Critically evaluate the third book of Gulliver’s Travels as
a satire on Science.
Why does Swift satirize science in the third book of
Gulliver’s Travels? Illustrate with textual reference.
How far is the Flying
Island significant in the third
book of Gulliver’s Travels?
Comment on Swift’s attitude towards science as enumerated in
What does Swift satirize in the third part of Gulliver’s
Travels? Answer with illustrations.
Gulliver’s Travels is Jonathan Swift’s most comprehensive and brilliantly worked out satire on man and civilization. The book is a satire on four aspects of man: the physical, the political, the intellectual, and the moral.
The book III which is titled as ‘A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan’ is a bitter satire on the impractical scientific enterprises undertaken in Swift’s time. In this book, especially through his voyage to Laputa and Balnibarbi, Swifts cynically exposes how sometimes man crosses his intellectual limits pursuing worthless theorizations and how sometimes practical knowledge can be misused doing impractical scientific experiments.
As we see, after his ship is attacked by pirates, Gulliver is marooned close to a desolate rocky island, near India. Fortunately he is rescued by a flying island called Laputa. Now, this Laputa is a peculiar island and more peculiar are its king and inhabitants.
The island is exactly circular and consists of 10,000 acres of land. At the center, there is a cave containing a lodestone six yards long which moves the island with its magnetic force. Interestingly, the King and his court of this flying island are devoted entirely to two subjects, music and mathematics, the most abstract sciences. They are all philosophers. The minds of these people are so occupied with intense speculations that they can neither speak nor attend to the discourse of others, unless their attention is attracted by a flapper. Swift most poignantly criticizes the absurdities of the Laputans, when he describes the dinner, “there was a shoulder of mutton, cut into an equilateral triangle, a piece of beef into a rhomboid, and a pudding into a cycloid”. Not only that, when these people want to praise the beauty of a woman or any other animal, they describe it by geometrical terms such as circles and parallelograms, or by musical terms.
Now, all these descriptions, though comic have a tough satiric purpose behind them. The Laputan king and inhabitants are devoid of human feelings and it is only abstract theory which dominates all aspects of their life. They disdain practical geometry and consequently have failed to develop any purposeful projects. The result is that the king is oblivious to the real concerns of the people who live below in Balnibarbi. Thus Swift here uses science as a metaphor to show the ruling class’ incapacity to think and work constructively for the people ruled.
However, Swift’s satire on science does not end here. Things get worse, when we see Gulliver visiting the Lagado academy in Balnibarbi. The academy in Lagado is a direct satire on the kind of works which the Royal Society in England was engaged upon in those days. We can visualize Swift’s contempt for the contemporary scientific experiments, when the different projects of the Lagado academy are described.As Gulliver visits the academy, he meets a man engaged in a project to extract sunbeams from cucumbers. He also meets a scientist trying to turn excrement back into food. Another is attempting to turn ice into gunpowder and is writing a treatise about the malleability of fire, hoping to have it published. An architect is designing a way to build houses from the roof down, and a blind master is teaching his blind apprentices to mix colors for painters according to smell and touch. An agronomist is designing a method of plowing fields with hogs by first burying food in the ground and then letting the hogs loose to dig it out. A doctor in another room tries to cure patients by blowing air through them.
Not only that, on the other side of the academy, people are engaged in speculative learning. One professor has a class full of boys working from a machine that produces random sets of words. A linguist in another room is attempting to remove all the elements of language except nouns. Another professor tries to teach mathematics by having his students eat wafers that have mathematical proofs written on them.
Now the descriptions of these comic projects may lead to the conclusion that Swift as a writer bears a deep apathy for science. However, the real implication is not like that. Swift only ridicules those parts of science which are impractical and which instead of benefiting people cause them suffer. It can be mentioned in this connection that much of Swift’s inspiration for the scientists in this voyage came from the Royal Society of London, a scientific society founded in 1660. Interestingly, most of the experiments parodied by Swift had actually been proposed or carried out by British scientists at the time of his writing. Besides, Swift also sincerely exposes the damaging effects of these impractical experiments. Laputa symbolizes the absurdity of knowledge and as a result, the Laputans suffer from the ruin of agriculture, architecture and the impoverishment of the population.
Thus, it is seen that Swift’s satire on science has deep humanitarian motives behind it. Through his satire, Swift allegorically expresses his views that the goals of science should be embedded in the real world. The aim of science should be purposeful, pragmatic and people friendly.