Lecturi

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Lecturi

  1. 1. Source: http://www.sparknotes.com/ 18th Century- The Enlightenment Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift (Augustan Literature 1689-1750)ContextJonathan Swift, son of the English lawyer Jonathan Swift the elder, was born in Dublin, Ireland, onNovember 30, 1667. He grew up there in the care of his uncle before attending Trinity College at theage of fourteen, where he stayed for seven years, graduating in 1688. In that year, he became thesecretary of Sir William Temple, an English politician and member of the Whig party. In 1694, he tookreligious orders in the Church of Ireland and then spent a year as a country parson. He then spentfurther time in the service of Temple before returning to Ireland to become the chaplain of the earl ofBerkeley. Meanwhile, he had begun to write satires on the political and religious corruptionsurrounding him, working on A Tale of a Tub, which supports the position of the Anglican Churchagainst its critics on the left and the right, and The Battle of the Books, which argues for the supremacyof the classics against modern thought and literature. He also wrote a number of political pamphlets infavor of the Whig party. In 1709 he went to London to campaign for the Irish church but wasunsuccessful. After some conflicts with the Whig party, mostly because of Swift’s strong allegiance tothe church, he became a member of the more conservative Tory party in 1710.Unfortunately for Swift, the Tory government fell out of power in 1714 and Swift, despite his fame forhis writings, fell out of favor. Swift, who had been hoping to be assigned a position in the Church ofEngland, instead returned to Dublin, where he became the dean of St. Patrick’s. During his brief time inEngland, Swift had become friends with writers such as Alexander Pope, and during a meeting of theirliterary club, the Martinus Scriblerus Club, they decided to write satires of modern learning. The thirdvoyage of Gulliver’s Travels is assembled from the work Swift did during this time. However, the finalwork was not completed until 1726, and the narrative of the third voyage was actually the last onecompleted. After his return to Ireland, Swift became a staunch supporter of the Irish against Englishattempts to weaken their economy and political power, writing pamphlets such as the satirical AModest Proposal, in which he suggests that the Irish problems of famine and overpopulation could beeasily solved by having the babies of poor Irish subjects sold as delicacies to feed the rich.Gulliver’s Travels was a controversial work when it was first published in 1726. In fact, it was not untilalmost ten years after its first printing that the book appeared with the entire text that Swift hadoriginally intended it to have. Ever since, editors have excised many of the passages, particularly themore caustic ones dealing with bodily functions. Even without those passages, however, Gulliver’sTravels serves as a biting satire, and Swift ensures that it is both humorous and critical, constantlyattacking British and European society through its descriptions of imaginary countries.Late in life, Swift seemed to many observers to become even more caustic and bitter than he had been.Three years before his death, he was declared unable to care for himself, and guardians were appointed. 1
  2. 2. Based on these facts and on a comparison between Swift’s fate and that of his character Gulliver, somepeople have concluded that he gradually became insane and that his insanity was a natural outgrowth ofhis indignation and outrage against humankind. However, the truth seems to be that Swift was suddenlyincapacitated by a paralytic stroke late in life, and that prior to this incident his mental capacities wereunimpaired.Gulliver’s Travels is about a specific set of political conflicts, but if it were nothing more than that itwould long ago have been forgotten. The staying power of the work comes from its depiction of thehuman condition and its often despairing, but occasionally hopeful, sketch of the possibilities forhumanity to rein in its baser instincts.Plot OverviewGulliver’s Travels recounts the story of Lemuel Gulliver, a practical-minded Englishman trained as asurgeon who takes to the seas when his business fails. In a deadpan first-person narrative that rarelyshows any signs of self-reflection or deep emotional response, Gulliver narrates the adventures thatbefall him on these travels.Gulliver’s adventure in Lilliput begins when he wakes after his shipwreck to find himself bound byinnumerable tiny threads and addressed by tiny captors who are in awe of him but fiercely protective oftheir kingdom. They are not afraid to use violence against Gulliver, though their arrows are little morethan pinpricks. But overall, they are hospitable, risking famine in their land by feeding Gulliver, whoconsumes more food than a thousand Lilliputians combined could. Gulliver is taken into the capital cityby a vast wagon the Lilliputians have specially built. He is presented to the emperor, who is entertainedby Gulliver, just as Gulliver is flattered by the attention of royalty. Eventually Gulliver becomes anational resource, used by the army in its war against the people of Blefuscu, whom the Lilliputianshate for doctrinal differences concerning the proper way to crack eggs. But things change whenGulliver is convicted of treason for putting out a fire in the royal palace with his urine and iscondemned to be shot in the eyes and starved to death. Gulliver escapes to Blefuscu, where he is able torepair a boat he finds and set sail for England.After staying in England with his wife and family for two months, Gulliver undertakes his next seavoyage, which takes him to a land of giants called Brobdingnag. Here, a field worker discovers him.The farmer initially treats him as little more than an animal, keeping him for amusement. The farmereventually sells Gulliver to the queen, who makes him a courtly diversion and is entertained by hismusical talents. Social life is easy for Gulliver after his discovery by the court, but not particularlyenjoyable. Gulliver is often repulsed by the physicality of the Brobdingnagians, whose ordinary flawsare many times magnified by their huge size. Thus, when a couple of courtly ladies let him play ontheir naked bodies, he is not attracted to them but rather disgusted by their enormous skin pores and thesound of their torrential urination. He is generally startled by the ignorance of the people here—eventhe king knows nothing about politics. More unsettling findings in Brobdingnag come in the form ofvarious animals of the realm that endanger his life. Even Brobdingnagian insects leave slimy trails onhis food that make eating difficult. On a trip to the frontier, accompanying the royal couple, Gulliverleaves Brobdingnag when his cage is plucked up by an eagle and dropped into the sea.Next, Gulliver sets sail again and, after an attack by pirates, ends up in Laputa, where a floating islandinhabited by theoreticians and academics oppresses the land below, called Balnibarbi. The scientificresearch undertaken in Laputa and in Balnibarbi seems totally inane and impractical, and its residents 2
  3. 3. too appear wholly out of touch with reality. Taking a short side trip to Glubbdubdrib, Gulliver is able towitness the conjuring up of figures from history, such as Julius Caesar and other military leaders,whom he finds much less impressive than in books. After visiting the Luggnaggians and theStruldbrugs, the latter of which are senile immortals who prove that age does not bring wisdom, he isable to sail to Japan and from there back to England.Finally, on his fourth journey, Gulliver sets out as captain of a ship, but after the mutiny of his crewand a long confinement in his cabin, he arrives in an unknown land. This land is populated byHouyhnhnms, rational-thinking horses who rule, and by Yahoos, brutish humanlike creatures whoserve the Houyhnhnms. Gulliver sets about learning their language, and when he can speak he narrateshis voyages to them and explains the constitution of England. He is treated with great courtesy andkindness by the horses and is enlightened by his many conversations with them and by his exposure totheir noble culture. He wants to stay with the Houyhnhnms, but his bared body reveals to the horsesthat he is very much like a Yahoo, and he is banished. Gulliver is grief-stricken but agrees to leave. Hefashions a canoe and makes his way to a nearby island, where he is picked up by a Portuguese shipcaptain who treats him well, though Gulliver cannot help now seeing the captain—and all humans—asshamefully Yahoolike. Gulliver then concludes his narrative with a claim that the lands he has visitedbelong by rights to England, as her colonies, even though he questions the whole idea of colonialism.Character ListGulliver - The narrator and protagonist of the story. Although Lemuel Gulliver’s vivid and detailedstyle of narration makes it clear that he is intelligent and well educated, his perceptions are naïve andgullible. He has virtually no emotional life, or at least no awareness of it, and his comments are strictlyfactual. Indeed, sometimes his obsession with the facts of navigation, for example, becomes unbearablefor us, as his fictional editor, Richard Sympson, makes clear when he explains having had to cut outnearly half of Gulliver’s verbiage. Gulliver never thinks that the absurdities he encounters are funnyand never makes the satiric connections between the lands he visits and his own home. Gulliver’snaïveté makes the satire possible, as we pick up on things that Gulliver does not notice.The emperor - The ruler of Lilliput. Like all Lilliputians, the emperor is fewer than six inches tall. Hispower and majesty impress Gulliver deeply, but to us he appears both laughable and sinister. Becauseof his tiny size, his belief that he can control Gulliver seems silly, but his willingness to execute hissubjects for minor reasons of politics or honor gives him a frightening aspect. He is proud of possessingthe tallest trees and biggest palace in the kingdom, but he is also quite hospitable, spending a fortune onhis captive’s food. The emperor is both a satire of the autocratic ruler and a strangely serious portrait ofpolitical power.The farmer - Gulliver’s first master in Brobdingnag. The farmer speaks to Gulliver, showing that heis willing to believe that the relatively tiny Gulliver may be as rational as he himself is, and treats himwith gentleness. However, the farmer puts Gulliver on display around Brobdingnag, which clearlyshows that he would rather profit from his discovery than converse with him as an equal. Hisexploitation of Gulliver as a laborer, which nearly starves Gulliver to death, seems less cruel thansimpleminded. Generally, the farmer represents the average Brobdingnagian of no great gifts orintelligence, wielding an extraordinary power over Gulliver simply by virtue of his immense size.Glumdalclitch - The farmer’s nine-year-old daughter, who is forty feet tall. Glumdalclitch becomesGulliver’s friend and nursemaid, hanging him to sleep safely in her closet at night and teaching him theBrobdingnagian language by day. She is skilled at sewing and makes Gulliver several sets of newclothes, taking delight in dressing him. When the queen discovers that no one at court is suited to carefor Gulliver, she invites Glumdalclitch to live at court as his sole babysitter, a function she performs 3
