The Life And Time Of Jonathan Swift

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,

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.