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Science and Technology Swift also parodies the scientists of his day in order to make his point that science for its own sake is not a lofty ideal. Science, and the ability to reason, ought to be used for practical ends, he felt, to address and solve the many real-life problems. He drew upon actual scientific experiments in Part III, when the scientists of Balnibarbi defy the law of nature with such ludicrous experiments as extracting sunshine from cucumbers.
The absurdity of their impracticality—for example, they can't even sew clothes for themselves that fit because their way of measuring is so screwball—makes them objects of ridicule.
Style Point of View Lemuel Gulliver himself narrates the story of Gulliver's Travels, but this first-person narrator is not completely reliable. Though Gulliver is very exact with the details of his travels, and we know him to be honest, sometimes he doesn't see the forest for the trees.
Swift deliberately makes Gulliver naive and sometimes even arrogant for two reasons. First, it makes the reader more skeptical about the ideas presented in the book. Second, it allows the reader to have a good laugh at Gulliver's expense when he doesn't realize the absurdity of his limited viewpoint.
He certainly sounds foolish when extolling the qualities of gunpowder to the peaceful Brobdingnagians, for example. Also, at the end of the novel, the reader can see that Gulliver has turned into a misanthrope hater of humanitybut can hear in his voice both here and in the introductory letter to his publisher that he is proud and arrogant in his belief that humans are Yahoos. Because by the end of the book readers are accustomed to being skeptical of Gulliver's perceptions, one can guess that his misanthropy has something to do with his arrogance.
Humans simply can't be perfect and if we hold ourselves to that ideal we will hate humanity, but Gulliver can't see this truth. Swift claimed that it was not he that was misanthropic, but Gulliver, the narrator he created. Setting Although the fantastic lands that provide the setting for Gulliver's Travels seem unreal today, modern readers should keep in mind that the settings would not have seemed so farfetched to Swift's contemporaries.
The novel was written in the s, and Gulliver travels to areas that were still unknown or little explored during this time. The book was written before the discovery of the Bering Strait between Alaska and Russia, for example, where Brobdingnag is supposedly located.
It was also before the discovery of an effective means of measuring latitude, which meant it was very difficult for sailors to navigate and explore new territory accurately.
Travelogues, or accounts of journeys to foreign lands, were very popular at this time, so the reading public was accustomed to hearing of new geographical discoveries. Thus Gulliver's explorations to new lands, while unusual, would have seemed little different than the strange tales of "exotic" lands in America, Asia, and Africa.
Like the travelogues it parodies, Gulliver's Travels even provides maps of Gulliver's journeys in the book to lend more truthfulness to the story.
Structure Structurally, Gulliver's Travels is divided into four parts with two introductory letters at the beginning of the book. These letters, from Gulliver and his editor Sympson, let us know that Gulliver is basically a good person who has been very much changed by the amazing journeys to follow. The first and second parts set up contrasts that allow Swift to satirize European politics and society.
The third part satirizes human institutions and thinking and is subdivided into four sections that are set in Laputa, Balnibarbi, Glubbdubdrib, and Luggnagg. The first two sections are seen as a critique of sciences and scholars; the Glubbdubdrib section looks at history; and the Luggnagg section at Swift's fears about getting old.
The final section moves from criticizing humanity's works to examining the flawed nature of humanity itself. Utopia The idea of a perfect society, with institutions such as government, school, and churches that are flawless in design, began with the ancient Greeks and was explored by Thomas More's Utopia Many writers before and since Jonathan Swift have toyed with the idea of utopia, and some contemporary writers have even written novels about anti-utopias properly known as dystopiasin which utopian visions have gone terribly wrong—for example, George Orwell 's and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
Both of these authors were fans of Gulliver's Travels. Gulliver finds a near-utopia in the land of Brobdingnag, where war and oppression are unheard of. In this section, Swift incorporated many of the ideas of the social engineers of his day.
Swift's impatience with utopian theories is also evident, however. Because the Brobdingnagians are humanlike, their utopia is not completely perfect. They can be insensitive, treating Gulliver as some sort of pet or toy, and their society includes poor beggars. In Luggnagg, Gulliver is told of a race of men who are immortal, and he imagines that their wisdom must be great, making their society well-ordered and their people happy and content.
