The essay discusses the interrelationship between Gulliver’s Travels and Freud’s psychoanalysis in terms of human identity, behavior and personality. While Swift reflects a self by condemning his aggressiveness, irrationality, and narcissism, Freud explores the development of a child during a phase of neurosis; hence both depict humans as neurotic species. At that through Gulliver Swift condemns misanthropy, while signifies human ego.
There is a close-knit interaction between psychoanalysis and satire in terms of prime focus on human behavior and personality. Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels marks the tribute to a man’s quest for self-knowledge. Within the remarkable journey, we explore our own vulnerabilities and frailties. At that, Swift’s major claim is that satire is the best reflection of a man’s nature. The genre is the mirror that completely shows who we are. In his turn, Freudian psychoanalysis emphasizes anal repression as the universal reflection of one’s inner self.
In his masterpiece, Swift constructs an infant image to deliberately diminish man’s pride. Herewith, Swift combines the infantile and the unconscious throughout the text. Both components are central for psychoanalysis and satire, while their synergy helps to decode such inner senses as pride, shame, desires, and language. For instance, while engrossed in the role of Lilliput, Gulliver plays a fantasizing and narcissistic infant, whereas while in Brobdingnag he behaves helplessly. He is exalted and obsequious until Swift turns him into a misanthropist. By claiming that the child determines the man, Freud is certain that every child passes the developmental phase of neurosis. Hence, both Swift and Freud portray human beings as neurotic species (Roberts 12-17).
According to Freud, the major signifiers of our infantile objects (breasts, mouth) root in the unconscious. They designate all our actions and desires, and therefore make up one’s identity. Freud states that feces signifies man’s identity and serves as a powerful weapon underlying human aggression. At that, Swift shows a man who defecates on his fellow man, which becomes his ultimate description of human history (Crews 12).
Through the image of the protagonist, we see the signs of man and of the ego. Gulliver’s ego-self reflects narcissism as well as the conscious linguistic developments. Freud holds that at the age of 6-18 months, a child views oneself externally by becoming the center through the use of words and images. Herewith, Freudian psychoanalysis aligns one’s language, identity, and narcissism into a self. In this regard, Swift deliberately highlights the abuses of language in the representatives of various social castes (i.e. courtiers, academics and lawyers) to show how human irrationality, aggression, and narcissism grow and disseminate with age (Fox 31).
Swift and Freud’s approaches also interrelate while referring to civilization that reflects individual neuroses that restrict our desires. Eventually, Gulliver alienates and turns into to misanthropy after undergoing the experiences with various utopian concepts throughout the text, namely ancient Lilliputian, the King of Brobdingnag, and the Houyhnhnm Master. He signifies his pride in Lilliput with the phallus as the signifier of his superego. Ultimately, through his satire Swifts aims to show a genuine reflection of a man by condemning his aggressiveness, irrationality, and narcissism. In parallel, Freud discovers the development of a child during a phase of neurosis. Hence, both Swift and Freud depict humans as neurotic species (Roberts 12-13).
Such psychoanalytical synthesis turns Gulliver’s Travels into a particular sub-genre wherein satiric aggression verses human aggression. While Swift saturates his satire with irony, as well as paradox and reversals, the text does not comply with absolute stylistic markers. This is rather the author’s flow of imagination, his tribute to the imaginary voyage full of parody attesting both to the tragedy and comedy of civilization development. While, Swift condemns misanthropy, his Gulliver sends us a direct message “that humankind are all Yahoos”
- Crews, F. Out of My System: Psychoanalysis, Ideology, and Critical Method. NY: Oxford UP, 1975.
- Fox, C. “The Myth of Narcissus in Swift’s Travels.” Eighteenth Century Studies. 20. i ( 1986-7): 17-33.
- Roberts, D. “A Freudian View of Jonathan Swift.” Literature and Psychology. 6 (1956): 8-17.