Essay, Research Paper
When a writer develops a novel, he/she often incorporates events, people,
and places from his/her own life into the story he/she creates. Gulliver?s Travels,
written by Jonathan Swift, is a prime example of this theory. In every book,
chapter, page, and even word, Swift can be seen. His moral, scientific,
philosophical, and political views made for a story of awesome potential. A story
that touched upon every aspect of human nature.
Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin on November 30, 1667. He had a rather
warped childhood being that he was brought up by his uncle Godwin and without a
mother or father. His father died before he was born and his mother just couldn?t
afford to take care of him. Though emotionally impoverished, he was still well
provided for and attended only the best schools in Ireland.
After graduating from Trinity College, Swift became secretary of the
statesman Sir William Temple. He wished to enter politics but settled for the
church, in which he was ordained in 1694. In 1702 he moved to England in hope of
political appointment. There, in 1704, he published his first works, the Tale of a
Tub, a satire on corruption in religion and learning.
In 1710 the government passed from Whig to Tory control. The Tories,
recognising Swift?s abilities, quickly made him the editor of their journal, the
Examiner . Thus, he became an unofficial power in English politics as well as a
leading writer. Swift wrote in support of the Peace of Utrecht, which ended the War
of the Spanish Succession with France and Spain. This war is recounted in Book I
as the war between Lilliput and Blefuscu. He managed to turn the stream of
popularity against the Whigs. And in fact, dictated the political opinions of the
English nation. He delivered Ireland from plunder and oppression with such force
as an author he could in fact persuade the people(Johnson 430). Because of this he
became a largely respected man, but a largely hated man as well. Swift?s political
power ended with another change in government in 1714. He became the deanery
of St. Patrick?s Cathedral in Dublin, a post that carried prestige but also limited
him to Ireland,where he would have to remain the rest of his life.
Ireland in the 18th Century was a colony of England, denied self government
and held back by English landlords. He devoted the rest of his life criticising
British rule in yet more satiric pamphlets such as ?A Modest Proposal,? and his
most famous satire Gulliver?s Travels.
In this work, he used Gulliver, as a tool in which he could anonymously
speak(Hunting 92). Each of the four voyages releases a fantasy or dream situation
to reflect the thoughts of Swift through the use of satire.
In Book I of Gulliver?s Travels, Gulliver?s ship is destroyed in a great storm,
and he wakes up in a land of little people, less than six inches tall, who call
themselves Lilliputians. Gulliver is gradually accepted by the Lilliputians, and
granted more and more freedoms over time. He eventually learns that the present
emperor?s grandfather had issued an edict ordering all subjects to break their eggs
at the small end only. Soon a civil war broke out between those who broke their
eggs at the big end and those who broke their eggs at the small end. Many of the
Big-Endians sought exile on a nearby island known as Blefuscu.
When the Emperor demands that Gulliver seize the Blefuscu fleet he does
so, but when the emperor demands he destroy their empire he refuses. In no time
at all, Gulliver goes from ahero to a criminal accused of treason. His
punishment would be loss of sight but Gulliver manages to escape and take shelter
on Blefuscu. There, he found a small boat and left for England. He was picked up
by an English merchant ship and brought back to England.
All of Part I of the travels is an allegorical account of British politics during
the turbulent early 18th Century. England was a limited monarch, led by a king,
queen, and parliament. The Lilliputians small size exemplifies their incredibly
ridiculous quarrels, and their natural inferiority to something larger. The war
between the big-endians and small-endians most likely depicts the tensions
between France and England over religious differences. In addition, the two
Lillipution parties clearly represent the two main English political parties, the
Tories and the Whigs(Ross 467).
In Book II of Gulliver?s Travels , Gulliver is left on a strange island full of
giants. He is discovered by a harvester and placed in the care of his nine year old
daughter. Eventually he becomes jester for the queen and is granted a luxurious
box in which to stay. One day, by the shore, the box is carried away by a great bird
and dropped in the sea. Once ageing, he gets picked up by English sailors and
brought back to England.
Now Gulliver is smaller and ridiculous one and reduced to doing sideshows.