Unfortunately, everlasting life does not combat the effects of old age, and the immortals are objects of pity and disgust. Swift comes close to creating a perfect utopia with the Houyhnhnm, but suggests that man can never really fit in a perfect society, because he is by his nature flawed.
Therefore, he can only strive for the ideal, and never reach it. But would we want to? The Brobdingnagian society is imperfect, but the people are wise and humane. While the Houyhnhnm society does not have grief, lying or deceit, greed or lust, ambition or opinion, it also doesn't have love as we know it.
All the Houyhnhnm love each other equally. They chose their mates according to genetics rather than love or passion, and they raise their children communally, because they love all the children equally.
Gulliver wants to rise above the human condition and be a Houyhnhnm, but Swift implies that this is neither possible nor necessarily desirable. Allegory An allegory is when characters or events in a work of fiction represent something from reality, such as actual people, places, events, or even ideas.
In Gulliver's Travels, and especially in Part I, many of the things Gulliver experiences can be linked to actual historical events of Swift's time. Lilliput stands for England, while Blefuscu stands for England's longtime enemy, France. The two-faced Treasurer Flimnap corresponds to the Whig leader Sir Robert Walpole, while the Empress's outrage at Gulliver's extinguishing a palace fire with his urine mirrors the complaints Queen Anne had about Swift's "vulgar" writings.
The numerous allegories to be found in the novel added to satire Swift's readers would have enjoyed. They have also provided critics throughout the years with valuable material for analysis. Historical Context England in the s While Swift was writing Gulliver's Travels in the s, England was undergoing a lot of political shuffling. Although he was not a bad or repressive king, he was unpopular. King George had gained his throne with the assistance of the Whig party, and his Whig ministers subsequently used their considerable gains in power to oppress members of the opposition Tory party.
Swift had been a Tory sinceand bitterly resented the Whig actions against his friends, who often faced exile or worse. Understanding how events in Europe and England led to this political rivalry can help the reader of Swift's novel better understand his satire.
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The Restoration The Restoration era began ina few years before Swift was born. He was supported by the Tories, a political party made up mostly of church officials and landowning noblemen. Protestants who did not support the Anglican church teamed with Roman Catholics to form the opposing Whig party. The main source of contention between the parties was the Test Act ofwhich forced all government employees to receive communion according to the Anglican church's customs.
In effect, this prevented non-An-glicans from holding government jobs. Swift himself supported the act, and even switched from Whig to Tory in because he believed a strong Church of England was necessary to keep the balance of power in the government.
Throughout his life, he felt that institutions such as the church and government had to be strong in order to rein in people's tendency toward chaos and sin; he explored this idea in Gulliver's Travels. Over the years, however, Swift came to believe the Tories were as much to blame as the Whigs for engaging in partisan politics, locking horns over minor issues and bringing the government to a stalemate.
Whenever one party was in favor with the reigning king and in power in the Parliament, it attacked the other party, exiling and imprisoning the opposition's members. Swift satirized their selfish and petty politics in Part I of Gulliver's Travels, where the Lilliputian heir who represented George II, the future king of England has to hobble about with one short heel and one high as a compromise between the two parties that wear different heights of heels. He immediately repealed the Test Act and began to hire Whigs for his government.
The Anglican-dominated Parliament secretly negotiated with William of Orangethe Protestant Dutch husband of James's Protestant daughter Mary, to take over the throne. This was called the Glorious Revolution because no one was killed in the coup.
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William entered the war on the side of Spain, a war the English called William's War. This conflict was satirized by Swift in the war between the Lilliputians England and Blefuscudians England with the Spanish, Dutch, and Germans as allies was fighting France, it was also warring with Ireland.
Irish Catholics wanted freedom from British rule, and England feared that France could invade their country through a sympathetic Ireland.
Peace came about inbut England got almost none of the spoils of war—land in Spain. In order to appear strong, William declared war again, this time on the Spanish and the French. This began the War of Spanish Succession.