  4. 4. with great seriousness and attentiveness. To Glumdalclitch, Gulliver is basically a living doll,symbolizing the general status Gulliver has in Brobdingnag.The queen - The queen of Brobdingnag, who is so delighted by Gulliver’s beauty and charms that sheagrees to buy him from the farmer for 1,000 pieces of gold. Gulliver appreciates her kindness after thehardships he suffers at the farmer’s and shows his usual fawning love for royalty by kissing the tip ofher little finger when presented before her. She possesses, in Gulliver’s words, “infinite” wit andhumor, though this description may entail a bit of Gulliver’s characteristic flattery of superiors. Thequeen seems genuinely considerate, asking Gulliver whether he would consent to live at court insteadof simply taking him in as a pet and inquiring into the reasons for his cold good-byes with the farmer.She is by no means a hero, but simply a pleasant, powerful person.The king - The king of Brobdingnag, who, in contrast to the emperor of Lilliput, seems to be a trueintellectual, well versed in political science among other disciplines. While his wife has an intimate,friendly relationship with the diminutive visitor, the king’s relation to Gulliver is limited to seriousdiscussions about the history and institutions of Gulliver’s native land. He is thus a figure of rationalthought who somewhat prefigures the Houyhnhnms in Book IV.Lord Munodi - A lord of Lagado, capital of the underdeveloped land beneath Laputa, who hostsGulliver and gives him a tour of the country on Gulliver’s third voyage. Munodi is a rare example ofpractical-minded intelligence both in Lagado, where the applied sciences are wildly impractical, and inLaputa, where no one even considers practicality a virtue. He fell from grace with the ruling elite bycounseling a commonsense approach to agriculture and land management in Lagado, an approach thatwas rejected even though it proved successful when applied to his own flourishing estate. Lord Munodiserves as a reality check for Gulliver on his third voyage, an objective-minded contrast to thetheoretical delusions of the other inhabitants of Laputa and Lagado.Yahoos - Unkempt humanlike beasts who live in servitude to the Houyhnhnms. Yahoos seem tobelong to various ethnic groups, since there are blond Yahoos as well as dark-haired and redheadedones. The men are characterized by their hairy bodies, and the women by their low-hanging breasts.They are naked, filthy, and extremely primitive in their eating habits. Yahoos are not capable ofgovernment, and thus they are kept as servants to the Houyhnhnms, pulling their carriages andperforming manual tasks. They repel Gulliver with their lascivious sexual appetites, especially when aneleven-year-old Yahoo girl attempts to rape Gulliver as he is bathing naked. Yet despite Gulliver’srevulsion for these disgusting creatures, he ends his writings referring to himself as a Yahoo, just as theHouyhnhnms do as they regretfully evict him from their realm. Thus, “Yahoo” becomes another termfor human, at least in the semideranged and self-loathing mind of Gulliver at the end of his fourthjourney.Houyhnhnms - Rational horses who maintain a simple, peaceful society governed by reason andtruthfulness—they do not even have a word for “lie” in their language. Houyhnhnms are like ordinaryhorses, except that they are highly intelligent and deeply wise. They live in a sort of socialist republic,with the needs of the community put before individual desires. They are the masters of the Yahoos, thesavage humanlike creatures in Houyhnhnmland. In all, the Houyhnhnms have the greatest impact onGulliver throughout all his four voyages. He is grieved to leave them, not relieved as he is in leavingthe other three lands, and back in England he relates better with his horses than with his human family.The Houyhnhnms thus are a measure of the extent to which Gulliver has become a misanthrope, or“human-hater”; he is certainly, at the end, a horse lover.Gulliver’s Houyhnhnm master - The Houyhnhnm who first discovers Gulliver and takes him into hisown home. Wary of Gulliver’s Yahoolike appearance at first, the master is hesitant to make contactwith him, but Gulliver’s ability to mimic the Houyhnhnm’s own words persuades the master to protectGulliver. The master’s domestic cleanliness, propriety, and tranquil reasonableness of speech have an 4
  5. 5. extraordinary impact on Gulliver. It is through this horse that Gulliver is led to reevaluate thedifferences between humans and beasts and to question humanity’s claims to rationality.Don Pedro de Mendez - The Portuguese captain who takes Gulliver back to Europe after he is forcedto leave the land of the Houyhnhnms. Don Pedro is naturally benevolent and generous, offering thehalf-crazed Gulliver his own best suit of clothes to replace the tatters he is wearing. But Gulliver meetshis generosity with repulsion, as he cannot bear the company of Yahoos. By the end of the voyage, DonPedro has won over Gulliver to the extent that he is able to have a conversation with him, but thecaptain’s overall Yahoolike nature in Gulliver’s eyes alienates him from Gulliver to the very end.Brobdingnagians - Giants whom Gulliver meets on his second voyage. Brobdingnagians are basicallya reasonable and kindly people governed by a sense of justice. Even the farmer who abuses Gulliver atthe beginning is gentle with him, and politely takes the trouble to say good-bye to him upon leavinghim. The farmer’s daughter, Glumdalclitch, gives Gulliver perhaps the most kindhearted treatment hereceives on any of his voyages. The Brobdingnagians do not exploit him for personal or politicalreasons, as the Lilliputians do, and his life there is one of satisfaction and quietude. But theBrobdingnagians do treat Gulliver as a plaything. When he tries to speak seriously with the king ofBrobdingnag about England, the king dismisses the English as odious vermin, showing that deepdiscussion is not possible for Gulliver here.Lilliputians and Blefuscudians - Two races of miniature people whom Gulliver meets on his firstvoyage. Lilliputians and Blefuscudians are prone to conspiracies and jealousies, and while they treatGulliver well enough materially, they are quick to take advantage of him in political intrigues ofvarious sorts. The two races have been in a longstanding war with each over the interpretation of areference in their common holy scripture to the proper way to eat eggs. Gulliver helps the Lilliputiansdefeat the Blefuscudian navy, but he eventually leaves Lilliput and receives a warm welcome in thecourt of Blefuscu, by which Swift satirizes the arbitrariness of international relations.Laputans - Absentminded intellectuals who live on the floating island of Laputa, encountered byGulliver on his third voyage. The Laputans are parodies of theoreticians, who have scant regard for anypractical results of their own research. They are so inwardly absorbed in their own thoughts that theymust be shaken out of their meditations by special servants called flappers, who shake rattles in theirears. During Gulliver’s stay among them, they do not mistreat him, but are generally unpleasant anddismiss him as intellectually deficient. They do not care about down-to-earth things like thedilapidation of their own houses, but worry intensely about abstract matters like the trajectories ofcomets and the course of the sun. They are dependent in their own material needs on the land belowthem, called Lagado, above which they hover by virtue of a magnetic field, and from which theyperiodically raise up food supplies. In the larger context of Gulliver’s journeys, the Laputans are aparody of the excesses of theoretical pursuits and the uselessness of purely abstract knowledge.Themes, Motifs & SymbolsThemesMight Versus RightGulliver’s Travels implicitly poses the question of whether physical power or moral righteousnessshould be the governing factor in social life. Gulliver experiences the advantages of physical mightboth as one who has it, as a giant in Lilliput where he can defeat the Blefuscudian navy by virtue of hisimmense size, and as one who does not have it, as a miniature visitor to Brobdingnag where he isharassed by the hugeness of everything from insects to household pets. His first encounter with another 5
  6. 6. society is one of entrapment, when he is physically tied down by the Lilliputians; later, in Brobdingnag,he is enslaved by a farmer. He also observes physical force used against others, as with theHouyhnhnms’ chaining up of the Yahoos.But alongside the use of physical force, there are also many claims to power based on moralcorrectness. The whole point of the egg controversy that has set Lilliput against Blefuscu is not merelya cultural difference but, instead, a religious and moral issue related to the proper interpretation of apassage in their holy book. This difference of opinion seems to justify, in their eyes at least, the warfareit has sparked. Similarly, the use of physical force against the Yahoos is justified for the Houyhnhnmsby their sense of moral superiority: they are cleaner, better behaved, and more rational. But overall, thenovel tends to show that claims to rule on the basis of moral righteousness are often just as arbitrary as,and sometimes simply disguises for, simple physical subjugation. The Laputans keep the lower land ofBalnibarbi in check through force because they believe themselves to be more rational, even though wemight see them as absurd and unpleasant. Similarly, the ruling elite of Balnibarbi believes itself to be inthe right in driving Lord Munodi from power, although we perceive that Munodi is the rational party.Claims to moral superiority are, in the end, as hard to justify as the random use of physical force todominate others.The Individual Versus SocietyLike many narratives about voyages to nonexistent lands, Gulliver’s Travels explores the idea of utopia—an imaginary model of the ideal community. The idea of a utopia is an ancient one, going back atleast as far as the description in Plato’s Republic of a city-state governed by the wise and expressedmost famously in English by Thomas More’s Utopia. Swift nods to both works in his own narrative,though his attitude toward utopia is much more skeptical, and one of the main aspects he points outabout famous historical utopias is the tendency to privilege the collective group over the individual.The children of Plato’s Republic are raised communally, with no knowledge of their biological parents,in the understanding that this system enhances social fairness. Swift has the Lilliputians similarly raisetheir offspring collectively, but its results are not exactly utopian, since Lilliput is torn by conspiracies,jealousies, and backstabbing.The Houyhnhnms also practice strict family planning, dictating that the parents of two females shouldexchange a child with a family of two males, so that the male-to-female ratio is perfectly maintained.Indeed, they come closer to the utopian ideal than the Lilliputians in their wisdom and rationalsimplicity. But there is something unsettling about the Houyhnhnms’ indistinct personalities and abouthow they are the only social group that Gulliver encounters who do not have proper names. Despiteminor physical differences, they are all so good and rational that they are more or less interchangeable,without individual identities. In their absolute fusion with their society and lack of individuality, theyare in a sense the exact opposite of Gulliver, who has hardly any sense of belonging to his nativesociety and exists only as an individual eternally wandering the seas. Gulliver’s intense grief whenforced to leave the Houyhnhnms may have something to do with his longing for union with acommunity in which he can lose his human identity. In any case, such a union is impossible for him,since he is not a horse, and all the other societies he visits make him feel alienated as well.Gulliver’s Travels could in fact be described as one of the first novels of modern alienation, focusingon an individual’s repeated failures to integrate into societies to which he does not belong. Englanditself is not much of a homeland for Gulliver, and, with his surgeon’s business unprofitable and hisfather’s estate insufficient to support him, he may be right to feel alienated from it. He never speaksfondly or nostalgically about England, and every time he returns home, he is quick to leave again. 6
