Enlightenment Issues Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Gulliver's Travels" by Jonathan Swift, and "Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus" by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly. Specifically, it will discuss family ties -- Gulliver's neglect of his family compared to Victor's neglect of his. During the Enlightenment, many issues of life and society were considered important to the very necessity and enjoyment of life. Both authors create characters that are far from normal and neglect their families in chaotic and unbelievable worlds. They abandon their families for their own selfish pleasures and wants. The authors view family as important to society, and so, they create characters that are opposite to point to their beliefs about man, society, and what is natural in relationships.

Both of these works use family ties, and the lack of them, to perpetuate their own distinct views on the Enlightenment movement, an intellectual movement prevalent in the 18th century, when both of these writers were working and creating. Swift wrote a succinct analysis of the movement in another essay, "Thus God and Nature link'd the gen'ral frame, And bade Self-love and Social be the same" (Swift and Williams 71). The movement celebrated intellectual thought, and posed the perennial questions, "what is God, man, nature, society, and/or history?" These unusual novels entertain, but they also "enlighten," as they subtly, and not so subtly, attempt to answer these questions, especially as they relate to family and society of the time.

Both these authors create characters that are far from "normal," today, and at the time these books were written. Wollstonecraft creates a monster that terrifies the countryside, and Victor, the monster's creator who is obsessed with creating life from death. Swift creates a traveler who sees imaginary lands and brings his own form of particular satire to a work that initially seems like a children's story. Both writers created unusual characters in order to create alternate worlds where they could really comment on the world we live in. Both writers also create characters that abandon their families for their own wants and needs, which seems to be a sarcastic and biting commentary on the Enlightenment. They may believe in the premises of the Enlightenment, but their characters take themselves and their wants much too seriously, and the authors' commentary seems to show that society will suffer if society's members abandon all convention in their quest to understand themselves more fully.

Chaos is an important theme in both these works, and lends itself to the original theme of neglect quite well. Frankenstein creates chaos and fear when he is unwittingly loosed by Victor, and Gulliver's travels include lands where chaos and fear reign, such as the land of the Yahoos, who taint his feelings when he returns home to the European "Yahoos." Interestingly enough, chaos is also what would occur in society if all conventions and mores were abandoned in favor of selfish pleasures and needs. Both novels begin with familial neglect, but their implication is that if everyone left their families as Gulliver and Victor did, then chaos and unending unhappiness would ensue.

Today, these works would be considered at least part fantasy or science fiction. An editor of Swift's book notes, "throughout the narrative Swift uses the science-fiction technique of describing fantastic events with so much circumstantial detail that they seem perfectly credible" (Swift and Turner ix). The monster too is a work of science fiction. He is larger than life, created from death, and he has unusual strength and the need to kill. He is the perfect model of modern-day horror films, and Victor's laboratory is also a perfect model of the mad scientist's lair. These are models of fantasy, and at the time they were written, they must have seemed even more fantastic. Yet the main characters, even with all their faults, are believable, because they were based on men of the time, and how humankind is always filled with the quest for something more, something better, and new understanding of what lies within us all, which is what the Enlightenment and enlightened thinkers wanted others to understand.

One of the most entertaining parts of Swift's novel is how Gulliver immediately adapts to the many different situations that come up in his voyages. He does not question anything that happens to him, he simply records it. This is another Swift perception of man, and his generally non-questioning nature. He satirizes what he does not believe in, and so places Gulliver in situations where he reacts as most men do, but learns from his surroundings, which Swift believed most men did not. Victor too, learns from his mistakes, and is finally rid of the monster that consumes him, but at a terrible cost -- he has lost his wife. Putting his own needs ahead of his family, he created the being that would ultimately create the worst chaos and evil in his life. Gulliver too returns home from his adventures, but he is a changed man from his adventures, and, just as Victor's life is affected by the chaos he created, so is Gulliver's. He finds "civilization" is often more than he can handle, and he is offended most by the pride of other men. He notes, "But, when I behold a Lump of Deformity, and Diseases both in Body and Mind, smitten with Pride, it immediately breaks all the Measures of my Patience; neither shall I ever be able to comprehend how such an Animal and such a Vice could tally together" (Swift and Turner 288). Gulliver has seen a better life, and returns to what he feels is chaos, while Victor has seen pure fear, and returns to a life bereft of his two great loves, Elizabeth and the monster.

Family ties and the neglect of these families are key issues in both these novels, and they outweigh the other issues in their importance and meaning. Early in the novel, Gulliver decides to give up his life at sea and remain home with his family, but this does not last long. His fortunes dwindle, and he returns to the sea to support his family. This voyage takes him far from home, and farther from his family ties. He encounters some incredible beings, and returns home with some unbelievable tales. He also finds he has a distinct aversion to his family. He notes, "During the first Year I could not endure my Wife or Children in my Presence, the very Smell of them was intolerable; much less could I suffer them to eat in the same Room. To this Hour they dare not presume to touch my Bread, or drink out of the same Cup" (Swift 281-282). Clearly, because of his many adventures and their effect on him, he can no longer tolerate his family, who represent "normal and decent" society, which Gulliver no longer has a use for. In fact, he finds he cannot remain with them for long, even the first time he returns, for he misses his adventures at sea more than he needs his family. He states, "I stayed but two Months with my Wife and Family; for my insatiable Desire of seeing foreign Countries would suffer me to continue no longer. I left fifteen Hundred Pounds with my Wife, and fixed her in a good House" (Swift and Turner 68). In other words, he abandons them to his own enjoyment and need. This is typical of the Enlightenment man, who was urged to place his own needs above those of others (Swift wrote of this when he said, " Self-love and Social be the same.") Gulliver has become a different man, and Swift's portrayal of him is pure satire of the predictable and accepted thoughts of humankind. Swift seems to be urging people to think for themselves, and come to their own conclusions, no matter how unusual or unacceptable they might seem to "normal" society.

In "Frankenstein," Wollstonecraft also creates a character that at first only hopes to way home with his family. He states, " "Travelling, and the cares of a family, occupied my time" (Shelley 8). However, as the novel progresses, Victor finds himself suddenly obsessed with his bizarre work, and neglects his family for his own selfish wants and needs. In fact, Victor comes to love his monster with an unnatural and even frightening love. He states, "I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart" (Shelley 49). He transfers the love he should be giving his family to his ultimate creation, and so, he alienates himself from the real world while he becomes more obsessed with the unreal relationship between he and the monster. Gulliver does this too. He finds he can no longer cope with the real world, including his family, and so he removes himself from the real world and returns to his fantasy worlds that he discovers as a sailor. The authors create these characters who avoid real life to…

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