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The Image of a Reasonable Man in The Concept of Clothing in Swift's "Gulliver’s Travels"

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In his best-known piece of literature, Gulliver’s Travels, Swift conveys the image of a reasonable man through the concept of clothing. He portrays clothing as a projective outer-layer of skin, and he utilises the same notion in A Modest Proposal. He creates a dichotomy between Gulliver and the Yahoos, suggesting that reason materializes through the adoption of clothing. However, in A Modest Proposal, it is the lack of clothing that evokes the concept. Swift calls the Irish ‘useless backs’ which have ‘neither house nor clothes to cover them’ . The language dehumanises the Irish by breaking their bodies into redundant parts. Furthermore, the want of clothing reduces these bodies to objects who are unable to claim reason, as they lack the material required to position themselves above beasts. Thus, in need of raiment, the poor in A Modest Proposal become synonymous with the ‘filthy, noisome, and deformed’ Yahoos from Gulliver’s Travels. This is significant as it exposes how skin can be exploited to establish a social hierarchy. The proposer also states that ‘those who are thrifty’ may make ‘admirable gloves for ladies and summer boots for fine gentleman’ out of their children’s skin, establishing a corresponding economic hierarchy, correlating money and bodily value. Money allows people to afford the clothes which fabricate reason and those in poverty who cannot afford this outer-layer can never attain the ability to reason.

The proposer’s language is economic rather than emotive, and inhumanely ‘solves a human problem by an economic calculus which ignores human love and treats the poor as cattle’ , enabling him to distance himself from his proposal. As a good economist, the proposer appeals specifically to the reader’s selfish greed, which Robert Phiddian argues is the highest point ‘within the terms of economic discourse’ . As readers, we are meant to find this level of greed to be abhorrent and ‘reject the terms of economic discourse that regularise the tyranny’ . Throughout the text Swift frequently refers to the landlords of London, who ‘have already devoured most of the parents’ and therefore have the best claim to the children, Swift’s most explicit attack in the text. Phiddian suggests that the landlords are the Anglo-Irish elite, therefore the cannibalization of infants represents the rich feeding on the poor, further evidenced in the final paragraph by the writer’s claims that his proposal will ‘[give] some pleasure to the rich’ . The references to landlords reminds readers of William Petty’s ‘utopianism’ when, under Cromwell’s rule, he took Irish land and distributed it amongst the English elite, resulting in many Irish citizens starving to death due to severe poverty.

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The Image Of A Reasonable Man In The Concept Of Clothing In Swift’S “Gulliver’s Travels”. (2019, Jun 27). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 29, 2022, from
“The Image Of A Reasonable Man In The Concept Of Clothing In Swift’S “Gulliver’s Travels”.” GradesFixer, 27 Jun. 2019,
The Image Of A Reasonable Man In The Concept Of Clothing In Swift’S “Gulliver’s Travels”. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 May 2022].
The Image Of A Reasonable Man In The Concept Of Clothing In Swift’S “Gulliver’s Travels” [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2019 Jun 27 [cited 2022 May 29]. Available from:
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