He complains of the English government. ?They love, fight, dispute, cheat, and
betray,? stated Gulliver. The Brobdingnagians, however, do not. In this book,
Britain is inferior. This book represents Swift?s views on the corruption and
dishonesty found in the British system. How can a government be fare and
effective when it?s corrupt(Ross 468)?
In the third book, Gulliver is taken onto the flying island of the Laputans
and some of its colonies nearby. It is occupied by men preoccupied with science
and math. They?re so trapped in thought that they miss out on life.Gulliver
visits the projectors at the Academy who study impractical ventures and have
caused the destruction of many good lands. Next he visits Lagado where he meets
many among the dead. And lastly, he visits Lugnagg, land of the immortals. He
later learns that their beauty is only outer and they suffer all other pains of aging.
The king gives Gulliver a letter to give to the Emperor of Japan. This letter will
allow him passage onto a ship home to England.
This book first shows Swift?s view on reason. How to much reason can be
unnatural and shadow the human inside of us. It also shows how to much theory
and philosophy not only distorts reality but damages it as well. It develops Swift?s
fear of old age(Case 474).
In Part IV Gulliver floats to a strange island, the land of the Houyhnhnms.
The Houyhnhnms are horses governed totally by reason. They have created a
society that is perfectly ordered, perfectly peaceful, and spared the torments of
passion. The only exception is the Yahoos; humans on the outside but savage on
the inside. Gulliver, as neither a Houyhnhnms or Yahoo fits no where on this
Gulliver tries to best become a Houyhnhnms. He learns to talk like them,
walk like them, tries to even think and act like them. However, he doesn?t succeed
and realises this isn?t where he belongs. Back in England he goes mad. He can
reconcile himself to other people, whom he considers Yahoos. Neither can he come
to terms with the Yahoo part of himself. He can barely tolerate the presence of his
own family and has as little to do with them as possible. He says his aim in
Gulliver?s Travels is to correct the Yahoos. Having been exposed to the
Houyhnhnms, he feels it to be his duty to do so.
In this book, Swift attacks man in general, and makes us aware of the faults
of the human mind(Desfontaines 427). The Houthnhnms speak clearly, act justly
?and have simple laws. They do not argue because they all know what is right and
they all know what is true. They do not suffer from uncertainties as does man but
they are so reasonable that they lack emotion. Greed, politics, and lust play no
part in their lives yet often seem to be the driving force in ours.
However, some people believe that the Yahoos didn?t necessarily represent
humans due to the description given by Swift. He describes them as creatures with
claws who climbed tree as if they were squirrels. This suggests that they were
meant to represent the opposite of the Houyhnhnms but not the human
Swift offers no solutions to the difficulties he makes Gulliver undergo.He
traces the problems to the nature of man. His view of man are sensible. He views
man as an animal capable of reasoning, but he is not a fully rational animal. He
often looks at man as a deprived creature.
Gulliver?s Travel could be considered an attack on human nature or simply
an assessment of human strengths and weaknesses (Drapier 420).Regardless, It
represents his views on all topics ranging from religion to politics to human nature.
Jonathan Swift was a brilliant man of originality who stood up to thousands in a
time when righting about such things was considered dangerous and sometimes life
Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver?s Travels. New York: Pocket Books, 1996.
?Case, Arthur.?Literary Criticism. Vol.1. p.472-473.
Cook, Richard.Jonathan Swift as a Tory Pamphleteer. London: Washington,1967.
?Desfontaines,Abbe.?Literary Criticism. Vol.1. p.427.
Hunting, Robert. Jonathan Swift. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1967.
?Johnson,Samuel.?Literary Criticism. Vol. 1. p.430.
?Jonathan Swift:1667-1745.? Literary Criticism From 1400 To 1800. Vol. 1.
?Ross, John F.? Literary Criticism.Vol.1. p.466-471.
?Sherian, Thomas.?Literary Criticism.Vol.1. p.432.
?Tuveson, Ernest.?Literary Criticism.Vol.1 p.487-488.
Ward, David. Jonathan Swift. London:Methuen, 1973.
?Williams, Kathleen M.? Literary Criticism From 1400 To 1800. Vol.1. p.485-487.