No British Literature class would be complete without the story of Gulliver’s Travels.Gulliver’s Travels seems to be a children’s story with giants, little people, horses, and islandpeople.
However, this story is complete with many quests and lessons learned on the way. Whilethis is a satire, writer Jonathan Swift was an Anglo-Irish who was an essayist, satirist, and even aDean at the St, Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. He is also known for being a master of two styles ofsatire, the Horatian and Juvenalian styles.Gulliver goes on four separate voyages in Gulliver's Travels. Each journey is preceded bya storm. All four voyages bring new perspectives to Gulliver's life and new opportunities forsatirizing the ways of England.
The first voyage is to Lilliput, where Gulliver is huge and theLilliputians are small. At first the Lilliputians seem amiable, but the reader soon sees them forthe ridiculous and petty creatures they are. Gulliver is convicted of treason for "making water" inthe capital (even though he was putting out a fire and saving countless lives)– among other"crimes." “This made me reflect, how vain an attempt it is for a man to endeavor to do himselfhonor among those who are out of all degree of equality or comparison with him.” (Swift) Thesecond voyage is to Brobdingnag, a land of Giants where Gulliver seems as small as theLilliputians were to him.
Gulliver is afraid, but his keepers are surprisingly gentle. Gulliverrealizes how revolting he must have seemed to the Lilliputians. Gulliver's third voyage is toSnow2Laputa (and neighboring Luggnagg and Glubdugdribb). In a visit to the island of Glubdugdribb,Gulliver is able to call up the dead and discovers the deceptions of history. In Laputa, the peopleare over-thinkers and are ridiculous in other ways.
Also, he meets the Stuldbrugs, a raceendowed with immortality. Gulliver discovers that they are miserable. His fourth voyage is to theland of the Houyhnhnms, who are horses endowed with reason. Their rational, clean, and simplesociety is contrasted with the filthiness and brutality of the Yahoos, beasts in human shape.
Gulliver reluctantly comes to recognize their human vices. Gulliver stays with the Houyhnhnmsfor several years, becoming completely enamored with them to the point that he never wants toleave. When he is told that the time has come for him to leave the island, Gulliver faints fromgrief. Upon returning to England, Gulliver feels disgusted about other humans, including his ownfamily. Gulliver’s Travels is a satire on four aspects of man: the physical, the political, theintellectual, and the moral. The book is also a brilliant parody of travel literature; and it is at oncescience fiction and a witty parody of science fiction.
It expresses savage indignation at thefollies, vices, and stupidities of men and it shows an awareness of man’s tragic insufficiency. AllSwift’s satire was certainly written in anger, contempt, or disgust; but it was written to promoteself-knowledge in the faith that self-knowledge could lead to right action. Some commentatorshave wrongly called this book morbid, and some have gone so far as to think that it is the workof a man who was going mad at the time he wrote it. But the fact is that the gaiety and comedy ofthe voyages described in the book are an indication of Swift’s essential intellectual and spiritualgood health. This book was written when Swift was at the height of his intellectual powers; andthe comic spirit of the book as a whole rules out the view that it is morbid and that it shows themental illness of the author.Snow3From the moment that the banished Gulliver in despair sets sail from Houyhnhnm-land,his pride, his misanthropy, and his madness become apparent. Deceived by his worship of purereason, he commits the error of the Houyhnhnms in equating human beings with the Yahoos.
When he is captured by a Portuguese crew and forced to return from sullen solitude to humanity,he trembles between fear and hatred. The Captain of the ship, Don Pedro de Mendez, likeGulliver himself, shares the nature of the Houyhnhnm and the Yahoo, and like the Gulliver of thefirst voyage he is tolerant, sympathetic, kindly, patient, and charitable. But Gulliver can nolonger recognize these traits in a human being. With the short-sightedness of the Houyhnhnms,he perceives only the Yahoo and is repelled by Don Pedro’s clothes, food, and odor. Gradually,however, he is nursed back to partial health, and is compelled to admit, in the very tones of hisadmired horses, that his benefactor has a “very good human understanding”. But the Gulliverwho writes this book is still under the control of his obsession, and when we last see him heprefers the smell and conversation of his two horses to the company of his wife and children.This is misanthropy in the manner of Timon of Athens, not in the manner of Swift. In the ironiccoda with which the book ends, Swift directs his savage, comic gaze straight at Gulliver and hisinsane pretensions:”My reconcilement to the Yahoo-kind in general might not be so difficult, if theywould be content with those vices and follies only which nature has entitled themto.
I am not in the least provoked at the sight of a lawyer, a pick-pocket, a colonel,a fool, a lord, a gamester, a politician, a whore-monger, a physician, an evidence,a suborner, an attorney, a traitor, or the like. This is all according to the duecourse of things. But when I behold a lump of deformity, and diseases both ofbody and mind, smitten with pride, it immediately breaks all the measures of mySnow4patience; neither shall I ever be able to comprehend how such an animal and sucha vice could tally together”. (Part IV, Chapter 12, Page 345Gulliver soon returns home in wonder over his journeys to these lands. Swift did anexcellent job of hiding a biting criticism of the government and society in which he lived. He didthis by making the characters in the story so fantastic and foreign to the reader that the storycould only be a fairy tale, written for children.
The actions of the people he runs across are soabsurd, and Gulliver seems so innocent, that at first read many people didn't even get what Swiftwas trying to say. There were, however, people who knew Swift's intentions from the start, andgot all of the symbols in the story. Swift's craftiness was successful.
His book was popularbecause it was a compelling adventure tale and also a puzzle. His readers were eager to identifythe various characters and discuss their discoveries, and, as a result, many of them saw politicsand politicians from a new perspective.