  7. 7. Gulliver never complains explicitly about feeling lonely, but the embittered and antisocial misanthropewe see at the end of the novel is clearly a profoundly isolated individual. Thus, if Swift’s satire mocksthe excesses of communal life, it may also mock the excesses of individualism in its portrait of amiserable and lonely Gulliver talking to his horses at home in England.The Limits of Human UnderstandingThe idea that humans are not meant to know everything and that all understanding has a natural limit isimportant in Gulliver’s Travels. Swift singles out theoretical knowledge in particular for attack: hisportrait of the disagreeable and self-centered Laputans, who show blatant contempt for those who arenot sunk in private theorizing, is a clear satire against those who pride themselves on knowledge aboveall else. Practical knowledge is also satirized when it does not produce results, as in the academy ofBalnibarbi, where the experiments for extracting sunbeams from cucumbers amount to nothing. Swiftinsists that there is a realm of understanding into which humans are simply not supposed to venture.Thus his depictions of rational societies, like Brobdingnag and Houyhnhnmland, emphasize not thesepeople’s knowledge or understanding of abstract ideas but their ability to live their lives in a wise andsteady way.The Brobdingnagian king knows shockingly little about the abstractions of political science, yet hiscountry seems prosperous and well governed. Similarly, the Houyhnhnms know little about arcanesubjects like astronomy, though they know how long a month is by observing the moon, since thatknowledge has a practical effect on their well-being. Aspiring to higher fields of knowledge would bemeaningless to them and would interfere with their happiness. In such contexts, it appears that living ahappy and well-ordered life seems to be the very thing for which Swift thinks knowledge is useful.Swift also emphasizes the importance of self-understanding. Gulliver is initially remarkably lacking inself-reflection and self-awareness. He makes no mention of his emotions, passions, dreams, oraspirations, and he shows no interest in describing his own psychology to us. Accordingly, he maystrike us as frustratingly hollow or empty, though it is likely that his personal emptiness is part of theoverall meaning of the novel. By the end, he has come close to a kind of twisted self-knowledge in hisderanged belief that he is a Yahoo. His revulsion with the human condition, shown in his shabbytreatment of the generous Don Pedro, extends to himself as well, so that he ends the novel in a thinlydisguised state of self-hatred. Swift may thus be saying that self-knowledge has its necessary limits justas theoretical knowledge does, and that if we look too closely at ourselves we might not be able tocarry on living happily.MotifsMotifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform thetext’s major themes.ExcrementWhile it may seem a trivial or laughable motif, the recurrent mention of excrement in Gulliver’sTravels actually has a serious philosophical significance in the narrative. It symbolizes everything thatis crass and ignoble about the human body and about human existence in general, and it obstructs anyattempt to view humans as wholly spiritual or mentally transcendent creatures. Since the Enlightenmentculture of eighteenth-century England tended to view humans optimistically as noble souls rather thanvulgar bodies, Swift’s emphasis on the common filth of life is a slap in the face of the philosophers of 7
  8. 8. his day. Thus, when Gulliver urinates to put out a fire in Lilliput, or when Brobdingnagian fliesdefecate on his meals, or when the scientist in Lagado works to transform excrement back into food,we are reminded how very little human reason has to do with everyday existence. Swift suggests thatthe human condition in general is dirtier and lowlier than we might like to believe it is.Foreign LanguagesGulliver appears to be a gifted linguist, knowing at least the basics of several European languages andeven a fair amount of ancient Greek. This knowledge serves him well, as he is able to disguise himselfas a Dutchman in order to facilitate his entry into Japan, which at the time only admitted the Dutch. Buteven more important, his linguistic gifts allow him to learn the languages of the exotic lands he visitswith a dazzling speed and, thus, gain access to their culture quickly. He learns the languages of theLilliputians, the Brobdingnagians, and even the neighing tongue of the Houyhnhnms. He is meticulousin recording the details of language in his narrative, often giving the original as well as the translation.One would expect that such detail would indicate a cross-cultural sensitivity, a kind of anthropologist’sawareness of how things vary from culture to culture. Yet surprisingly, Gulliver’s mastery of foreignlanguages generally does not correspond to any real interest in cultural differences. He compares any ofthe governments he visits to that of his native England, and he rarely even speculates on how or whycultures are different at all. Thus, his facility for translation does not indicate a culturally comparativemind, and we are perhaps meant to yearn for a narrator who is a bit less able to remember theBrobdingnagian word for “lark” and better able to offer a more illuminating kind of cultural analysis.ClothingCritics have noted the extraordinary attention that Gulliver pays to clothes throughout his journeys.Every time he gets a rip in his shirt or is forced to adopt some native garment to replace one of his own,he recounts the clothing details with great precision. We are told how his pants are falling apart inLilliput, so that as the army marches between his legs they get quite an eyeful. We are informed aboutthe mouse skin he wears in Brobdingnag, and how the finest silks of the land are as thick as blankets onhim. In one sense, these descriptions are obviously an easy narrative device with which Swift can charthis protagonist’s progression from one culture to another: the more ragged his clothes become and thestranger his new wardrobe, the farther he is from the comforts and conventions of England. His journeyto new lands is also thus a journey into new clothes. When he is picked up by Don Pedro after hisfourth voyage and offered a new suit of clothes, Gulliver vehemently refuses, preferring his wildanimal skins. We sense that Gulliver may well never fully reintegrate into European society.But the motif of clothing carries a deeper, more psychologically complex meaning as well. Gulliver’sintense interest in the state of his clothes may signal a deep-seated anxiety about his identity, or lackthereof. He does not seem to have much selfhood: one critic has called him an “abyss,” a void where anindividual character should be. If clothes make the man, then perhaps Gulliver’s obsession with thestate of his wardrobe may suggest that he desperately needs to be fashioned as a personality.Significantly, the two moments when he describes being naked in the novel are two deeply troubling orhumiliating experiences: the first when he is the boy toy of the Brobdingnagian maids who let himcavort nude on their mountainous breasts, and the second when he is assaulted by an eleven-year-oldYahoo girl as he bathes. Both incidents suggest more than mere prudery. Gulliver associates nuditywith extreme vulnerability, even when there is no real danger present—a pre-teen girl is hardly a threatto a grown man, at least in physical terms. The state of nudity may remind Gulliver of how nonexistenthe feels without the reassuring cover of clothing. 8
  9. 9. SymbolsSymbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.LilliputiansThe Lilliputians symbolize humankind’s wildly excessive pride in its own puny existence. Swift fullyintends the irony of representing the tiniest race visited by Gulliver as by far the most vainglorious andsmug, both collectively and individually. There is surely no character more odious in all of Gulliver’stravels than the noxious Skyresh. There is more backbiting and conspiracy in Lilliput than anywhereelse, and more of the pettiness of small minds who imagine themselves to be grand. Gulliver is a naïveconsumer of the Lilliputians’ grandiose imaginings: he is flattered by the attention of their royal familyand cowed by their threats of punishment, forgetting that they have no real physical power over him.Their formally worded condemnation of Gulliver on grounds of treason is a model of pompous andself-important verbiage, but it works quite effectively on the naïve Gulliver.The Lilliputians show off not only to Gulliver but to themselves as well. There is no mention of armiesproudly marching in any of the other societies Gulliver visits—only in Lilliput and neighboringBlefuscu are the six-inch inhabitants possessed of the need to show off their patriotic glories with suchdisplays. When the Lilliputian emperor requests that Gulliver serve as a kind of makeshift Arch ofTriumph for the troops to pass under, it is a pathetic reminder that their grand parade—in full view ofGulliver’s nether regions—is supremely silly, a basically absurd way to boost the collective ego of thenation. Indeed, the war with Blefuscu is itself an absurdity springing from wounded vanity, since thecause is not a material concern like disputed territory but, rather, the proper interpretation of scriptureby the emperor’s forebears and the hurt feelings resulting from the disagreement. All in all, theLilliputians symbolize misplaced human pride, and point out Gulliver’s inability to diagnose itcorrectly.BrobdingnagiansThe Brobdingnagians symbolize the private, personal, and physical side of humans when examined upclose and in great detail. The philosophical era of the Enlightenment tended to overlook the routines ofeveryday life and the sordid or tedious little facts of existence, but in Brobdingnag such facts becomevery important for Gulliver, sometimes matters of life and death. An eighteenth-century philosophercould afford to ignore the fly buzzing around his head or the skin pores on his servant girl, but in hisshrunken state Gulliver is forced to pay great attention to such things. He is forced take the domesticsphere seriously as well. In other lands it is difficult for Gulliver, being such an outsider, to getglimpses of family relations or private affairs, but in Brobdingnag he is treated as a doll or a plaything,and thus is made privy to the urination of housemaids and the sexual lives of women. TheBrobdingnagians do not symbolize a solely negative human characteristic, as the Laputans do. They arenot merely ridiculous—some aspects of them are disgusting, like their gigantic stench and theexcrement left by their insects, but others are noble, like the queen’s goodwill toward Gulliver and theking’s commonsense views of politics. More than anything else, the Brobdingnagians symbolize adimension of human existence visible at close range, under close scrutiny.LaputansThe Laputans represent the folly of theoretical knowledge that has no relation to human life and no usein the actual world. As a profound cultural conservative, Swift was a critic of the newfangled ideas 9
