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Unifying devices in A tale of a tub Clark, Richard David

Abstract

One of the major problems for readers and students of A Tale of a Tub is its apparent lack of internal unity and coherence. Faced with a welter of seemingly contradictory and inconsistent arguments and attitudes, reader and student alike have frequently been forced to concede defeat and turn to Swift's "more profitable" works for consolation. The purpose of the present study has been to indicate the existence, in the Tale, of numerous unifying devices, a recognition of which may enable the reader to perceive and appreciate the essential unity and coherence of an admittedly complex literary entity. Emphasis has been primarily upon the "dramatic impact" of the Tale, and the contribution of images and themes to this impact. Classification of images and themes has been made in terms of the definitions offered in the text. Persuasive oratory is the instrument to achievement in the Tubbian world, and it is with the motives and methods of Tubbian orators that the study is primarily concerned. The pervasive themes of the mechanical operation of the spirit and madness are among the unifying devices in the Tale. The first seven chapters are devoted to an exploration of images, devices, and thematic developments as unifying devices. Four subsequent chapters discuss the relationships between elements in the Tale and certain of the cultural dissentions of which these elements provide reflections. There has been no attempt at inclusiveness in the selection of representative cultural elements. Rather, in the selection of materials from Hobbes, Dryden, Wycherley, Sprat, the Cambridge Platonists, Glanvill, and Shaftesbury, the attempt has been only to indicate the major preoccupations of the age. Where obvious similarities exist between attitudes, as they do between the attitudes of Hobbes and those of the scientific virtuosi, the emphasis is upon Swift's capacity to make fine distinctions between similar attitudes and to indicate these distinctions in his methods of attack. Conversely, the inclusion of apparently disparate "philosophies," such as those of Hobbes and Shaftesbury, is intended to demonstrate Swift's ability to comprehend in one attack a great variety of disparate attitudes. It has been found necessary, in the interests of clarity, to include a certain amount of explanation and elaboration of materials relative to the cultural background. The conclusion of the study is primarily concerned with the reader's reaction to the "dramatic impact" of the Tale. Certain of Swift's "satiric criteria" or norms are tentatively offered for consideration. These are such as may be readily available to the reader from a careful examination of the text and an exploration of his own reaction to the text.

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