A Utopia in Brobdingnag
Just as the French philosopher Rabelais had an immense influence on Swift, Thomas More, the English philosopher, also had a significant influence that one can see in Swift’s greatest satire, Gulliver’s Travels, especially during Gulliver’s voyage to Brobdingnag. In this part of the book Swift uses Utopia, More’s writing, to emphasize the immorality of the English, and bases his second book, set in Brobdingnag, on the ideas that More presents in his own book. Although all Brobdingnagians do not possess all of the same qualities that the Utopians possess, Swift uses many of the Utopian characteristics, such as morality and logic, and incorporates them into his Brobdingnagian world.
The most prevalent and important characteristic that both Brobdingnagians and Utopians possess is the idea of morality. In Gulliver’s Travels Swift uses the size of the Brobdingnagians comparatively to Gulliver as an indication of their levels of morality. As the Brobdingnagians are large giants their level of morality is high, and compared to these highly moral people Gulliver is merely a midget, a small English man with low moral standards that stem from his upbringing in England. The government contributes to many of these moral problems that take place in England. However, in Brobdingnag the government is based on the characteristics of common sense, justice, mercy, and understandable laws. It is a simple government that, unlike the government in England, has no refinements, secrets, or mysteries. Like in Utopia, Brobdingnagians learn only specific subjects: morality, history, poetry, and practical mathematics. They learn only what is necessary, and are not able to think in abstract ways. Their laws must be clear, concise, and only contain twenty-two words.
Commenting on the law is considered a capital crime and receives a severe punishment. Although the laws and customs are understandable, they are also ideal and sensible, and are followed by Brobdingnagians. These giants do what is morally correct and follow this ideology in every aspect of their lives, which leads to their personal happiness and freedom. By lying about the customs and institutions of England Swift shows how Gulliver is corrupted by the English system which, instead of leading to honest human beings, causes their citizens to love, fight, dispute and cheat. For example, when Gulliver is explaining to the King that members of parliament are wise and honest people he lies, because many of these people are elected through bribery and influence, and lying is a virtue only characterized by the British and other Europeans. The only member of Brobdingnag that possesses these qualities is the queen’s jester who lacks the common Brobdingnagian qualities. Like Utopia, the rules and laws of Brobdingnag keep their citizens in order, disciplined, and happy.
Like citizens of Utopia, Brobdingnagians do not possess negative qualities such as selfishness and pretentiousness that are found in Gulliver and the rest of his fellow English citizens. The King of Brobdingnag mocks this human pretension, as he does not see it in his own citizens.
The church in England, like its followers, is pretentious in nature, and although the Brobdingnagians also have a church, it is not showy or pretentious. While Gulliver lives in Brobdingnag he attempts to adopt many of the ideas of his peer giants, but once he begins to seem pretentious again he is made to feel inferior, as he is physically. For example, this humiliation occurs after many incidents such as when the hail balls bruise him and when a bird of prey nearly carries him away. The giants are kind and decent animals and, although they seem to treat Gulliver badly, such as when the farmer uses him to make money, he is carefully treated. The farmer’s daughter is especially nice and kind to him, and shows him love and affection.
No Brobdingnagian is ever unkind or mean to him, which is unlike the Lilliputians who, smaller than Gulliver, are malicious and thoughtless. Gulliver on the other hand is corrupt, and one can see this when he discusses the subject of gunpowder with the King. Gunpowder can enslave subjects, destroy buildings, and kill people, something that no Brobdingnagian would think of doing. Being that Gulliver is from England, he is able to think in this corrupted manner and is proud of this invention; so proud that it is one of the first things that he explains to the King in teaching him about England.
As a moral Brobdingnagian the King is disgusted with the thought of this dangerous powder, and threatens Gulliver to execution if he ever mentions it again. One can see that, being practical and logical people with set rules and ideals, Brobdingnagians are not similar to the British who are corrupt human beings. Simplicity is a major ideal that the Brobdingnagians possess, and, by keeping all that they do simple and uncomplicated, they eliminate the risk of doing something wrong. As mentioned earlier their laws are short, concise, and exact, and citizens know their specific duties. Their books are clearly written about the subjects that are simple and necessary. No abstract ideas enter into the minds of these giants, so as not to cause confusion.
More and Swift both describe Utopias in order to criticize the society of that time. The Utopias are ideals that would create better societies in which people would be simple, moral people, who would not possess any negative qualities. Growing up in these societies, one would not experience strong emotional feelings, and in turn he or she would be happy. These Utopias eliminate the strong emotional feelings, good and bad, and although the good ones cause happiness, the bad ones cause sadness, thus creating a society of complication and confusion. If a society were solely based on reason and practicality there would be uniform happiness that all people could experience, and by creating these Utopias Swift and More attempt to show how this happiness can be accomplished. Using More as a mentor, Swift creates his own sense of Utopia in Brobdingnag, and although it is not exactly as More’s Utopia, it is a Utopia Swift creates in order to show the corrupt society in which he lives.