  10. 10. springing up around him at the dawn of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, a period of greatintellectual experimentation and theorization. He much preferred the traditional knowledge that hadbeen tested over centuries. Laputa symbolizes the absurdity of knowledge that has never been tested orapplied, the ludicrous side of Enlightenment intellectualism. Even down below in Balnibarbi, where thelocal academy is more inclined to practical application, knowledge is not made socially useful as Swiftdemands. Indeed, theoretical knowledge there has proven positively disastrous, resulting in the ruin ofagriculture and architecture and the impoverishment of the population. Even up above, the pursuit oftheoretical understanding has not improved the lot of the Laputans. They have few material worries,dependent as they are upon the Balnibarbians below. But they are tormented by worries about thetrajectories of comets and other astronomical speculations: their theories have not made them wise, butneurotic and disagreeable. The Laputans do not symbolize reason itself but rather the pursuit of a formof knowledge that is not directly related to the improvement of human life.HouyhnhnmsThe Houyhnhnms represent an ideal of rational existence, a life governed by sense and moderation ofwhich philosophers since Plato have long dreamed. Indeed, there are echoes of Plato’s Republic in theHouyhnhnms’ rejection of light entertainment and vain displays of luxury, their appeal to reason ratherthan any holy writings as the criterion for proper action, and their communal approach to familyplanning. As in Plato’s ideal community, the Houyhnhnms have no need to lie nor any word for lying.They do not use force but only strong exhortation. Their subjugation of the Yahoos appears morenecessary than cruel and perhaps the best way to deal with an unfortunate blot on their otherwise idealsociety. In these ways and others, the Houyhnhnms seem like model citizens, and Gulliver’s intensegrief when he is forced to leave them suggests that they have made an impact on him greater than thatof any other society he has visited. His derangement on Don Pedro’s ship, in which he snubs thegenerous man as a Yahoo-like creature, implies that he strongly identifies with the Houyhnhnms.But we may be less ready than Gulliver to take the Houyhnhnms as ideals of human existence. Theyhave no names in the narrative nor any need for names, since they are virtually interchangeable, withlittle individual identity. Their lives seem harmonious and happy, although quite lacking in vigor,challenge, and excitement. Indeed, this apparent ease may be why Swift chooses to make them horsesrather than human types like every other group in the novel. He may be hinting, to those moreinsightful than Gulliver, that the Houyhnhnms should not be considered human ideals at all. In anycase, they symbolize a standard of rational existence to be either espoused or rejected by both Gulliverand us.EnglandAs the site of his father’s disappointingly “small estate” and Gulliver’s failing business, England seemsto symbolize deficiency or insufficiency, at least in the financial sense that matters most to Gulliver.England is passed over very quickly in the first paragraph of Chapter I, as if to show that it is simplythere as the starting point to be left quickly behind. Gulliver seems to have very few nationalistic orpatriotic feelings about England, and he rarely mentions his homeland on his travels. In this sense,Gulliver’s Travels is quite unlike other travel narratives like the Odyssey, in which Odysseus misses hishomeland and laments his wanderings. England is where Gulliver’s wife and family live, but they tooare hardly mentioned. Yet Swift chooses to have Gulliver return home after each of his four journeysinstead of having him continue on one long trip to four different places, so that England is keptconstantly in the picture and given a steady, unspoken importance. By the end of the fourth journey, 10
  11. 11. England is brought more explicitly into the fabric of Gulliver’s Travels when Gulliver, in his neuroticstate, starts confusing Houyhnhnmland with his homeland, referring to Englishmen as Yahoos. Thedistinction between native and foreign thus unravels—the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos are not just racespopulating a faraway land but rather types that Gulliver projects upon those around him. The possibilitythus arises that all the races Gulliver encounters could be versions of the English and that his travelsmerely allow him to see various aspects of human nature more clearly.Important Quotations Explained1. My Father had a small Estate in Nottinghamshire; I was the Third of five Sons. . . . I was boundApprentice to Mr. James Bates, an eminent Surgeon in London . . . my Father now and then sendingme small Sums of Money. . . . When I left Mr. Bates, I went down to my Father; where, by theAssistance of him and my Uncle John . . . I got Forty Pounds, and a Promise of Thirty Pounds a Year.Explanation for Quotation 1 >>This introductory paragraph from Part I, Chapter I, is often passed over as simply providing thepreliminary facts of Gulliver’s life, the bare essentials needed in order to proceed to the moreinteresting travel narrative. But this introduction is deeply significant in its own right, and it revealsmuch about Gulliver’s character that is necessary to understand not just his journeys but also his way ofnarrating them. Gulliver is bourgeois: he is primarily interested in money, acquisitions, andachievement, and his life story is filtered through these desires. The first sentence means more than justa statement of his financial situation, since the third son of a possessor of only a “small Estate” wouldhave no hopes of inheriting enough on which to support himself and would be expected to leave theestate and seek his own fortune. If Gulliver had been the first-born son, he might very well not haveembarked on his travels. But the passage is even more revealing in its tone, which is starklyimpersonal. Gulliver provides no sentimental characterization of his father, Bates, or Uncle John; theyappear in his story only insofar as they further him in life. There is no mention of any youthful dreamsor ambitions or of any romantic attachments. This lack of an emotional inner life is traceablethroughout his narrative until his virtual nervous breakdown at the very end.2. He said, he knew no Reason, why those who entertain Opinions prejudicial to the Public, should beobliged to change, or should not be obliged to conceal them. And, as it was Tyranny in anyGovernment to require the first, so it was Weakness not to enforce the second.Explanation for Quotation 2 >>This quotation comes from a conversation between Gulliver and the king of Brobdingnag, in Part II,Chapter VI. The belief expressed by the king is one that Swift, writing in his own voice, expressedelsewhere: that people have the right to their own beliefs but not the right to express them at will. Asalways, it is difficult to determine whether or not Swift’s view is exactly the one advanced by hischaracters. The king has little sympathy for many English institutions as Gulliver describes them tohim. Swift would probably not have rejected such institutions, and we should keep in mind thatBrobdingnagian criticism does not always imply Swiftian criticism. Indeed, Gulliver’s Travels could beconsidered to contain at least a few “Opinions prejudicial to the Publick”—unpopular opinions, in otherwords—so it is unlikely that Swift is in favor of suppressing all social criticism entirely. Whatever thefinal interpretation, the quotation raises interesting issues of censorship, freedom of speech, and therightful place of indirect forms of criticism, such as the satire of which Swift was a master. 11
  12. 12. 3. My little Friend Grildrig. . . . I cannot but conclude the Bulk of your Natives, to be the mostpernicious Race of little odious Vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the Surface of theEarth.Explanation for Quotation 3 >>This famous judgment by the king of Brobdingnag on the people of England, given in Part II, ChapterVI, after Gulliver (or “Grildrig”) has summarized the institutions of his native land, is a harshdenunciation of mankind in its current state, and it stokes the misanthropy that dominates Gulliver’smind by the end of Gulliver’s Travels. The judgment is particularly ironic because Gulliver’s ownpurpose in telling the king about England is to convince him of England’s significance. The king actsas though Gulliver has intended to “clearly prove” the faults of his land, though of course Gulliver doesnot mean to make such an attack at all. Gulliver’s speech on his country is not meant to be in the leastcritical, but it is received by the king as a forceful damnation, so what is mocked here is not justEngland but also Gulliver’s naïve and unthinking acceptance of his own society. Swift subtly raises theissue of ideology, which refers to a person’s brainwashed way of taking for granted a socialarrangement that could or should be criticized and improved.4. [T]hey go on Shore to rob and plunder; they see an harmless People, are entertained with Kindness,they give the Country a new Name, they take formal Possession of it for the King, they set up a rottenPlank or a Stone for a Memorial, they murder two or three Dozen of the Natives, bring away a Couplemore by Force for a Sample, return home, and get their Pardon. Here commences a New Dominionacquired with a Title by Divine Right . . . the Earth reeking with the Blood of its Inhabitants.Explanation for Quotation 4 >>This quotation comes from Part IV, Chapter XII, when Gulliver, having returned home to England afterhis stay among the Houyhnhnms, tries to apologize for what he sees as the only fault he committedwhile on his journeys: failing to claim the lands he visited in the name of England. First, he justifies hisfailure by saying that the countries he visited would not be worth the effort of conquering them. In thesection quoted above, however, he goes even further by criticizing the practice of colonization itself.His picture of colonization as a criminal enterprise justified by the state for the purposes of trade andpower military is one that looks familiar to modern eyes but was radical for Swift’s time. Otherscriticized aspects of colonialism, such as the murder or enslavement of indigenous peoples, but fewfailed to see it as the justifiable expansion of purportedly civilized cultures. Swift employs his standardsatirical technique here, as he first describes something without naming it in order to create an image inour minds, then gives it the name of something different, provoking us to rethink old assumptions.5. My Reconcilement to the Yahoo-kind in general might not be so difficult, if they would be contentwith those Vices and Follies only which Nature hath entitled them to. I am not in the least provoked atthe Sight of a Lawyer, a Pick-pocket, a Colonel. . . . This is all according to the due Course of Things:But, when I behold a Lump of Deformity, and Diseases both in Body and Mind, smitten with Pride, itimmediately breaks all the Measures of my Patience; neither shall I ever be able to comprehend howsuch an Animal and such a Vice could tally together.Explanation for Quotation 5 >> 12
