This paper explores the theme of the failure of human civilization in improving the quality human life. This failure is manifested through flawed elements inherent in the modern civilized world. Despite being intelligent and rational, mankind is blind to the values that make him human. Ironically, he leads a beast-like life devoid of morals, which makes him more barbaric than wild animals. His knowledge and understanding does not help him to make better judgments about human conduct and behavior.
The essay examines the use of satire in portraying human flaws and imperfections, withclose reference to the two texts under study: ' Gulliver's Travels' by Jonathan Swift, and' Candide ' by Francois Voltaire . In Gulliver's Travels, the protagonist comes into contact with an animal society with social and moral values that shame those of human beings. He realizes that the animal race is more rational and orderly than the human race. His adventures to the land of the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos portray a world that is civilized beyond what human beings could achieve. The Yahoos are human-like creatures who have been colonized by the Houyhnhnms, a species of rational horses. The ironical aspect of the situation is that the human Yahoos are so uncivilized and unorganized such that they possess the animal capacity to be tamed by the animals they are supposed to tame. It is a satirical attack at the moral and socio-political decadence in the human race.
In Candide, the protagonist by the same name and a bastard son to a Germany baron, is banished from home for kissing the baron's daughter. He wonders from continent to continent, and everywhere he goes we are confronted with the universal social and moral rot among men. The irony of the story that mocks human civilization is captured by the fact that Candide and his companions find happiness and fulfillment in the simplest form of life that the human race initially evolved from: simple farming. The return to what is widely thought as the savage stage of human civilization is a veiled mockery of the technological and intellectual enlightenment that began in the early 18th century.
The two texts are similar in their handling of the theme of a failed civilization, in that they both point to the failure of the modern world. They compare human civilized society and the wilderness of the animal kingdom, and portray human beings as significantly barbaric in their civilization. However, they differ in their treatment of characters. In Gulliver's Travels, the protagonist does not get transformed to fit in either world. He finds himself an alien in the animal and human society. In Candide, the characters are transformed by their experiences as they settleto a life of peace, hard work and uncorrupted by the pleasures of civilization.
In Gulliver's Travels, the protagonist elaborates the nature of England's constitution to the Houyhnhnms. The criticism of the human race in this incident is the fact that man cannot make a constitution that serves his needs. Animals, even without one, have the 'common sense' of governing themselves. Man must make rules to restrain his actions and inherent flaws. It is also absurd that man cannot fit in an animal society because he is too corrupted and imperfect. That is why in the end, after listening about England and her human constitution, the Houyhnhnms had to expel Gulliver from amongst their midst.
The hyperbole and fiction element that heightens satire is reflected by the servitude of the human Yahoos to the horses. In real life, horses are tamed and trained by man. In fact, horses do not reason and as such, could not control themselves. Even in simple tasks like walking which do not demand the use of intelligence, a horse must still be tethered and led by human beings. The text exaggerates this fact by portraying horses as self-efficient to the extent of governing themselves. It reverses the order of things by portraying humans as the un-intelligent species that must be 'tethered and led' by a constitution. But then, unfortunately, they can't even draft an effective one. It is a mockery of both human governance and civilization, since the idea of a constitution is the turning point that marked the beginning of human civilization. Savagery and barbarism is assumed to be present in a society without a constitution. Yet, England is savage and barbaric because it has one that does not serve her needs.
The state of moral values in the human race is presented as rotten and corrupted through the immoralities of the Yahoos. They take pleasure in nudity, indicating the vices of lust and sexual immorality. Their women have loosely hanging breasts- the opposite image of a virgin. The rape incidence by a teenage Yahoo girl serves to demonstrate the extent of moral decadence in society. It is not fathomable how a teenage girl can actually rape a man: unless it is a thoroughly rotten and barbaric society. These exaggerated accounts collectively make a satirical criticism of a human society that lives in pretense. The supposed civilization has not done anything to elevate human life and values.
