On The Margins Of Society: The Cult Of Alienation In World Literature

1768 words - 7 pages

Spanning nearly two centuries of literature, Gulliver’s Travels, Notes from Underground, and The Metamorphosis maintain a concurrent theme. Jonathan Swift, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Franz Kafka, respectively, portray the complex dynamic between the community and the individual. The writers’ iconic protagonists similarly become estranged from society, in spite of the markedly different historical contexts behind them. Upon reading the aforementioned works, it could be deduced that achieving a sense of connectedness within one’s community is a feat irrespective of time period and any scientific and technological advances therein; that the plight of loneliness is programmed into the individual on a visceral level. However, it could also be argued that while the three authors all capture an essential element of modern society; alienation, most of their readers do not feel it as acutely as their protagonists, if at all, and the few who do can find their solace knowing that in being alone, they are not alone.
When Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels in 1726, Europe was in the midst of the Enlightenment. Decades of scientific progress resulted in widespread adoption of rational thought, challenging previously accepted beliefs of determinism while embracing the concept of free will. In Gulliver’s Travels, Swift utilized satire to creatively translate the ideological shift toward individualism and its consequent cultural fragmentation. The preoccupation with intellectual autonomy and reason are reflected in Gulliver, a man who becomes so overwhelmed by the inadequacies of a foolish society that seclusion was the only remedy for his misanthropy.
Although Gulliver’s Travels is most perceptibly a social commentary critiquing the flaws of a greedy, aggressive society, the tale subtly depicts the consequences of becoming so embittered by the faults of mankind that one fails to recognize the good. After being exiled from his utopian society, Gulliver encounters Don Pedro, a considerate man that provides him with clothing and kindness. However, by then Gulliver perceived everyone outside of his utopian ideal to be abhorrent, and thus found Don Pedro’s character contemptible, even when his actions proved otherwise.
Since Gulliver is repulsed by the “Yahoos”, or barbaric humans, while enthralled by “Houyhnhms”, the horses, Swift’s story also suggests that people tend to be most critical of the inadequacies that they themselves possess, while idealizing unrealistic, unattainable fantasies. When Gulliver is forced to return home and reconciles the idea of humans as Yahoos, he segregates himself from his own family in an attempt to quiet the sense of dissonance arising from what he desires to be and who he actually is. Gulliver’s repulsion toward his wife and children is notably harsh, “And when I began to consider that, by copulating with one of the Yahoo species I had become a parent of more, it struck me with the utmost shame, confusion, and horror” (Swift 479). The...

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