Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s travels has a very pessimistic view of human kind
Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s travels has a very pessimistic view of human kind. The genre of the book is satirical therefore you can expect the tiny yet very pretentious Lilliputians to be a symbol. In my opinion, they represent misplaced human pride.
Lilliputians seem to represent the main flaws of humans. For example excessive pride, selfishness and hypocrisy. Swift chose the smallest race in size from his travels to be the most vain, overblown and superficial which is obviously, very ironic. It portrays well the fact that we consider ourselves to be the most important beings in this universe when we have been around for such a ridiculously small portion of the history of the earth. In the same way, Lilliputians see themselves and show themselves as extremely important and superior which is absurd and not very realistic given their size. They represent other flaws like selfishness and hipocrisy when they are so generous and hospitable toward Gulliver only to use him later on. Of all the places where Gulliver goes, the place with the most conspiracy and backstabbing is Lilliput.
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A very good example of a Lilliputian is obviously the Emperor. Even though he is just as tiny as the rest of them, he is frightening because of his tendency to execute his subjects for practically no reason at all. The Emperor’s belief that he can control Gulliver seems quite silly but he manages to impress him quite deeply nevertheless. He comes across as amusing but sinister to the readers. He is an absolute king and as a role model shows pride and cruelty. He also uses Gulliver to gain more power. In my opinion, he is not only small in size but morally small. In the character of the Emperor, Swift satirizes political power.
I think that the ongoing war between Lilliput and Blefuscu is about wounded vanity. It isn’t over anything considerable like land but over how you are supposed to eat an egg. This probably satirizes wars between Catholics and Protestants over minor differences of their beliefs as they worship the same god and use the same holy scripture. It also represents in a more broad sense the sometimes really unimportant reasons people go into war. The passage where the Lilliputians use Gulliver by sending him to go steal Blefuscu’s navy actually refers to a historical event. In the book, Gulliver goes over to Blefuscu, ties all the boats from their navy together and simply drags them back over to Lilliput. By this, Swift is making reference to an incident around 1665 where the story says that during the war between the Dutch and the British, the Dutch sailed into the British port, attached the totality of the British navy to their own and simply sailed away with it.
In my opinion, the technique Swift uses to get interest out of his readers is black humour. The entire book is a satire, it is full of references and sometimes direct attacking. Of course, most of the time it is subtle so probably not noticeable by everybody. It seems to me that Swift was pretty free in his writing and didn’t attach much importance to what people would say. Other techniques he shows is an incredible imagination. Swift writes the character of Gulliver to describe Lilliput’s fantasy world in a very matter of fact and detailed manner. This allows the reader to really get into the environment as he doesn’t have to imagine too much the fantastic part of the book. Gulliver also describes all the events in a very simple manner and never really analyses Lilliput’s culture in depth. This allows the reader to draw his own conclusions on characters and Lilliputians’ culture and actions.
I think Swift’s aim in writing the Lilliput’s section was to metaphorically show the human mentality and its flaws. The vain and self-centered attitude we have, a good example of this is Skyresh or Flimnap. It also allowed him to satirize war, political power and how absurdly important people can think they are. He pulls this off quite well using satire and a black sense of humour which is effective, if of course people understand it.