  13. 13. This quotation comes from the end of the narrative, in Part IV, Chapter XII, when Gulliver describesthe difficulties he has had in readjusting to his own human culture. He now associates English andEuropean culture with the Yahoos, though the hypocrisy he describes is not a Yahoo characteristic. Byattributing a number of sins to “the due Course of Things,” Gulliver expresses his new conviction thathumanity is, as the Houyhnhnms believe, corrupt and ungovernable at heart. Humans are nothing morethan beasts equipped with only enough reason to make their corruption dangerous. But even worse thanthat, he says, is the inability of humanity to see its own failings, to recognize its depravity behind itsfalse nobility.Gulliver’s apparent exemption of himself from this charge against humanity—referring to “such anAnimal” rather than to humans, may be yet another moment of denial. In fact, he is guilty of the samehypocrisy he condemns, showing himself unaware of his own human flaws several times throughouthis travels. He is a toady toward royalty in Lilliput and Brobdingnag, indifferent toward those in miseryand pain when visiting the Yahoos, and ungrateful toward the kindness of strangers with the Portuguesecaptain, Don Pedro. Gulliver’s difficulty in including himself among the humans he describes as vice-ridden animals is symbolic of the identity crisis he undergoes at the end of the novel, even if he isunaware of it. 13
  14. 14. 19th Century- Victorian Age Hard Times Charles DickensPlot OverviewThomas Gradgrind, a wealthy, retired merchant in the industrial city of Coketown, England, devotes hislife to a philosophy of rationalism, self-interest, and fact. He raises his oldest children, Louisa andTom, according to this philosophy and never allows them to engage in fanciful or imaginative pursuits.He founds a school and charitably takes in one of the students, the kindly and imaginative Sissy Jupe,after the disappearance of her father, a circus entertainer. As the Gradgrind children grow older, Tombecomes a dissipated, self-interested hedonist, and Louisa struggles with deep inner confusion, feelingas though she is missing something important in her life. Eventually Louisa marries Gradgrind’s friendJosiah Bounderby, a wealthy factory owner and banker more than twice her age. Bounderbycontinually trumpets his role as a self-made man who was abandoned in the gutter by his mother as aninfant. Tom is apprenticed at the Bounderby bank, and Sissy remains at the Gradgrind home to care forthe younger children.In the meantime, an impoverished “Hand”—Dickens’s term for the lowest laborers in Coketown’sfactories—named Stephen Blackpool struggles with his love for Rachael, another poor factory worker.He is unable to marry her because he is already married to a horrible, drunken woman who disappearsfor months and even years at a time. Stephen visits Bounderby to ask about a divorce but learns thatonly the wealthy can obtain them. Outside Bounderby’s home, he meets Mrs. Pegler, a strange oldwoman with an inexplicable devotion to Bounderby.James Harthouse, a wealthy young sophisticate from London, arrives in Coketown to begin a politicalcareer as a disciple of Gradgrind, who is now a Member of Parliament. He immediately takes aninterest in Louisa and decides to try to seduce her. With the unspoken aid of Mrs. Sparsit, a formeraristocrat who has fallen on hard times and now works for Bounderby, he sets about trying to corruptLouisa.The Hands, exhorted by a crooked union spokesman named Slackbridge, try to form a union. OnlyStephen refuses to join because he feels that a union strike would only increase tensions betweenemployers and employees. He is cast out by the other Hands and fired by Bounderby when he refusesto spy on them. Louisa, impressed with Stephen’s integrity, visits him before he leaves Coketown andhelps him with some money. Tom accompanies her and tells Stephen that if he waits outside the bankfor several consecutive nights, help will come to him. Stephen does so, but no help arrives. Eventuallyhe packs up and leaves Coketown, hoping to find agricultural work in the country. Not long after that,the bank is robbed, and the lone suspect is Stephen, the vanished Hand who was seen loitering outsidethe bank for several nights just before disappearing from the city.Mrs. Sparsit witnesses Harthouse declaring his love for Louisa, and Louisa agrees to meet him inCoketown later that night. However, Louisa instead flees to her father’s house, where she miserably 14
  15. 15. confides to Gradgrind that her upbringing has left her married to a man she does not love, disconnectedfrom her feelings, deeply unhappy, and possibly in love with Harthouse. She collapses to the floor, andGradgrind, struck dumb with self-reproach, begins to realize the imperfections in his philosophy ofrational self-interest.Sissy, who loves Louisa deeply, visits Harthouse and convinces him to leave Coketown forever.Bounderby, furious that his wife has left him, redoubles his efforts to capture Stephen. When Stephentries to return to clear his good name, he falls into a mining pit called Old Hell Shaft. Rachael andLouisa discover him, but he dies soon after an emotional farewell to Rachael. Gradgrind and Louisarealize that Tom is really responsible for robbing the bank, and they arrange to sneak him out ofEngland with the help of the circus performers with whom Sissy spent her early childhood. They arenearly successful, but are stopped by Bitzer, a young man who went to Gradgrind’s school and whoembodies all the qualities of the detached rationalism that Gradgrind once espoused, but who now seesits limits. Sleary, the lisping circus proprietor, arranges for Tom to slip out of Bitzer’s grasp, and theyoung robber escapes from England after all.Mrs. Sparsit, anxious to help Bounderby find the robbers, drags Mrs. Pegler—a known associate ofStephen Blackpool—in to see Bounderby, thinking Mrs. Pegler is a potential witness. Bounderbyrecoils, and it is revealed that Mrs. Pegler is really his loving mother, whom he has forbidden to visithim: Bounderby is not a self-made man after all. Angrily, Bounderby fires Mrs. Sparsit and sends heraway to her hostile relatives. Five years later, he will die alone in the streets of Coketown. Gradgrindgives up his philosophy of fact and devotes his political power to helping the poor. Tom realizes theerror of his ways but dies without ever seeing his family again. While Sissy marries and has a large andloving family, Louisa never again marries and never has children. Nevertheless, Louisa is loved bySissy’s family and learns at last how to feel sympathy for her fellow human beings.Analysis of Major CharactersThomas GradgrindThomas Gradgrind is the first character we meet in Hard Times, and one of the central figures throughwhom Dickens weaves a web of intricately connected plotlines and characters. Dickens introduces usto this character with a description of his most central feature: his mechanized, monotone attitude andappearance. The opening scene in the novel describes Mr. Gradgrind’s speech to a group of youngstudents, and it is appropriate that Gradgrind physically embodies the dry, hard facts that he crams intohis students’ heads. The narrator calls attention to Gradgrind’s “square coat, square legs, squareshoulders,” all of which suggest Gradgrind’s unrelenting rigidity.In the first few chapters of the novel, Mr. Gradgrind expounds his philosophy of calculating, rationalself-interest. He believes that human nature can be governed by completely rational rules, and he is“ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you what it comes to.” Thisphilosophy has brought Mr. Gradgrind much financial and social success. He has made his fortune as ahardware merchant, a trade that, appropriately, deals in hard, material reality. Later, he becomes aMember of Parliament, a position that allows him to indulge his interest in tabulating data about thepeople of England. Although he is not a factory owner, Mr. Gradgrind evinces the spirit of theIndustrial Revolution insofar as he treats people like machines that can be reduced to a number ofscientific principles. 15
  16. 16. While the narrator’s tone toward him is initially mocking and ironic, Gradgrind undergoes a significantchange in the course of the novel, thereby earning the narrator’s sympathy. When Louisa confesses thatshe feels something important is missing in her life and that she is desperately unhappy with hermarriage, Gradgrind begins to realize that his system of education may not be perfect. This intuition isconfirmed when he learns that Tom has robbed Bounderby’s bank. Faced with these failures of hissystem, Gradgrind admits, “The ground on which I stand has ceased to be solid under my feet.” Hischildren’s problems teach him to feel love and sorrow, and Gradgrind becomes a wiser and humblerman, ultimately “making his facts and figures subservient to Faith, Hope and Charity.”Louisa GradgrindAlthough Louisa is the novel’s principal female character, she is distinctive from the novel’s otherwomen, particularly her foils, Sissy and Rachael. While these other two embody the Victorian ideal offemininity—sensitivity, compassion, and gentleness—Louisa’s education has prevented her fromdeveloping such traits. Instead, Louisa is silent, cold, and seemingly unfeeling. However, Dickens maynot be implying that Louisa is really unfeeling, but rather that she simply does not know how torecognize and express her emotions. For instance, when her father tries to convince her that it would berational for her to marry Bounderby, Louisa looks out of the window at the factory chimneys andobserves: “There seems to be nothing there but languid and monotonous smoke. Yet when the nightcomes, Fire bursts out.” Unable to convey the tumultuous feelings that lie beneath her own languid andmonotonous exterior, Louisa can only state a fact about her surroundings. Yet this fact, by analogy,also describes the emotions repressed within her.Even though she does not conform to the Victorian ideals of femininity, Louisa does her best to be amodel daughter, wife, and sister. Her decision to return to her father’s house rather than elope withHarthouse demonstrates that while she may be unfeeling, she does not lack virtue. Indeed, Louisa,though unemotional, still has the ability to recognize goodness and distinguish between right andwrong, even when it does not fall within the strict rubric of her father’s teachings. While at first Louisalacks the ability to understand and function within the gray matter of emotions, she can at leastrecognize that they exist and are more powerful than her father or Bounderby believe, even without anyfactual basis. Moreover, under Sissy’s guidance, Louisa shows great promise in learning to express herfeelings. Similarly, through her acquaintance with Rachael and Stephen, Louisa learns to respondcharitably to suffering and to not view suffering simply as a temporary state that is easily overcome byeffort, as her father and Bounderby do.Josiah BounderbyAlthough he is Mr. Gradgrind’s best friend, Josiah Bounderby is more interested in money and powerthan in facts. Indeed, he is himself a fiction, or a fraud. Bounderby’s inflated sense of pride isillustrated by his oft-repeated declaration, “I am Josiah Bounderby of Coketown.” This statementgenerally prefaces the story of Bounderby’s childhood poverty and suffering, a story designed toimpress its listeners with a sense of the young Josiah Bounderby’s determination and self-discipline.However, Dickens explodes the myth of the self-made man when Bounderby’s mother, Mrs. Pegler,reveals that her son had a decent, loving childhood and a good education, and that he was notabandoned, after all.Bounderby’s attitude represents the social changes created by industrialization and capitalism. Whereasbirth or bloodline formerly determined the social hierarchy, in an industrialized, capitalist society,wealth determines who holds the most power. Thus, Bounderby takes great delight in the fact that Mrs. 16
