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Gulliver Disillusioned: Is Multiculturalism Dead In The Twenty First Century?

2636 words - 11 pages

Gulliver Disillusioned: Is Multiculturalism Dead in the Twenty-First Century?
On the 17th October 2010, Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, delivered a speech at a youth conference in Potsdam where she proclaimed that multiculturalism has “utterly failed” (Siebold, Reuters UK). This dire statement was pronounced in the midst of a German society torn by cultural tension between Germans and Muslim immigrants. In theory, a society that embraces multiculturalism is one in which two or more cultures coexist whilst harboring mutual respect for the other’s values and lifestyles and upholding a common national identity (Parekh 6). Multiculturalism implicitly assumes cultural equality, the notion ...view middle of the document...

Not only does Gulliver observe many instances of culture clash, he and his hosts are often unable to appreciate each other’s way of life and adopt each other’s perspective on politics and cultural values. On his first voyage, Gulliver is captured by the natives of Lilliput, human creatures “not sixth inches high” who grant Gulliver the name “Great Man Mountain” (18, 33). Gulliver’s sheer size compared to that of the Lilliputians endows him with a unique perspective on the pettiness of Lilliputian preoccupations. (Sims 38). For instance, from Gulliver’s eagle’s view, the Lilliputians’ notion that the world comprises of only Lilliput and Blefuscu is absurd. When Gulliver extinguishes a palace fire by urinating on the building, the residents are not only ungrateful for Gulliver’s intervention; they interpret it as a crude act of treason. However, the Lilliputians are not the only people to suffer from cultural myopia. Gulliver’s own narrowness of vision is evident in his failure to consider how it would feel to be showered in a giant’s urine. Seeing and perceiving, or the lack thereof, are recurring issues throughout Gulliver’s Travels (Hunter 230). The only two possessions which Gulliver retains during his stay on Lilliput are his glasses and telescope, yet these items neither alleviate his selective blindness, nor grant him a broader perspective on his hosts.
In his essay on Gulliver’s Travels and cultural difference, Stuart Sims cites the perpetual antagonism between Lilliput and Blefuscu as a prime example of the inability of nations to coexist peacefully (Sims 38). The roots of this discord lay in a seemingly trivial disagreement between the so-called Big-Endians and Little-Endians over which end of an egg should be cracked before eating, an argument that resulted in the Big-Endians’ defection to Blefuscu. That such a tremendous upheaval is produced by a trivial matter like the proper method to crack an egg, especially considering that the Lilliputian Alcoran or holy book recommends “That all true Believers shall break their eggs at the convenient end,” seems laughable (52). Yet the battle between Lilliput and Blefuscu resonates with the modern reader because it throws into sharp relief the belligerent and proud human nature that pits groups of people against each other over inconsequential differences of opinion. The schism between the Shi’a and Sunni Muslims is an old battle that continues to this day. Like the Big-Endians and the Little-Endians, both religious groups read the same holy book whose core message is belief in God, yet disagreement over who delivered God’s message has catapulted members of the two groups into war.
In a brilliant reversal of his experiences with the Lilliputians, Gulliver, on his second voyage, finds himself among giants in the land of Brobdignag. Gulliver – and we the readers to the extent that we identify with him – is made aware of his own pettiness (Monk 237). Gulliver reflects on the Lilliputians with...

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