinkable Swift that Gulliver's Travels is Swift's rebuttal of Defoe's positive outlook on humanity as exhibited in Robinson Crusoe. Indeed, Defoe focuses far more on the ingenuity and resourcefulness of Robinson Crusoe. Therefore, his time in isolation does not make him resent all people. In Gulliver’s Travels, however, Swift used his renowned satire to mock European society at the time. He uses horses to symbolize that even animals can see the folly in the way society was run. Obviously then, when Gulliver returns to the corrupt human society, he finds it impossible to continue living as humans do.
The negativity with which humans are portrayed in Gulliver’s Travels starts from the first description of the Yahoos. Swift does not find it sufficient to ridicule the character of the Yahoos - his representation of humans, but he must deride their physical appearance as well. At his first sight of the Yahoos, Gulliver delves into a lengthy description of them, and he sums up his feelings thusly: “...I never beheld in all my travels so disagreeable an animal; or one against which i naturally conceived so strong an antipathy.”
Misanthropy is a word often associated with Gulliver, and for good reason. His disdain for humanity is thinly-veiled - at best. In fact, Swift himself says “I have got materials toward a treatise proving the falsity of that definition [of Man as] animal rationale, and to show it should be only rationis capax. Upon this great foundation of misanthropy. . . the whole building of my Travels is erected;” Apparently, he accomplished his desired effect. The Earl of Orrery wrote about book IV of Gulliver’s travels: “Swift has indulged in a misanthropy that is intolerable.”

Contrastly, Crusoe - Defoe’s version of man - is a never-ending fountain of resourcefulness. Shortly after washing ashore, he begins thinking of his ideal living quarters - under the circumstances. He crafts weapons to hunt with, tools to build with, and utensils to eat with. Clothing and accessories such as an umbrella are also discussed at great length. Nothing hinders Crusoe’s relentless pursuit of making the best of his dire situation.
Hugh Blair, who is considered by many to be the first great theorist of written discourse, wrote in his landmark work that Crusoe succedes “by showing how...

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