  17. 17. Sparsit, an aristocrat who has fallen on hard times, has become his servant, while his own ambition hasenabled him to rise from humble beginnings to become the wealthy owner of a factory and a bank.However, in depicting Bounderby, the capitalist, as a coarse, vain, self-interested hypocrite, Dickensimplies that Bounderby uses his wealth and power irresponsibly, contributing to the muddled relationsbetween rich and poor, especially in his treatment of Stephen after the Hands cast Stephen out to form aunion.Stephen BlackpoolStephen Blackpool is introduced after we have met the Gradgrind family and Bounderby, andBlackpool provides a stark contrast to these earlier characters. One of the Hands in Bounderby’sfactory, Stephen lives a life of drudgery and poverty. In spite of the hardships of his daily toil, Stephenstrives to maintain his honesty, integrity, faith, and compassion.Stephen is an important character not only because his poverty and virtue contrast with Bounderby’swealth and self-interest, but also because he finds himself in the midst of a labor dispute that illustratesthe strained relations between rich and poor. Stephen is the only Hand who refuses to join a workers’union: he believes that striking is not the best way to improve relations between factory owners andemployees, and he also wants to earn an honest living. As a result, he is cast out of the workers’ group.However, he also refuses to spy on his fellow workers for Bounderby, who consequently sends himaway. Both groups, rich and poor, respond in the same self-interested, backstabbing way. As Rachaelexplains, Stephen ends up with the “masters against him on one hand, the men against him on the other,he only wantin’ to work hard in peace, and do what he felt right.” Through Stephen, Dickens suggeststhat industrialization threatens to compromise both the employee’s and employer’s moral integrity,thereby creating a social muddle to which there is no easy solution.Through his efforts to resist the moral corruption on all sides, Stephen becomes a martyr, or Christfigure, ultimately dying for Tom’s crime. When he falls into a mine shaft on his way back to Coketownto clear his name of the charge of robbing Bounderby’s bank, Stephen comforts himself by gazing at aparticularly bright star that seems to shine on him in his “pain and trouble.” This star not onlyrepresents the ideals of virtue for which Stephen strives, but also the happiness and tranquility that islacking in his troubled life. Moreover, his ability to find comfort in the star illustrates the importance ofimagination, which enables him to escape the cold, hard facts of his miserable existence.Themes, Motifs & SymbolsThemesThe Mechanization of Human BeingsHard Times suggests that nineteenth-century England’s overzealous adoption of industrializationthreatens to turn human beings into machines by thwarting the development of their emotions andimaginations. This suggestion comes forth largely through the actions of Gradgrind and his follower,Bounderby: as the former educates the young children of his family and his school in the ways of fact,the latter treats the workers in his factory as emotionless objects that are easily exploited for his ownself-interest. In Chapter 5 of the first book, the narrator draws a parallel between the factory Hands andthe Gradgrind children—both lead monotonous, uniform existences, untouched by pleasure.Consequently, their fantasies and feelings are dulled, and they become almost mechanical themselves. 17
  18. 18. The mechanizing effects of industrialization are compounded by Mr. Gradgrind’s philosophy ofrational self-interest. Mr. Gradgrind believes that human nature can be measured, quantified, andgoverned entirely by rational rules. Indeed, his school attempts to turn children into little machines thatbehave according to such rules. Dickens’s primary goal in Hard Times is to illustrate the dangers ofallowing humans to become like machines, suggesting that without compassion and imagination, lifewould be unbearable. Indeed, Louisa feels precisely this suffering when she returns to her father’shouse and tells him that something has been missing in her life, so much so that she finds herself in anunhappy marriage and may be in love with someone else. While she does not actually behave in adishonorable way, since she stops her interaction with Harthouse before she has a socially ruinousaffair with him, Louisa realizes that her life is unbearable and that she must do something drastic forher own survival. Appealing to her father with the utmost honesty, Louisa is able to make him realizeand admit that his philosophies on life and methods of child rearing are to blame for Louisa’sdetachment from others.The Opposition Between Fact and FancyWhile Mr. Gradgrind insists that his children should always stick to the facts, Hard Times not onlysuggests that fancy is as important as fact, but it continually calls into question the difference betweenfact and fancy. Dickens suggests that what constitutes so-called fact is a matter of perspective oropinion. For example, Bounderby believes that factory employees are lazy good-for-nothings whoexpect to be fed “from a golden spoon.” The Hands, in contrast, see themselves as hardworking and asunfairly exploited by their employers. These sets of facts cannot be reconciled because they dependupon perspective. While Bounderby declares that “[w]hat is called Taste is only another name forFact,” Dickens implies that fact is a question of taste or personal belief. As a novelist, Dickens isnaturally interested in illustrating that fiction cannot be excluded from a fact-filled, mechanical society.Gradgrind’s children, however, grow up in an environment where all flights of fancy are discouraged,and they end up with serious social dysfunctions as a result. Tom becomes a hedonist who has littleregard for others, while Louisa remains unable to connect with others even though she has the desire todo so. On the other hand, Sissy, who grew up with the circus, constantly indulges in the fancyforbidden to the Gradgrinds, and lovingly raises Louisa and Tom’s sister in a way more complete thanthe upbringing of either of the older siblings. Just as fiction cannot be excluded from fact, fact is alsonecessary for a balanced life. If Gradgrind had not adopted her, Sissy would have no guidance, and herfuture might be precarious. As a result, the youngest Gradgrind daughter, raised both by the factualGradgrind and the fanciful Sissy, represents the best of both worlds.The Importance of FemininityDuring the Victorian era, women were commonly associated with supposedly feminine traits likecompassion, moral purity, and emotional sensitivity. Hard Times suggests that because they possessthese traits, women can counteract the mechanizing effects of industrialization. For instance, whenStephen feels depressed about the monotony of his life as a factory worker, Rachael’s gentle fortitudeinspires him to keep going. He sums up her virtues by referring to her as his guiding angel. Similarly,Sissy introduces love into the Gradgrind household, ultimately teaching Louisa how to recognize heremotions. Indeed, Dickens suggests that Mr. Gradgrind’s philosophy of self-interest and calculatingrationality has prevented Louisa from developing her natural feminine traits. Perhaps Mrs. Gradgrind’sinability to exercise her femininity allows Gradgrind to overemphasize the importance of fact in therearing of his children. On his part, Bounderby ensures that his rigidity will remain untouched since hemarries the cold, emotionless product of Mr. and Mrs. Gradgrind’s marriage. Through the various 18
  19. 19. female characters in the novel, Dickens suggests that feminine compassion is necessary to restoresocial harmony.MotifsMotifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform thetext’s major themes.Bounderby’s ChildhoodBounderby frequently reminds us that he is “Josiah Bounderby of Coketown.” This emphatic phraseusually follows a description of his childhood poverty: he claims to have been born in a ditch andabandoned by his mother; raised by an alcoholic grandmother; and forced to support himself by hisown labor. From these ignominious beginnings, he has become the wealthy owner of both a factory anda bank. Thus, Bounderby represents the possibility of social mobility, embodying the belief that anyindividual should be able overcome all obstacles to success—including poverty and lack of education—through hard work. Indeed, Bounderby often recites the story of his childhood in order to suggestthat his Hands are impoverished because they lack his ambition and self-discipline. However, “JosiahBounderby of Coketown” is ultimately a fraud. His mother, Mrs. Pegler, reveals that he was raised byparents who were loving, albeit poor, and who saved their money to make sure he received a goodeducation. By exposing Bounderby’s real origins, Dickens calls into question the myth of socialmobility. In other words, he suggests that perhaps the Hands cannot overcome poverty through sheerdetermination alone, but only through the charity and compassion of wealthier individuals.Clocks and TimeDickens contrasts mechanical or man-made time with natural time, or the passing of the seasons. Inboth Coketown and the Gradgrind household, time is mechanized—in other words, it is relentless,structured, regular, and monotonous. As the narrator explains, “Time went on in Coketown like its ownmachine.” The mechanization of time is also embodied in the “deadly statistical clock” in Mr.Gradgrind’s study, which measures the passing of each minute and hour. However, the novel itself isstructured through natural time. For instance, the titles of its three books—“Sowing,” “Reaping,” and“Garnering”—allude to agricultural labor and to the processes of planting and harvesting in accordancewith the changes of the seasons. Similarly, the narrator notes that the seasons change even inCoketown’s “wilderness of smoke and brick.” These seasonal changes constitute “the only stand thatever was made against its direful uniformity.” By contrasting mechanical time with natural time,Dickens illustrates the great extent to which industrialization has mechanized human existence. Whilethe changing seasons provide variety in terms of scenery and agricultural labor, mechanized timemarches forward with incessant regularity.Mismatched MarriagesThere are many unequal and unhappy marriages in Hard Times, including those of Mr. and Mrs.Gradgrind, Stephen Blackpool and his unnamed drunken wife, and most pertinently, the Bounderbys.Louisa agrees to marry Mr. Bounderby because her father convinces her that doing so would be arational decision. He even cites statistics to show that the great difference in their ages need not preventtheir mutual happiness. However, Louisa’s consequent misery as Bounderby’s wife suggests that love,rather than either reason or convenience, must be the foundation of a happy marriage. 19