Robert Walpole is England's first prime ministerand German-born King George I gives him a great deal of authority to run the country.
Britain's ruler is only a figurehead and the prime minister is the leader who wields real power. The Great Awakening begins to sweep the American colonies, as people are converted to Protestantism by charismatic evangelists. In William died and his daughter Queen Anne ascended the throne.
The war waged on while at home the Whigs and Tories fought amongst themselves. Many of the Whigs were merchants who were profiting from the war, and they wanted the fighting to continue. The landowning Tories wanted the war to cease, because it devalued their property.
Swift helped the Tories in their efforts to stop the war by becoming editor of their newspa-per, the Examiner. His influential writings, along with his friend Bolingbroke's secret negotiations with France, helped end the war in with the Treaty of Utrecht.
Queen Anne seemed ungrateful for these efforts, as she later exiled Bolingbroke and destroyed Swift's chances of a career in the Church of England. Swift was forced to return to Ireland to find a job as an Anglican priest.
Ireland Catholic Ireland had been dominated by the British since the fifteenth century, because England had always been paranoid about a French or Spanish invasion coming through Catholic Ireland. England's restrictive policies had driven Ireland and its people into poverty, which angered Swift. He was incensed when the scientist Sir Isaac Newtongiven the task of overseeing the economics of Ireland, supported a currency law that would further destroy the economy of the Irish.
His anonymously written The Drapier's Letters, inspired the Irish people to unite against England and force the law to be repealed. The Irish protected Swift's anonymity, and for his role, Swift is a hero in Ireland to this day.
The Enlightenment In the midst of all this political back and forth, the optimistic Age of Enlightenment was flourish-ing. Intellectuals, philosophers, and scientists such as John LockeFrancis Baconand Isaac Newton were opening the doors to exploration in many fields, asking new questions, and experimenting.
They discarded the old idea that man is by nature sinful because of Adam and Eve's fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. Man's ability to reason, they claimed, could save him from his tendency to sin.
Man could create a utopia, or perfect society, that solved the problems of humankind. He felt that reason could just as easily be misused for foolish or selfish purposes as good ones, and man could never rise above the tendency toward sin to be able to create utopia on earth. His satire of the folly of Enlightenment scientific and theological musings and experiments in Part III of Gulliver's Travels is followed by his portrayal of a utopian society, the Houyhnhnm's, into which man can never fit.
Critical Overview Gulliver's Travels was quite a success in its time. The first printing sold out immediately and the book was translated into French, Dutch, and German. It appealed to people from all social classes and ages, and readers thought the book was a humorous adventure tale, suitable even for children to read the separate category of books especially for children did not come about until a generation after Swift's death.
Gulliver was perceived as a "happy fellow. By the end of the s, however, people were beginning to see past the fun adventure plot and become aware of Swift's hidden messages. Many were shocked by the negativity of the book and condemned it.
Writer William Makepeace Thackeray said the message of the book was "horrible, shameful, blasphemous … filthy in word, filthy in thought" and "obscene," and certainly proof that Jonathan Swift was "about the most wretched being in God's world.
He noted that the work was "unequalled for the skill with which [the narrative] is sustained, and the genuine spirit of satire of which it is made the vehicle. For a time only Part III was considered acceptable reading, and Part IV was considered exceptionally offensive right up through the s.
InEdmund Gosse urged "decent" people to avoid reading Part IV because of the "horrible foulness of this satire. His contemporary, Churton Collins, said the book had "no moral, no social, no philosophical purpose. In later editions, right up untilthe Lindalinian revolt at the end of Part III was excised because it was probably correctly interpreted as a symbol of the righteousness of a potential Irish revolt.
However, despite the early controversies, critics over the years have come to hail Gulliver's Travels as the greatest satire by the greatest prose satirist in the English language.
An early fan, William Hazlittsaid in that Swift's object had not been to spew venom but to "strip empty pride and grandeur" and "to show men what they are, and to teach them what they ought to be. Indeed, most critics today think that Swift has been misunderstood, probably since many readers have mistakenly assumed that Gulliver, who certainly is a misanthrope at the end, is a mouthpiece for Swift. Swift's bitterness, contemporary critics argue, is not the product of insanity or illness but the inevitable result of a caring, compassionate, religious man who had seen the worst side of human nature.
