Gulliver's Travels By Jonathan Swift Summary and Analysis Part IV: Chapter 5

Summary

Describing England to his master, Gulliver talks at length about the bloody wars fought for "religious reasons" — Europeans, he says, will kill over whether flesh is bread or whether blood is juice or wine. Likewise, they murder each other out of jealousy for a government post. An invading prince, Gulliver says, will conquer a country, kill half the population, and make slaves of the rest, all in the holy name of civilization. Gulliver's master comments that, although his Yahoos are abominable, English Yahoos are far worse because they use their reason to magnify, yet excuse, their vices.

Gulliver then turns to the subject of England's legal system. The man in the right, he explains, is always at a disadvantage because lawyers are not comfortable unless they are arguing for the wrong side. In short, lawyers are the most stupid of all Yahoos; they are enemies to knowledge and to justice.

Analysis

In this chapter, Swift uses the technique of paradox as fuel for his satire. He gives paradoxical explanations for secular war, contrasting actual motives with professed motives. Swift is saying that men use their reason to give themselves excuses — instead of alternatives — for wars. Although we are not physically dangerous, we use reason to increase our power to kill. Swift concludes that as our reason increases so, proportionately, do our vices. From the gunpowder illustration, Swift moves to a social illustration: law and lawyers. The details he gives emphasize lawyers' antipathy to right reason: They destroy reasonable conversation, fight knowledge, and use reason to exalt injustice.

Glossary

culverins medieval muskets or heavy cannons.

carabines (carbines) rifles with short barrels (cavalry rifles).

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Gulliver’s visit to Lilliput allows Swift to satirize what sort of rulers?




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