  20. 20. SymbolsSymbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.StaircaseWhen Mrs. Sparsit notices that Louisa and Harthouse are spending a lot of time together, she imaginesthat Louisa is running down a long staircase into a “dark pit of shame and ruin at the bottom.” Thisimaginary staircase represents her belief that Louisa is going to elope with Harthouse and consequentlyruin her reputation forever. Mrs. Sparsit has long resented Bounderby’s marriage to the young Louisa,as she hoped to marry him herself; so she is very pleased by Louisa’s apparent indiscretion. Throughthe staircase, Dickens reveals the manipulative and censorious side of Mrs. Sparsit’s character. He alsosuggests that Mrs. Sparsit’s self-interest causes her to misinterpret the situation. Rather than ending upin a pit of shame by having an affair with Harthouse, Louisa actually returns home to her father.PegasusMr. Sleary’s circus entertainers stay at an inn called the Pegasus Arms. Inside this inn is a “theatrical”pegasus, a model of a flying horse with “golden stars stuck on all over him.” The pegasus represents aworld of fantasy and beauty from which the young Gradgrind children are excluded. While Mr.Gradgrind informs the pupils at his school that wallpaper with horses on it is unrealistic simply becausehorses do not in fact live on walls, the circus folk live in a world in which horses dance the polka andflying horses can be imagined, even if they do not, in fact, exist. The very name of the inn reveals thecontrast between the imaginative and joyful world of the circus and Mr. Gradgrind’s belief in theimportance of fact.Smoke SerpentsAt a literal level, the streams of smoke that fill the skies above Coketown are the effects ofindustrialization. However, these smoke serpents also represent the moral blindness of factory ownerslike Bounderby. Because he is so concerned with making as much profit as he possibly can, Bounderbyinterprets the serpents of smoke as a positive sign that the factories are producing goods and profit.Thus, he not only fails to see the smoke as a form of unhealthy pollution, but he also fails to recognizehis own abuse of the Hands in his factories. The smoke becomes a moral smoke screen that preventshim from noticing his workers’ miserable poverty. Through its associations with evil, the word“serpents” evokes the moral obscurity that the smoke creates.FireWhen Louisa is first introduced, in Chapter 3 of Book the First, the narrator explains that inside her is a“fire with nothing to burn, a starved imagination keeping life in itself somehow.” This descriptionsuggests that although Louisa seems coldly rational, she has not succumbed entirely to her father’sprohibition against wondering and imagining. Her inner fire symbolizes the warmth created by hersecret fancies in her otherwise lonely, mechanized existence. Consequently, it is significant that Louisaoften gazes into the fireplace when she is alone, as if she sees things in the flames that others—like herrigid father and brother—cannot see. However, there is another kind of inner fire in Hard Times—thefires that keep the factories running, providing heat and power for the machines. Fire is thus both adestructive and a life-giving force. Even Louisa’s inner fire, her imaginative tendencies, eventuallybecomes destructive: her repressed emotions eventually begin to burn “within her like an unwholesome 20
  21. 21. fire.” Through this symbol, Dickens evokes the importance of imagination as a force that cancounteract the mechanization of human nature.Important Quotations Explained1. Now, what I want is Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted inlife. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the mind of reasoning animalsupon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them.Explanation for Quotation 1 >>These are the novel’s opening lines. Spoken by Mr. Gradgrind, they sum up his rationalist philosophy.In claiming that “nothing else will ever be of service” to his pupils, Gradgrind reveals his belief thatfacts are important because they enable individuals to further their own interests. However, Tom andLouisa’s unhappy childhood soon calls into question their father’s claim that “[f]acts alone are wantedin life.” Ironically, while Gradgrind refers to the pupils in his school as “reasoning animals” andcompares their minds to fertile soil in which facts can be sowed, he treats them like machines bydepriving them of feeling and fantasy. His jarringly short sentences and monotonous repetition of theword “Fact” illustrate his own mechanical, unemotional character. Finally, it is significant thatGradgrind’s call for facts opens a work of fiction. By drawing attention to the fact that we are readingfiction, Dickens suggests to us that facts alone cannot bring intellectual pleasure.2. It is known, to the force of a single pound weight, what the engine will do; but not all the calculatorsof the National debt can tell me the capacity for good or evil, for love or hatred, for patriotism ordiscontent, for the decomposition of virtue into vice, or the reverse, at any single moment in the soul ofone of these quiet servants, with the composed faces and the regulated actions.Explanation for Quotation 2 >>This passage, from Book the First, Chapter 11, provides insight into the narrator’s beliefs and opinions.Dickens’s omniscient narrator assumes the role of a moral guide, and his opinion tends to shape ourown interpretations of the story. Here, we learn that the narrator disagrees with Gradgrind, believinginstead that human nature cannot be reduced to a bundle of facts and scientific principles. The narratorinvokes the mystery of the human mind, pointing out how little we actually know about what motivatesthe actions of our fellow beings. The “quiet servants” to whom the narrator refers are the factoryHands. In representing these people as an unknown quantity, the narrator counteracts Bounderby’sstereotypes of the poor as lazy, greedy good-for-nothings. While he suggests that we need tounderstand these people better, the narrator also implies that this knowledge cannot be attained throughcalculation, measurement, and/or the accumulation of fact.3. Thou art an Angel. Bless thee, bless thee!Explanation for Quotation 3 >>More a symbol than a fully developed character, Rachael is often referred to as an angel by Stephen.Like Sissy Jupe, whom she later befriends, Rachael represents the qualities necessary to counteract thedehumanizing, morally corrupting effects of industrialization. She is compassionate, honest, generous, 21
  22. 22. and faithful to Stephen, even when everyone else shuns him and considers him a thief. As this remarkillustrates, Rachael also draws out Stephen’s good qualities, making him realize that joy can be foundeven in the moral darkness of Coketown. Rachael and Sissy are both socially marginal characters—theformer is a Hand, and the latter is the daughter of a circus entertainer. Likewise, they are both relativelyminor characters in the novel. Through their marginal status, Dickens implies that the self-servingrationalism that dominates Coketown threatens to exclude the morally pure people who are necessaryto save society from complete corruption.4. Coketown lay shrouded in a haze of its own, which appeared impervious to the sun’s rays. You onlyknew the town was there because you knew there could have been no such sulky blotch upon theprospect without a town. A blur of soot and smoke, now confusedly tending this way, now that way,now aspiring to the vault of Heaven, now murkily creeping along the earth, as the wind rose and fell,or changed its quarter: a dense formless jumble, with sheets of cross light in it, that showed nothingbut masses of darkness—Coketown in the distance was suggestive of itself, though not a brick of itcould be seen.Explanation for Quotation 4 >>Like many other descriptions of Coketown, this passage, from Book the Second, Chapter 1, emphasizesits somber smokiness. The murky soot that fills the air represents the moral filth that permeates themanufacturing town. Similarly, the sun’s rays represent both the physical and moral beauty thatCoketown lacks. While the pollution from the factories makes Coketown literally a dark, dirty place tolive, the suffering of its poor and the cold self-interest of its rich inhabitants render Coketownfiguratively dark. In stating that Coketown’s appearance on the horizon is “suggestive of itself,” thenarrator implies that Coketown is exactly what it appears to be. The dark “sulky blotch” hides nosecrets but simply represents what is, on closer inspection, a dark, formless town. Built entirely of hard,red brick, Coketown has no redeeming beauty or mystery—instead, it embodies Mr. Gradgrind’spredilection for unaccommodating material reality.5. Look how we live, an’ wheer we live, an’ in what numbers, an’ by what chances, an’ wi’ whatsameness; and look how the mills is awlus a-goin’, and how they never works us no nigher to onnydistant object-‘ceptin awlus Death. Look how you considers of us, and writes of us, and talks of us, andgoes up wi’ your deputations to Secretaries o’ State ‘bout us, and how yo are awlus right, and how weare awlus wrong, and never had’n no reason in us sin ever we were born. Look how this ha’ growenan’ growen sir, bigger an’ bigger, broader an’ broader, harder an’ harder, fro year to year, frogeneration unto generation. Who can look on’t sir, and fairly tell a man ‘tis not a muddle?Explanation for Quotation 5 >>Stephen Blackpool’s speech to Bounderby, from Book the Second, Chapter 5, is one of the fewglimpses that we receive into the lives of the Hands. His long sentences and repetition of words such as“an’” and “Look” mimic the monotony of the workers’ lives. Similarly, Stephen’s dialect illustrates hislack of education and contrasts with the proper English spoken by the middle-class characters and bythe narrator. In spite of his lack of formal education, however, Stephen possesses greater insight aboutthe relationship between employer and employee than does Bounderby. Stephen notes that “yo” (thefactory owners and employers) and “us” (the Hands) are constantly opposed, but that the Hands standno chance in the contest because the employers possess all the wealth and power. However, he does notblame the employers solely for the suffering of the poor, concluding instead that the situation is a“muddle” and that it is difficult to determine who is responsible for society’s ills. Stephen also suggests 22
  23. 23. that the monotony of factory labor seems futile to the Hands, who need to strive for some larger goal inorder to make the endless round of production seem worthwhile. The “distant object” or larger goal thathe mentions here is later symbolized by the bright star on which he gazes while trapped at the bottomof the mine shaft. 23