As a young man, Swift had tried to serve his country through work with political parties, and wanted to serve in the Church of England, but petty politics destroyed his and his friends' plans and drove them into exile. In Ireland, Swift saw the greed of the British drive a country of people to poverty and desperation.
He tried, in Gulliver's Travels, to alert people to the ugliness of human behavior. Yet at the same time, he hoped that the novel, and his other works, would rouse them to strive to do better. Swift denied that he hated people. He wrote, "I have ever hated all Nations, professions, and Communityes and all my love is toward individuals. As for novel itself, critics have generally agreed that Part III is the weakest and least unified of the four sections, possibly because it was the last written.
Some have claimed the fourth section of Part III is an unnecessary departure from the major themes of the book, focusing as it does on Swift's fears of growing old and senile which, in fact, he did. Also, in Part III, Gulliver is merely an observer, which makes the voyage less engaging than the others.
Critics have agreed about what Swift was satirizing in each of the first three voyages. They have disagreed, however, on how to interpret the fourth voyage. Do the Houyhnhnm and Yahoos represent the dual nature of humanity, good and evil? Or do the Houyhnhnm represent Swift's view that utopian thinkers are foolish in their attempts to imagine a perfect human society?
Critics since have generally agreed that the Houyhnhnm are symbols of unattainable human perfection which can be the ideal we strive for, even if we fall short, and the Yahoos represent how far into ugliness we can fall if we lose sight of our ideals. Critics have suggested that Swift intended the novel to be both an attack on mankind and its follies and a honest assessment of mankind's positive and negative qualities.
It is also considered a critique of the greatest moral, philosophical, scientific, and political ideas of Swift's time. The greatest and most lasting accomplishment of Gulliver's Travels may be its ability to encourage readers of any society at any time to raise important questions about mankind's limitations, how we can structure our institutions to bring out the best in people, and what it means to be human.
Criticism Dennis Todd In the following essay, Bloom, a doctoral candidate at Emory University, explores the historical and cultural background of Swift's satire and explains the differing interpretations of the ending of Gulliver's Travels. Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, first published inwas an instant hit, one of the top three sellers of the eighteenth century. It was only one of Swift's many significant works, however. Gulliver's Travels addresses almost all of Swift's primary concerns and involves some of the most important questions in literature and the development of the novel.
Gulliver's Travels remains Swift's most famous and popular work. Ricardo Quintana calls it a "satire taking the form of four imaginary voyages," a formulation which explains why the story does not have the traditional plot structure of rising action-climax-denouement. Because Swift depicts the ills and sins of his society, Gulliver's Travels can feel like a string of episodes tied together. The book gets its unity from Gulliver himself, since his perceptions drive the story and the satire.
Swift uses Gulliver and his voyages primarily to examine problems with contemporary society, such as the evils of politics, humanity's frequent foolishness, and the importance of a thoughtful, self-aware, balanced perspective. In this sense, Gulliver's Travels addresses issues that still worry people today. A recent television version also testifies to the book's continued appeal. Although this version is generally faithful in many places, however, it is no substitute for the book.
Swift's story takes place simultaneously at two points in time and at two levels of meaning. First, it is a recollection: Lemuel Gulliver tells the story of his adventures after they are finished. The story of Gulliver sitting at home writing about his voyages is the "frame narrative," the story of the telling of the story.
Like a frame around a painting, it gives shape to Gulliver's character and to the events that he recounts. As Richard Rodino writes, "Swift the author writes the story of Gulliver the author writing the story of Gulliver the character.
These two levels of time enable Swift to create a work that also has two levels of meaning: By making Gulliver look back on his life and explain it, Swift allows readers to see Gulliver as unreliable, a man whose opinions must be questioned. What Do I Read Next? Many have said that A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift is the best satirical essay ever written. In it, he suggests that the problem of poverty among the Irish which Swift, incidentally, blamed on British policies would be solved if Irish babies were treated as food and fed to the wealthy.