The rational horses are governed by reason and honesty alone. In their language, there is no word for 'lie.' Once again, the rules are subverted since reason and truth are supposedly human traits. By robbing them of these virtues and assigning them to animals, the author criticizes society by questioning human reasoning and character. He does not deny outright that human beings are not rational, but suggests that their rationality and character pales in comparison with animals. Implied by the self-governance of the horses is the idea that by reason,
Human beings ought to be orderly and peaceful. Surely, there is no need for a constitution to guide an intelligent being who by reason alone could differentiate between right and wrong. It is an accusation against the human race to the effect that they have lost their sense of common sense, and given it to the animals- the phrase used to be 'to the dogs!'
By the state of things, the animals, represented by the horses, seems to be well cultured than the Yahoo-human beings. It is not surprising then, that they could not live with a human being. With such a taste of satire, it really pricks one's conscience to imagine, even in fiction, that an animal finds it an insult to reason with a man. When he went back home, Gulliver realized that he can reason better with his horses than with fellow human beings. Where I to dare and make a claim of transformation on Gulliver, then it is his elevation to the level of animals!
Human beings are innately endowed with the ability to speak. In fact, discourse is what distinguishes man from other animals. It is ironical, therefore, that the dialogue between Gulliver and his Houyhnhnm master is characterized by mimicry; Gulliver, a human being, mimicking an animal, the way a parrot mimics a human being. Of course it is absurdity stretched to its limits, but the satire and criticism is so raw and sharp pointed as to stir the hypocrisy of human civilization and claim of rational thought. Their pretence to civilization is disguised in the clean suits of Pedro Mendez, which Gulliver finds repulsive, preferring the animal skins he wore apparently after he had been cultured by the truly civilized and sophisticated horses. My foot!
Francois Voltaire's narration is really a theatre of comical caricatures. Ever heard of the Pope's daughter, or the philosopher who, despite his lofty thoughts, could not help contracting syphilis from a lowly prostitute? These things are very probable...but wait- only among men!
In Candide, it is human civilization on its head, especially on the question of sexual morality. The baron has a bastard son, illegitimately conceived in his illicit sexual escapades. And holy of holies....His Highness the Pope has a daughter, fathered in circumstances that make a dog's claim of celibacy not only intelligent, but very credible as well. And the learned class, the highly esteemed scholars of society, very well represented by Pangloss the philosopher, could not keep their minds off a whore's thighs. They contract a venereal disease and philosophize to blame it on Columbus: "It was a thing unavoidable, a necessary ingredient in the best of worlds; for if Columbus had not in an island of America caught this disease..." (Voltaire 9). Very succinctly, Voltaire captures the sorry state of a human society that claims to be civilized. These events take place in a society rotten to the core through the moral degeneration exhibited by its ruling class. Like Swift's Yahoo human race and the moribund ruling class of England, Candide is a portrayal of a society whose advancement leads it to the breakdown of social order. It alludes to the observation by Theodor Adorno (1947) that "the fully enlightened world radiated disaster triumphant." He lamented that the technology which characterized the era of enlightenment did not work by "the fortunate insight", but refers to methods, exploitation of others' work and capital. What men seek to learn from nature is the enlightenment to "dominate it and other men: it has extinguished any trace of its own self-consciousness" (Adorno and Horkheimer, 1997, 4). Of course, it could have been a different generation defined by unique events: a time of wars, colonialism and general international animosity that marked the WW2 aftermath- the Versailles Treaty that pitied Germany against France; the Israelis were returning from exile to a hostile land the Palestinians claimed as theirs. The scars of slavery were still fresh, and Hitler's annihilation of the Jews was still a painful reality. Regardless, it reflected a civilized society, like the one in Voltaire's Candide.
How civilized is a society whose ruling class father bastards? What religious morals are cultivated in a society where the clergy, the embodiment of moral and religious uprightness, fall into canal temptation? Of what use to society is the scholar class, if their reasoning hovers on the female anatomy? These are the questions that characterize the satire of the text.
Collectively, the two texts portray the ides that the human race is still entrapped in the vices that were present in its stages of barbarism and savagery. The claim of mankind having moved forward is false and a contradiction of the reality within which he exists. What it represents- wars, slavery, conflicts and moral vice do not work for his good. As a final rejection of that kind of civilization, Candide and his men returned to what civilization was trying to uproot: the simplicity of the savage period, since it was better in serving their needs. And like the horses, they lived happily thereafter.