  24. 24. The 20th century The Great Gatsby Jazz Age F. Scott FitzgeraldPlot OverviewNick Carraway, a young man from Minnesota, moves to New York in the summer of 1922 to learnabout the bond business. He rents a house in the West Egg district of Long Island, a wealthy butunfashionable area populated by the new rich, a group who have made their fortunes too recently tohave established social connections and who are prone to garish displays of wealth. Nick’s next-doorneighbor in West Egg is a mysterious man named Jay Gatsby, who lives in a gigantic Gothic mansionand throws extravagant parties every Saturday night.Nick is unlike the other inhabitants of West Egg—he was educated at Yale and has social connectionsin East Egg, a fashionable area of Long Island home to the established upper class. Nick drives out toEast Egg one evening for dinner with his cousin, Daisy Buchanan, and her husband, Tom, an erstwhileclassmate of Nick’s at Yale. Daisy and Tom introduce Nick to Jordan Baker, a beautiful, cynical youngwoman with whom Nick begins a romantic relationship. Nick also learns a bit about Daisy and Tom’smarriage: Jordan tells him that Tom has a lover, Myrtle Wilson, who lives in the valley of ashes, a grayindustrial dumping ground between West Egg and New York City. Not long after this revelation, Nicktravels to New York City with Tom and Myrtle. At a vulgar, gaudy party in the apartment that Tomkeeps for the affair, Myrtle begins to taunt Tom about Daisy, and Tom responds by breaking her nose.As the summer progresses, Nick eventually garners an invitation to one of Gatsby’s legendary parties.He encounters Jordan Baker at the party, and they meet Gatsby himself, a surprisingly young man whoaffects an English accent, has a remarkable smile, and calls everyone “old sport.” Gatsby asks to speakto Jordan alone, and, through Jordan, Nick later learns more about his mysterious neighbor. Gatsbytells Jordan that he knew Daisy in Louisville in 1917 and is deeply in love with her. He spends manynights staring at the green light at the end of her dock, across the bay from his mansion. Gatsby’sextravagant lifestyle and wild parties are simply an attempt to impress Daisy. Gatsby now wants Nickto arrange a reunion between himself and Daisy, but he is afraid that Daisy will refuse to see him if sheknows that he still loves her. Nick invites Daisy to have tea at his house, without telling her that Gatsbywill also be there. After an initially awkward reunion, Gatsby and Daisy reestablish their connection.Their love rekindled, they begin an affair.After a short time, Tom grows increasingly suspicious of his wife’s relationship with Gatsby. At aluncheon at the Buchanans’ house, Gatsby stares at Daisy with such undisguised passion that Tomrealizes Gatsby is in love with her. Though Tom is himself involved in an extramarital affair, he isdeeply outraged by the thought that his wife could be unfaithful to him. He forces the group to driveinto New York City, where he confronts Gatsby in a suite at the Plaza Hotel. Tom asserts that he andDaisy have a history that Gatsby could never understand, and he announces to his wife that Gatsby is acriminal—his fortune comes from bootlegging alcohol and other illegal activities. Daisy realizes that 24
  25. 25. her allegiance is to Tom, and Tom contemptuously sends her back to East Egg with Gatsby, attemptingto prove that Gatsby cannot hurt him.When Nick, Jordan, and Tom drive through the valley of ashes, however, they discover that Gatsby’scar has struck and killed Myrtle, Tom’s lover. They rush back to Long Island, where Nick learns fromGatsby that Daisy was driving the car when it struck Myrtle, but that Gatsby intends to take the blame.The next day, Tom tells Myrtle’s husband, George, that Gatsby was the driver of the car. George, whohas leapt to the conclusion that the driver of the car that killed Myrtle must have been her lover, findsGatsby in the pool at his mansion and shoots him dead. He then fatally shoots himself.Nick stages a small funeral for Gatsby, ends his relationship with Jordan, and moves back to theMidwest to escape the disgust he feels for the people surrounding Gatsby’s life and for the emptinessand moral decay of life among the wealthy on the East Coast. Nick reflects that just as Gatsby’s dreamof Daisy was corrupted by money and dishonesty, the American dream of happiness and individualismhas disintegrated into the mere pursuit of wealth. Though Gatsby’s power to transform his dreams intoreality is what makes him “great,” Nick reflects that the era of dreaming—both Gatsby’s dream and theAmerican dream—is over.Analysis of Major CharactersJay GatsbyThe title character of The Great Gatsby is a young man, around thirty years old, who rose from animpoverished childhood in rural North Dakota to become fabulously wealthy. However, he achievedthis lofty goal by participating in organized crime, including distributing illegal alcohol and trading instolen securities. From his early youth, Gatsby despised poverty and longed for wealth andsophistication—he dropped out of St. Olaf’s College after only two weeks because he could not bearthe janitorial job with which he was paying his tuition. Though Gatsby has always wanted to be rich,his main motivation in acquiring his fortune was his love for Daisy Buchanan, whom he met as a youngmilitary officer in Louisville before leaving to fight in World War I in 1917. Gatsby immediately fell inlove with Daisy’s aura of luxury, grace, and charm, and lied to her about his own background in orderto convince her that he was good enough for her. Daisy promised to wait for him when he left for thewar, but married Tom Buchanan in 1919, while Gatsby was studying at Oxford after the war in anattempt to gain an education. From that moment on, Gatsby dedicated himself to winning Daisy back,and his acquisition of millions of dollars, his purchase of a gaudy mansion on West Egg, and his lavishweekly parties are all merely means to that end.Fitzgerald delays the introduction of most of this information until fairly late in the novel. Gatsby’sreputation precedes him—Gatsby himself does not appear in a speaking role until Chapter 3. Fitzgeraldinitially presents Gatsby as the aloof, enigmatic host of the unbelievably opulent parties thrown everyweek at his mansion. He appears surrounded by spectacular luxury, courted by powerful men andbeautiful women. He is the subject of a whirlwind of gossip throughout New York and is already a kindof legendary celebrity before he is ever introduced to the reader. Fitzgerald propels the novel forwardthrough the early chapters by shrouding Gatsby’s background and the source of his wealth in mystery(the reader learns about Gatsby’s childhood in Chapter 6 and receives definitive proof of his criminaldealings in Chapter 7). As a result, the reader’s first, distant impressions of Gatsby strike quite adifferent note from that of the lovesick, naive young man who emerges during the later part of thenovel.Fitzgerald uses this technique of delayed character revelation to emphasize the theatrical quality ofGatsby’s approach to life, which is an important part of his personality. Gatsby has literally created hisown character, even changing his name from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby to represent his reinvention ofhimself. As his relentless quest for Daisy demonstrates, Gatsby has an extraordinary ability to 25
  26. 26. transform his hopes and dreams into reality; at the beginning of the novel, he appears to the reader justas he desires to appear to the world. This talent for self-invention is what gives Gatsby his quality of“greatness”: indeed, the title “The Great Gatsby” is reminiscent of billings for such vaudevillemagicians as “The Great Houdini” and “The Great Blackstone,” suggesting that the persona of JayGatsby is a masterful illusion.Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us.As the novel progresses and Fitzgerald deconstructs Gatsby’s self-presentation, Gatsby reveals himselfto be an innocent, hopeful young man who stakes everything on his dreams, not realizing that hisdreams are unworthy of him. Gatsby invests Daisy with an idealistic perfection that she cannot possiblyattain in reality and pursues her with a passionate zeal that blinds him to her limitations. His dream ofher disintegrates, revealing the corruption that wealth causes and the unworthiness of the goal, much inthe way Fitzgerald sees the American dream crumbling in the 1920s, as America’s powerful optimism,vitality, and individualism become subordinated to the amoral pursuit of wealth.Gatsby is contrasted most consistently with Nick. Critics point out that the former, passionate andactive, and the latter, sober and reflective, seem to represent two sides of Fitzgerald’s personality.Additionally, whereas Tom is a cold-hearted, aristocratic bully, Gatsby is a loyal and good-heartedman. Though his lifestyle and attitude differ greatly from those of George Wilson, Gatsby and Wilsonshare the fact that they both lose their love interest to Tom.Nick CarrawayIf Gatsby represents one part of Fitzgerald’s personality, the flashy celebrity who pursued and glorifiedwealth in order to impress the woman he loved, then Nick represents another part: the quiet, reflectiveMidwesterner adrift in the lurid East. A young man (he turns thirty during the course of the novel) fromMinnesota, Nick travels to New York in 1922 to learn the bond business. He lives in the West Eggdistrict of Long Island, next door to Gatsby. Nick is also Daisy’s cousin, which enables him to observeand assist the resurgent love affair between Daisy and Gatsby. As a result of his relationship to thesetwo characters, Nick is the perfect choice to narrate the novel, which functions as a personal memoir ofhis experiences with Gatsby in the summer of 1922.Nick is also well suited to narrating The Great Gatsby because of his temperament. As he tells thereader in Chapter 1, he is tolerant, open-minded, quiet, and a good listener, and, as a result, others tendto talk to him and tell him their secrets. Gatsby, in particular, comes to trust him and treat him as aconfidant. Nick generally assumes a secondary role throughout the novel, preferring to describe andcomment on events rather than dominate the action. Often, however, he functions as Fitzgerald’s voice,as in his extended meditation on time and the American dream at the end of Chapter 9.Insofar as Nick plays a role inside the narrative, he evidences a strongly mixed reaction to life on theEast Coast, one that creates a powerful internal conflict that he does not resolve until the end of thebook. On the one hand, Nick is attracted to the fast-paced, fun-driven lifestyle of New York. On theother hand, he finds that lifestyle grotesque and damaging. This inner conflict is symbolized throughoutthe book by Nick’s romantic affair with Jordan Baker. He is attracted to her vivacity and hersophistication just as he is repelled by her dishonesty and her lack of consideration for other people.Nick states that there is a “quality of distortion” to life in New York, and this lifestyle makes him losehis equilibrium, especially early in the novel, as when he gets drunk at Gatsby’s party in Chapter 2.After witnessing the unraveling of Gatsby’s dream and presiding over the appalling spectacle ofGatsby’s funeral, Nick realizes that the fast life of revelry on the East Coast is a cover for the terrifyingmoral emptiness that the valley of ashes symbolizes. Having gained the maturity that this insightdemonstrates, he returns to Minnesota in search of a quieter life structured by more traditional moralvalues. 26

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