Friday, November 19, 2010

“Gulliver’s Travels is primarily an adventure story and a fanciful account of strange and wonderful lands, and therein lies its real charm”. Elaborate and illustrate.

A Classic for Young Readers as an Adventure Story
There is no doubt that Gulliver’s Travels is a story of adventure and that it has several elements in it of a fairy tale. Both adventure and fairy-elements in a story appeal greatly to the young mind.
They have some charm even for the adult mind. But it would be an incorrect view to regard Gulliver’s Travels as merely an adventure story or a fairy tale intended for the entertainment and diversion of young people. Gulliver’s tale is an allegorical satire. In other words, there lies below the surface a deeper meaning. Swift’s real purpose was to expose the follies, absurdities, and evils of mankind in general. However, this book has established itself not only as a satire on mankind but also as a classic for the young readers.
Some of the Difficulties Faced by Gulliver in the Course or His Voyages
Let us, then, take a look at Gulliver’s Travels as a tale of adventure which it doubtless is and as a fanciful account of strange and wonderful lands. The book tells us the story of the various voyages of a man called Lemuel Gulliver. Every voyage is an adventure in itself. There is, first of all, the voyage to a country called Lilliput. Gulliver, in the course of his first principal voyage, gets ship-wrecked, and has to swim to 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 his second voyage, Gulliver’s ship is overtaken by a fierce storm which threatens to wreck the ship and engulf the sailors including Gulliver. However, when, after the storm, the ship casts anchor, and a few sailors including Gulliver himself, are sent to the shore, Gulliver finds himself a captive in the hands of a giant. In the course of his third voyage Gulliver’s ship is overtaken by pirates. The pirates treat Gulliver roughly and, after depriving him of all his belongings, put him on a small boat and set him adrift. Five days later, the boat touches a rocky island where Gulliver gets down, very low in spirits and feeling tired and desolate. 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. Most of the members of this crew had previously been pirates, and now they threaten to throw Gulliver into the sea if he puts up any resistance. After a few days, the ruffians put Gulliver down on the sea-coast and sail away, leaving him alone to fend for himself. Gulliver finds himself in a new country about which he knows nothing at all.
A Story of Risks and Dangers
The above brief account of the various voyages of Gulliver shows the difficulties and dangers that Gulliver faced in the course of his wanderings. Adventure always implies a risk of life or a danger to life. The man who has the spirit of adventure in him is always ready to face risks and dangers. Gulliver sets out nom a comfortable life at home in order to explore unknown countries, knowing full well that he will face many difficulties and hazards. But every time he goes on a fresh voyage willingly and experiences not only difficulties and hardships but also serious dangers to his life. It is a miracle that each time he returns home safely. Such a story is bound to fascinate the young mind because dangers and difficulties never fail to appeal to young people.
The Amusing Experiences of Gulliver in the Strange Country of Dwarfs
Then there are the strange experiences of Gulliver in various lands. Every land which Gulliver visits is a wonderful land, and Gulliver’s experiences in every land are strange or exciting, or amusing. In Lilliput the people are diminutives or dwarfs, hardly six inches in height. The very idea that there are human beings so small is funny. But more amusing than that is the manner in which Gulliver is fed. Several ladders are applied by the Lilliputians to his sides, and about a hundred of them climb up those ladders in order to carry baskets full of meat and drink and put them close to his mouth. Similarly, it has taken nine hundred Lilliputians three hours to raise Gulliver to the level of a huge carriage by which he is carried to the royal court. In the metropolis, Gulliver becomes an object of curiosity, and people come nom far and near to look at him. He is given the name “man-mountain”. Gulliver here lends his support to the King and the government of Lilliput against the island of Blefuscu which has been hostile to Lilliput, and he cripples the enemy fleet, thus winning the appreciation and admiration of the Lilliputian king. One of the most amusing incidents in this part of the book is Gulliver’s extinguishing a fire in the Empress’s apartment by urinating on it. The Empress feels greatly annoyed with this action of Gulliver and moves nom that apartment to a different location. Some of the customs of the Lilliputians are also a source of amusement. For instance, they bury their dead with the heads of the corpses directly downwards because they hold a belief that after eleven thousand moons the dead would rise from their graves and that during this period the earth would turn upside down so that the dead would, on coming back to life, find themselves standing on their feet. Another comic absurdity of the Lilliputians is their manner of writing which is very peculiar, being neither nom the left to the right, like that of the Europeans; nor from the right to the left like that of the Arabians; nor from up to down like that of the Chinese; nor from down to up like that of the Cascagians; but aslant from one comer of the paper to the other “like the ladies in England”. Gulliver has to go through an ordeal when, on being informed that he will be shortly impeached on several charges, he finds it necessary to make good his escape from this country.