Many of Swift's contemporaries who read the essay were horrified, missing the irony.
Swift's real message was that the upper classes ought to change their deplorable callousness toward the poor. Swift's A Tale of a Tub is a religious allegory featuring three brothers who represent the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and dissenting Christians who believe in a personal, non-institutional form of Christianity. Swift uses his satire and fiction writing abilities to make his point that Anglicism is the happy medium between the egotistic individualism of other Protestants and the rigid institutionalism of the Catholic church.
Swift's The Battle of the Bookspublished along with A Tale of a Tub, is a satire about the purpose of history, which Swift believed was not to pile up facts and events but to develop a moral philosophy. Swift pits ancient books against modern ones in a war that takes place in a library.
Utopia by Thomas More is a classic work of western philosophy. Saint Thomas More wrote this blueprint for an ideal human society in the form of a dialogue between More and a fictional traveler, Raphael Hythlodaeus, who describes a foreign country where the inhabitants's customs bring out the best in their people.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll and respectively are, like Gulliver's Travels, works of satire disguised as children's adventure stories. Both books are fantastical stories about a little girl named Alice who travels through absurd worlds, having fallen down a rabbit hole or stepped into a mirror.
Candide by Francois Voltaire is a funny, satirical novel about a simple fellow named Candide who learns from his travels and his teacher, Pangloss, to be less idealistic and more pragmatic.
He learns that work is rewarding and decides that everything is not for the best after all. He tries to bring democracy to feudal England with less-than-desirable results. The two levels of meaning, the adventure and the satire, come from Swift's use of a popular kind of literature, the travel narrative.
It is important to remember while reading Gulliver's Travels that Swift's world was very different from ours. Captain Cook had not yet sailed around the world; he would not be born until Lewis and Clark would not head west across North America for another seventy years, and much of the continent was still inhabited only by Native American tribes.
It was not unusual to be the first westerners to discover new islands the Dutch found Easter Island into make the first maps of a coast, or to find strange and exotic people, plants, and animals.
The eighteenth-century public was as excited to read about travels to strange lands such as Africa, India, and the Middle Eastas well as North and South Americaas the twentieth-century public is to hear about celebrities.
They were also used to a wider diversity of reading material, and, because it was so hard to prove things were true, were more comfortable with not knowing whether a story was fiction or not. The travel narrative did more than allow Swift to create an exciting "true" story, however. It also gave him a way to criticize the familiar world of eighteenth-century England. Swift "defamiliarized" aspects of English life such as political or social practices by having Gulliver describe them to people who had never encountered them before, or as if they were things he had never seen before.
In some cases, this defamiliarization is amusing. When the Lilliputians search Gulliver's pockets, for example, they find a "Globe, half Silver, and half some transparent Metal: For on the transparent Side we saw certain strange Figures circularly drawn, and thought we could touch them, until we found our Fingers stopped with that lucid Substance. By making aspects of England such as fashions or the government seem strange to Gulliver or the people he meets, Swift could make those aspects seem strange to his readers, which in turn could make readers see how silly or bad these aspects of their lives really were.
But with his unreliable narrator, Gulliver, Swift could also extend his satire from the foolish things people do to the way they judge and think. When Swift wishes to criticize violence and wars, he has Gulliver describe something very comfortable and familiar to English readers—gunpowder—to someone who knows nothing about it.
The response forces readers to question what they otherwise accept as part of life. Gulliver describes how the English put "Powder into large hollow Balls of Iron, and discharged them by an Engine into some City we were besieging; which would rip up the Pavement, tear the Houses to Pieces, burst and throw Splinters on every Side, dashing out the Brains of all who came near. He was amazed how so impotent and groveling an Insect as I these were his Expressions could entertain such inhuman ideas, and in so familiar a Manner as to appear wholly unmoved at the Scenes of Blood and Desolation, which I had painted….
Swift uses perspective as his main theme. In the first two books, Gulliver himself is the wrong size, and Swift exploits the possibilities of Gulliver's inevitable difficulty in perceiving.