A Twofold Approach to This Book Necessary
Gulliver’s Travels has established itself as a classic for young people. Its appeal to young minds is due to the fact that it is, on the surface, an adventure story and a fanciful account of strange and wonderful lands.It is, on a superficial view, a novel of adventure and a tale of wonder. The young mind is greatly attracted by adventures and by fanciful accounts such as we come across in Arabian Nights’ Entertainment. However, it is not enough to describe this book in these terms. It is much more than an adventure story or a fairy tale. On a closer examination it will be found to be a satire, and a bitter one, on mankind in general and on English politics and politicians of the time, in particular. Thus we have to approach this work in two ways: we have to treat it as an adventure story, and we have then to probe it deeper in order to grasp and appreciate its satirical purpose.
Several Adventures in the Course of Gulliver’s Voyages
Gulliver’s Travels tells the story of the various voyages undertaken by a man called Lemuel Gulliver. Every voyage is an adventure in itself. In the course of the first voyage, Gulliver gets ship-wrecked and has to swim .t9 the shore to save his life. On the sea-shore he falls into a sound slumber’ and, when he wakes up, he finds himself a prisoner in chains. In the course of the second voyage, Gulliver’s ship is overtaken by a fierce storm. When, after the storm, the ship casts anchor and a few sailors including Gulliver go to the shore, Gulliver is captured by a giant. In the course of his third voyage, Gulliver’s ship is overtaken by pirates. In the course of his fourth voyage, Gulliver is attacked by the members of the crew of his own ship and is bound hand and foot. Thus each time Gulliver goes through certain difficulties and dangers. All such adventures are sure to fascinate young readers who will find the story to be gripping.
Lilliput, a Kind of Wonder-land
Gulliver’s experiences in the various countries which he visits are also such as will hold the young reader’s attention. Every land which Gulliver visits is a wonderful land, and Gulliver’s experiences everywhere are strange or exciting or amusing. In Lilliput the people are pigmies, hardly six inches in height. The very idea that there are human beings so small is funny. The manner in which several ladders are applied by the Lilliputians to Gulliver’s sides so that they may climb up in order to provide food to him is even more amusing. In the metropolis of Lilliput, Gulliver becomes an object of curiosity, and he is given the name “man-mountain”. Gulliver helps the King of Lilliput to defeat the forces of the enemy country which is called Blefuscu. The manner in which he cripples the enemy fleet is exciting as well as amusing. Then there is the funny episode of Gulliver’s extinguishing a fire in the palace by urinating on it. The customs of the Lilliputians are also a source of great amusement to us.
Brobdingnag Another Wonderful Land
Brobdingnag is another strange and wonderful land. This land is inhabited by monstrous-looking giants who are twelve times the height of Gulliver. Here too Gulliver becomes an object of curiosity for the inhabitants though for the opposite reason. The animals and the insects in this land are also very huge. For instance, a cat here is three times larger than an ox in
; a rat here is of the size of a big dog in England ; the flies, the wasps, the monkeys, and the eagles are also proportionately large. So are the apples and the hailstones. Gulliver meets several mishaps here, and they are all bound to interest the young reader. England
Strange and Surprising Events in Laputa and Lagado
Laputa is yet another wonderful land. Laputa is an island which keeps flying through the air at a height of about two miles from the earth. The manner in which flappers draw the attention of their masters to anything needing their attention is very funny. The mutton, the beef, the pudding, and other eatables are here given geometrical shapes or the shapes of musical instruments. The experiments which are in progress at the
in Lagado are also very interesting like the schemes which are being developed at the school of political projects. Gulliver’s interviews with the ghosts and spirits of the great dead on the Academy of Projectors are also a source of great interest. His experience of the immortal persons is yet another episode of the same kind. island of Glubbdubdrib
The Fanciful Elements in the Voyage to the Land of the Houyhnhnms
Gulliver’s last voyage takes him to the land of the Yahoos and the Houyhnhnms. Here too the element of the marvellous predominates. This is a country in which the horses can talk to one another and can even teach their language to a human being. Gulliver picks up the language of the Houyhnhnms and then has regular conversations with his master who is a horse and with whom Gulliver is able to exchange ideas and information. The Houyhnhnms have a wonderful organization and a perfect system by which they govern themselves. The Houyhnhnms who are governed wholly by reason represent perfection, and by contrast with them the Yahoos are hateful and detestable. The account of the way of life of the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos is also a part of the fanciful story which Swift tells us in this famous work.
The Serious Purpose of This Book: to Vex the World
But, as has already been indicated at the outset, Gulliver’s Travels is much more than an adventure story. It is a great satiric masterpiece. Swift’s object in writing it was to “vex” the world by exposing the evils, follies, and absurdities of human life. A direct and outspoken criticism or condemnation of the follies and faults of human beings is bound to offend the readers. A satire is a veiled and indirect condemnation or indictment of the victims. Gulliver’s Travels is one of the bitterest and most scathing indictments of the human race in English literature. The whole book is written in a fanciful manner, but beneath the fiction and under the surface there lies a serious purpose. Swift’s purpose was not just to divert his readers but to startle and shock them.
