out of an assignment, but that is, more or less, whathappened in the case of Gullivers Travels. The Martinus Scriblerus Club proposed to satirize thefollies and vices of learned, scientific and modern men. Each of the members was given a topic, andSwifts was to satirize the numerous and popular volumes describing voyages to faraway lands. Tenyears passed between the Scriblerus project and the publication of Gullivers Travels, but when Swiftfinished, he had completed a definitive work in travel literature. Moreover, he had completed whatwas to become a childrens classic (in its abridged form) and a satiric masterpiece.
Swifts maincharacter, Gulliver, is a man who only pays attention to surface meanings and events. Gulliver is also,as might be expected, gullible. Gulliver narrates details leaving the reader to ponder the deepermeaning. Gullivers naive nature permits the reader to perceive the humor and the irony in GulliversTravels in the readers own way, thus, making the novels fascination seem inexhaustible.
As the narrator of the Travels, Gulliver never detects the double meanings of events.
Gulliver,a sailor and a surgeon, always notices the details but is not in the habit of contemplating significance. He gives the same deadpan, pedestrian account of the beginning of his voyages that he does when hetells of his foreign adventures. Gulliver believes almost everything he is told because he lacks theimagination to see contradictions. For example, when Gulliver travels to Lilliput, the Emperorentertains Gulliver with some court diversions. The diversions, however, prove to be quite differentthan one might expect; they are not plays nor masques nor musical performances. I was divertedwith none so mush as that of the rope-dancers, performed upon a slender white thread…this diversionis only practiced by those persons who are candidates for great employments, and high favor, atcourt…whoever jumps the highest without falling, succeeds in the office. (pgs 53-54)This passagedescribes the Lilliputian court custom by which men seeking political office demonstrate their agilityin rope dancing, among other activities. How long and how skillfully a candidate can dance upon arope determines his tenure in office. Besides the rope dancing there are other diversions. Noblemencompete for official favor by crawling under or leaping over a stick. They are then rewarded withvarious colored threads. The jumping and crawling games that Gulliver witnesses and describessound innocent, like games children might play. To Gulliver the diversions seem as nothing morethan …country shows, wherein they exceed all nations I have known, both for dexterity andmagnificence. (pg53)Gulliver accepts rope dancing as a valuable accomplishment and even praisesthe politicians for their agility. Unlike Gulliver, the reader is able to notice the folly of a system thatadvances politicians for rope-dancing; realizing that the significance of these diversions is far frominnocent. The crawlers and jumpers perform for the amusement of the monarch and are rewardedwith either blue, red or green threads. In this passage Jonathan Swift is satirizing politicians. Politicians, Swift is saying, are always ready to debase themselves by performing humiliating games,hoping to win the favor of the monarch or obtain ribbons, money, or titles. Similarly, Swift issatirizing the methods by which politicians are chosen in England in the eighteenth century. It isevident that the Lilliputian method of competing for office is comical. However, in eighteenthcentury England (as well as throughout world history) there have been many political elections whichdo not deviate in absurdity from rope-dancing. For example, politicians have often been chosenthrough bribery and trickery. Thus, the satire in Gullivers Travels is applicable to all time periods.
During Gullivers stay in Lilliput he discovers that there is a war between the nation of Lilliputand Blefuscu. From Reldresal, the Principal Secretary of Private Affairs, Gulliver learns that theconflict started over a religious question: at which end should the faithful break their eggs? at the bigend? or at the little end? …the primitive way of breaking eggs before we eat them, was upon thelarger end: but his present Majestys grandfather, happened to cut one of his fingers. Whereupon theEmperor his father published an edict, commanding all his subjects, upon great penalties, to break thesmaller end of their eggs. The people so highly resent this law, that our histories tell us there havebeen six rebellions raised on that account: wherein one emperor lost his life, and another hiscrown…and it is estimated that eleven thousand persons have, at several times, suffered death, ratherthan submit to break their eggs at the smaller end. (pgs 62-63)He explains further that theBlefuscudians break their eggs in the original style, at the big end, but the Lilliputians must breaktheirs on the smaller end. There is no compromise to be made since Lustrog, the prophet of theirreligion, has said that All true believers shall break their eggs at the convenient end. (pg 63)Thedeath of eleven thousand Lilliputian rebels seems vicious and, at the same time, ridiculous becauseGulliver is credulous enough to accept the importance of the egg question. To the Lilliputians, thequestion of how to break an egg is very significant. It is a moral and a political issue and Gulliveraccepts it as such. However, the absurdity of such a quarrel is evident. Swift, however, is comically satirizing the many disputes which rage within Europe in the early seventeen hundreds. Swift ispoking fun of numerous events including the holy wars. By portraying the ridiculousness of the eggdilemma Swift hints