Gulliver’s Travels: SummaryMany of the critics who have critiqued Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’sTravels have used the word extraneous more then once. Swift was viewed as aninsane person who was a failure in life. But this is far from the truth. Swiftwrote Gulliver’s Travels, a book that has been assigned to students for years,and it is written from experience.
Swift’s experience with the Tories and theirconflicts with the Whigs caused him to write books that mock religious beliefs,government, or people with views differing from his own. In one of these books,Gulliver’s Travels, Swift criticizes the corruption of the English government,society, science, religion, and man in general. In Gulliver’s first travel, in which he visited Lilliput, Gulliver isfaced with the minute people, called Lilliputians. Now while this is thepremise for a fantasy story, Swift uses the events within to make severecriticisms of England between reigns of Queen Anne and George the first.Order now
Thepeople of Lilliput are about six inches tall, and there size signifies thattheir motives, acts, and humanity are in the same, dwarfish (Long 276). In thissection, the royal palace is accidentally set on fire, containing the empressinside. Instead of making his way across town, to the ocean, squashing thepeople of Lilliput as he goes, Gulliver makes use of his urine to save thepalace. While this vulgar episode was a display of bravery, it infuriated theemperor, causing revenge to be vowed on Gulliver.
Rather then be happy thatboth the emperor and the palace are not in ruin, the littleness of thegovernment and the people in general is displayed in this act. Another displayof this is the fact that Gulliver is used as the Emperor’s absolute weapon, butthe emperor only uses him to conquer his world of two islands. This makes theemperor’s ambition seem extremely low (Bloom, Interpretations 84-5). Swift also criticizes the religious beliefs of the Lilliputians andEngland in the first story. In Lilliput, Ministers were chosen strictly onagility, or their ability to walk a tightrope or stick jumping. They were ableto maintain their rank of minister as long as they could keep these defeatingthese tasks (Swift, Writings 89).
The political parties of the English government are represented by theconservative High Heels who depict the Tories, and the progressive Low Heels, orWhigs. As per their names, the distinguishing mark of the parties is the heightof their heels. Within these two parties, Swift criticizes the Englishpolitical parties, and the Prince of Wales (Brady 21). Swift also mocks thereligion war that was going on in England, through the use of the war betweenLilliput, and its nearest neighbor, Blefuscu. Swift’s use of the terms HighHeels and Low Heels to compare the meaningless battles of the Whigs and Tories,such as the height of heels (Swift, Writings 81).
With Gulliver’s next travel, we find him in Brobdingnag. His voyageshows us the filthy mental and physical characteristics of man. Here, Gulliveris confronted with an adult nurse. The nurse’s repulsive action of revealingher breasts to Gulliver. This reminds him of how the Lilliputians found hisskin full of crater like pores, and stumps of hair growing from them. The odorof the immense creatures is offending, and it caused Gulliver to recall the factthat the Lilliputians were also offended of his body odor (Bloom,Interpretations 27-8).
In Laputa, Gulliver is confronted with the old age Struldbuggs, whichlook utterly hideous resulting from old age, and the deterioration of theirbodies. The Yahoos from the land of Houyhnhnms are filthy, uncivilizedcreatures, who use their own dung as a weapon. In these descriptions, Swiftcriticizes both the moral and physical corruption of man (Bloom, Critical Views87). Gulliver’s first owner in Brobdingnag represents the selfishness of man.
Gulliver is constantly displayed in public, abused for the profit of the owner. When his owner finds out that Gulliver is weakening, he sells him immediately,at a high price in order to milk every last penny out of Gulliver. Gulliver’s third voyage, to the floating island of Laputa is one of themost satirical of the whole book. In this voyage Swift criticizes the RoyalSociety of England, in which he says is composed of useless philosophers,inventors, and scientists. The floating island signifies that the inhabitantsare composed of the same airy constitution as the environment (Long 276).
Projects done by such people are summed up by “the Universal Artist,” whodirects his followers to turn useful things into the exact opposite, whichresults in useless achievements. Some of the experiments held were to createtangible air, wool-less sheep, and horses with stone hooves. The flying islanditself expresses not only the desertion on the common earth of reality but theirconversion of the universe to a mechanism and of living to a mechanical process(Bloom, Interpretations 53). Finally, Gulliver travels to the land of the Houyhnhnms.
After hereaches land, Gulliver comes across a pack of Yahoos and is instantly appalledby them. There he quotes, “Upon the whole, I never beheld in all my travels sodisagreeable and animal, or one against which I naturally conceived so strong anantipathy” (Swift, Text 215). This statement is at best ironic, becauseGulliver never saw the resemblances between the Yahoos, and himself. Afterwards,he encounters the rational Houyhnhnms and he immediately realizes the commoncharacteristics he has in common with the Yahoos. He states, “my horror andastonishment are not to be described, when I observed, in this abdominal animal,a perfect human figure” (Swift, Text 220). Gulliver is amazed to see rational figures acting in such brutal figures,but he later realizes that they regarded him as the brutal beast.
TheHouyhnhnms compare Gulliver and the Yahoos and find many similarities betweenthe two. The only difference was that Gulliver, and mankind, had learned thebenefits of clothing, and he, at times could be a rational creature. Swift portrays the Yahoos as savage animals with human characteristics,which is the biggest mockery of mankind in the whole book. The Yahoos were sogreedy, that they would fight over enough food to feed an entire army of fiftysoldiers, just to keep it to themselves.
They would poison their own bodies, bysucking a root, similar to alcohol, to reach a high. The female population ofthe Yahoos are also given characteristics of the ladies of the royal stature. Their gestures of hiding behind bushes and trees, looking at the passing bymales, gives the impression of a woman hiding her face behind a fan, whilelooking flirtatiously over her shoulder. The smell associated with the femaleYahoos, is similar to the perfume ladies wear to attract men (Brady 108). Bythe time Gulliver is returned to England, he becomes a complete antisocial, whois disgusted by the sight of his own wife and children.
Gulliver’s desire tobecome a Houyhnhnm gives the reader the impression that he is a pathetic man,who strives to become someone he can never be. Through Gulliver, Jonathan Swift travels to four different foreigncountries, each representing a corrupt part of England. Swift criticizes thecorruption of these parts, and focuses on the government, society, science,religion, and man. Not only does swift criticize the customs of each country, hemocks the naive man who has the inability to figure out the double meaning ofthings. Gulliver, being gullible himself, believes everything he is told, whichsymbolizes the irony of the English system. Works CitedHarold, Bloom, ed.
Modern Critical Views, Jonathan Swift. New York: ChelseaHouse Publishers, 1986. Brady, Frank, ed. Twentieth Century Interpretation of Gulliver’s Travels. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc. , 1968.
Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels, and other Writings. New York: BantamBooks, Inc. , 1962.
Harold, Bloom, ed. Modern Critical Interpretations of Gulliver’s Travels. NewYork: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986. Long, William J. “Jonathan Swift,” English Literature. Boston, Mass.
: Ginn andCompany, 1964. Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels, An Annotated Text with Critical Essays. United States: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc.
, 1961. English