Swift’s Attack on Politicians and Political Institutions in Part I
In Part I of the book Swift largely attacks the political institutions and the politicians of his time. Flimnap, the Treasurer in Lilliput, represents Sir Robert Walpole to whom Swift was bitterly opposed. Dancing on a tight rope symbolizes
’s skill in parliamentary tactics and political intrigues. Creeping under a string represents the sycophancy of the King’s favourites. Reldresal represents Lord Carteret who was appointed by Walpole to the office of Lord Lieutenant of Walpole . The phrase, “one of the king’s cushions”, refers to one of King George’s mistresses who helped to restore Ireland to favour after his fall in 1717. The search of Gulliver by Lilliputians may have some reference to a committee which was formed by the Whigs to investigate the conduct of the previous government and especially of Walpole and Bolingbroke who were suspected of treasonable relationships with France and the Old Pretender. The three fine silk threads which were awarded as prizes to the winners of various contests refer to the various distinctions which were conferred by the English King on his favourites. Swift’s satire becomes very amusing indeed when Gulliver speaks of the conflict between the Big-Endians and the Little-Endians who represent the Roman Catholics and the Protestants. Swift is here making fun of hair-splitting theological disputes. The conflict between the High-Heels and Low-Heels is a satirical allusion to the conflict between the English political parties of the time. It is noteworthy that the satire in Part I of the book has particular reference to English politics and politicians of Swift’s own time. Nevertheless, the satire has not lost its power to amuse or entertain us. Oxford
The Bitter Satire in Part II
In Part II, Swift’s satire becomes a little more pungent and bitter. The satire here becomes somewhat corrosive and takes on the character of what is known as “invective”. When Gulliver gives to the King of Brobdingnag an account of the political institutions of
, the latter observes that the history of Gulliver’s country is only a heap of conspiracies, rebellions, murders, massacres, revolutions, and banishments. According to the King, all these are the result of the avarice, hypocrisy, perfidy, cruelty, rage, madness, hatred, envy, lust, malice, and ambition of the people of Gulliver’s country. The King’s conclusion is that the bulk of the people of Gulliver’s country are the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth. We may be sure that this is exactly what Swift himself thought about his countrymen and about mankind in general also. England
The Disgust of the Brobdingnagian King at Certain Other Features of English Life
But the satire in Part II does not end here. We have some more of it when the King reacts with scorn and disgust to Gulliver’s account of the destruction which can be caused by means of gunpowder. The King’s view about the hundreds of books which arc written in
on the art of government is also significant. In the King’s opinion, only common sense, reason and justice, and not books, are needed to run a government. England
The Attack on Unrealistic Philosophers, Scientists, and Academics
The satire in part III is not so bitter as in some of the chapters of Part II. The satire in Part III is, indeed, light-hearted. Here Swift pokes fun at the people whose sole interests are music and geometry and who are so engrossed in their own meditations and cogitations that they do not even have the leisure to make love to their wives. We are also greatly amused by the useless experiments and researches which are going on at the
and at the school of political projects in Lagado. The projectors here are busy finding methods to extract sunbeams out of cucumbers, to convert human excrement into its original food, to build houses from the roof downwards to the foundation, to obtain silk from cobwebs, and so on. All this is meant to be a satire on the work which was being done by the Royal Society in Academy of Projectors in those days. Swift is here ridiculing philosophers, scientists, academics, planners, intellectuals, in fact, all people who proceed according to theory and who become useless when it comes to actual practice. England
The Most Corrosive Satire in Part IV
Part IV of Gulliver’s Travels contains the most scornful, the most incisive, and the most corrosive satire on mankind that we can imagine. Here the Yahoos are intended to represent human beings. Gulliver is astonished and horrified on seeing the physical resemblance between the Yahoos and persons of his own race. By contrast with the Yahoos, the Houyhnhnms or the horses are noble and benevolent animals. The Houyhnhnms are wholly governed by reason, and they lead an orderly life. Indeed, Swift tries to degrade and humiliate the human race when he represents the Houyhnhnms as being superior mentally and morally to the human race. The Yahoos are brutal, unteachable, and mischievous. The Houyhnhnms, on the contrary, are morally so good that there is no word in their language even for lying or falsehood. Apart from paying a tribute to the Houyhnhnms, Swift makes Gulliver launch a direct attack on his countrymen. Gulliver, in his account of his country, dwells upon the exploitation of the poor by the rich, the havoc caused by wars, the mercenary motives behind matrimonial alliances, degrading and shameful methods by which people earn their livelihood, the unscrupulousness of lawyers, judges, physicians, and politicians, and so on. The attack here is very fierce indeed.