to many wars in Europe which have started over similarly insignificant issues. The war between the Lilliput and Blefuscu can represent the war between Catholic France andProtestant England. Similarly, this passage can be employed in satirizing many of the present cissies. Throughout the novel Swift satirizes human nature. In the beginning of Gullivers journey when Gulliver arrives in Lilliput he is the man mountain, larger and superior than the Lilliputians. During his stay in Lilliput Gulliver is just, benevolent, obedient, as well as humble. Gulliver is verycautious not to injure the Lilliputians when they approach him. Ironically, Gulliver also yields to theEmperor who is a small doll in comparison to Gulliver. My gentleness and good behavior hadgained so far on the Emperor and his court, and indeed upon the army and people in general, that Ibegan to conceive hopes of getting my liberty in a short time. (pg 53)This passage from the textshows how compliant Gulliver was even though he could have obtained his freedom by force at anytime. Similarly, Gulliver was pacifistic and did not wan violence. The Emperor seemed to think ofnothing less than reducing the whole empire of Blefuscu into a province, and governing it by aviceroy; of destroying the Big-Endian exiles, and compelling that the people break the smaller endsof their eggs. But I endeavored to divert him from this design, by my arguments drawn form thetopics of policy as well as justice: and I plainly protested, that I would never be an instrument ofbringing a free and brave people into slavery. (pg 66)Upon Gullivers arrival in Brobdingnag, however, Gullivers persona changes dramatically. Due to Gullivers insignificant size in comparison to the Brobdingnagians Gulliver becomes an objectof curiosity. He is not treated as a person by the natives but rather as a vermin or a plaything. Gulliver tells the king of England and its social and political system. The king laughs at the littlepeople and Gulliver begins to agree with the kings view of how comical Gullivers country sounds. However, many mishaps do not let Gulliver forget that he is not a giant. Gulliver is humiliated,threatened physically, and emotionally hurt. Despite all, though, Gulliver is still tempted to bragabout himself. He is still not aware that the giants are morally superior. When speaking to the kingGulliver is naive and idolizes his countrys customs and institutions. Gulliver decides that the kingslack of enthusiasm for England springs from his ignorance of the country. Gulliver decides to becomethe kings tutor. …I told him of an invention to make a certain powder, into an heap of which thesmallest spark of fire falling, would kindle the whole in a moment…a proper quantity of this powder…could destroy ranks of an army at once, batter the strongest walls to the ground, sink down ships,tear down houses dashing out the brains of all who came near. (pg 134)In Brobdingnag Gulliveris reduced to a boastful, hostile and contemptuous person.
During his last travel Gulliver is marooned in the land of the Houyhnhnms where his characterundergoes another transformation. On this island Gulliver discovers the Utopian-like society of theHouyhnhnms, who are horses. He also encounters the beastly Yahoos who remind him of ape-likebeasts. Gulliver does not want to be associated with the filthy and disgusting Yahoos and strides tobe more like the Houyhnhnms. The Houyhnhnms, however, see Gulliver more as a Yahoo then oneof their own. Gulliver tries be more like the virtuous Houyhnhnms and describes England to hismaster. His master is appalled by the idea that Yahoos run the country and finds the English societycruel and barbaric. As time passes Gulliver begins to agree with the Houyhnhnms and thinks thatEuropean people are like the Yahoos. …my master daily convinced me of a thousand faults inmyself, whereof I had not the least perception before, and which with us would never be numberedeven among human infirmities. I had likewise learned from his example an utter detestation of allfalsehood or disguise; and truth appeared so amiable to me, that I determined upon sacrificing everything to do. (pg 244) Gulliver would have remained in this society forever had he not been exiled by the Houyhnhnms. When Gulliver is found by a sea captain Gulliver states that …I would sufferthe greatest hardships rather than return to live among Yahoos. (pg 270) Upon Gullivers returnto England he can not bear to be near the foul smelling Yahoos, and it takes him several months toget accustomed to England. Thus, on the last journey Gulliver becomes a more virtuous person anddisapproves of the Yahoos. Swift uses this transition of Gullivers nature to show how mans moralsand beliefs can be reshaped. Through Gullivers travels Swift is able to satirize humanity itself, byshowing how Gullivers ideals are reshaped by different societies.
George Orwell was correct in stating that Gullivers Travels is a book which it seemsimpossible for me to grow tired of…I have certainly not read it less than half a dozen times since. Itsfascination seems inexhaustible. This quotation seems accurate due to the skill with which Swift haswritten the novel. Swift created Gulliver, a jejune individual, to narrate the travels. Due to Gulliversimpartial nature and his regard for detail the novel is regarded as a masterpiece. Since Gulliver doesnot draw any conclusions and is rather gullible it is the readers job to make sense of all thatGulliver observes. Swift uses satire throughout the novel to point out faults in society. This satireis finds fault not only with society but with human nature and can be applicable to any time period.
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