Gulliver’s Exciting Experiences in the Country of Giants
In Part II of the book we find ourselves with Gulliver in another strange and wonderful land. This land is called Brobdingnag. This land is inhabited by monstrous-looking giants who are twelve times the height of Gulliver. By contrast with these huge-looking men, Gulliver thinks himself to be as small as the Lilliputians were by contrast with him. Here too Gulliver becomes an object of curiosity for the inhabitants, though for the opposite reason. When Gulliver is first shown by his captor to his wife (who is as huge in size and proportions as her husband), she screams and runs away as a woman in England might do at the sight of a toad or a spider. In other words, Gulliver looks like an insect to the people here. The youngest son in the family of Gulliver’s captor lifts Gulliver by the legs and holds him so high in the air that Gulliver begins to tremble with fear. Then Gulliver sees a cat which is three times larger than an ox in England, and he feels greatly alarmed by its fierceness. When the lady of the house begins to suckle her child, Gulliver feels thoroughly disgusted on seeing the huge, monstrous breasts of the woman, with their nipples about half of the bigness of Gulliver’s head. When Gulliver wakes up from his sleep, he is attacked by a couple of rats which are of the size of a big dog. When Gulliver is afterwards bought by the Queen, he becomes a favourite with her. As a consequence, the royal dwarf begins to feel jealous of Gulliver and plays much mischief with him. On one occasion, the dwarf makes Gulliver fall into a large bowl of cream. On another occasion, he thrusts Gulliver’s whole body into a bone from which the marrow has been taken out. Gulliver also feels uneasy for another reason. There are too many flies in Brobdingnag. The flies here are very large, like all other creatures, and Gulliver feels much troubled by them as they hum and buzz about his ears. He is also much tormented by the wasps, which are as large as the patridges in England. Referring to the royal kitchen Gulliver says that, if he were to describe the size of the kitchen-grate and the size of the pots and kettles, the reader would perhaps not believe him and think that Gulliver is guilty of exaggeration. There are several mishaps during Gulliver’s stay in Brobdingnag. Once an apple, falling from a tree, hits Gulliver on his back and knocks him down flat on his face, because the apples here are also very large. On another occasion, when Gulliver is standing on a grassy plot, there is a sudden shower of hailstones which are nearly eighteen hundred times as large as those in Europe. Gulliver is badly injured by these hailstones. The royal maids of honour often play with Gulliver as if Gulliver were a toy. On one occasion Gulliver is carried off by a monkey which is also very huge, and he is rescued with great difficulty. Eventually Gulliver is carried off by a huge eagle which drops him into the sea from where he is picked up by a passing ship. This is Gulliver’s last adventure on his second voyage.
Gulliver’s Account of the Life in Laputa, Lagado, Etc.
Laputa, the voyage to which is described in Part III of the book, is another wonderful land. Laputa is an island which keeps flying at a height of about two miles from the earth over the continent of Balnibarbi. This in itself is a miracle. The people of Laputa have strange shapes and faces. Their heads are all reclined either to the right or to the left, one of their eyes being turned inward and the other directly up to the zenith. Many of the Laputans are followed by flappers who carry in their hands blown bladders fastened to the ends of short sticks. The function of these flappers is to draw the attention of their masters to anything that might need their attention, because the minds of their masters are so occupied with intense speculations that they can neither speak nor listen to others without being roused by some external action. Another strange feature of life on Laputa is that mutton, beef, pudding, and other eatables are given geometrical shapes or the shapes of musical instruments. When these people want to praise the beauty of a woman or any other animal they do so in geometrical or musical terms. The men on this island are so busy in their cogitations that their wives feel compelled to make love to strangers instead of to their husbands. When Gulliver goes to Lagado, he witnesses the many experiments which are in progress at the Academy of Projectors. There is a project for extracting sunbeams from cucumbers, a project for restoring human excrement to its original food, a new method for building houses by beginning at the roof and working downwards to the foundation, and so on. There are several schemes being developed at the school of political projects also. These are all very amusing and impractical schemes. Gulliver’s visit to the island of Glubbdubdrib is also very interesting because Gulliver here finds himself in a place where ghosts and spirits are in attendance upon the governor and where Gulliver is enabled to hold conversations with the spirits of such great men of the past as Alexander, Hannibal, Aristotle, Homer, and Brutus. Gulliver also sees a group of immortal people in this place. These immortals are feeling wretched and miserable because they long for death which does not come to them.
The Charm of These Accounts
The appeal of all the first three voyages for the young reader is manifest from the above summary. There is plenty of fun and mirth in the accounts of these three voyages. Indeed, some of the episodes are bound to give rise to boisterous laughter among the readers. In other words, the description of some of the incidents is really hilarious. No wonder that one of the early commentators called Gulliver’s Travels a merry work. It is evident, too, that improbability is the keynote of most of the incidents. The grown-up readers, for instance, will not even believe in the existence of Lilliputians and Brobdingnagians. But the young readers are bound to feel excited by descriptions of these strange people and their doings, and will not doubt the existence of pigmies and giants. For them the accounts of these people’s life will have a charm of their own.
Yet Another Wonderland in Part IV of the Book
The country of the Yahoos and the Houyhnhnms, described in Part IV, is also a wonderland. This is a country in which human beings are no better than beasts, while the horses show themselves to be superior to human beings. The horses or the Houyhnhnms are the noblest conceivable animals. They are wholly governed by reason; they have a language of their own which they are able even to teach to a human being like Gulliver; they have their own excellent customs and methods of government; they are guided mainly by the principles of benevolence and kindness. These strange or marvellous beings are free from all kinds of evil, so much so that there is no word in their language for lying or falsehood. They hold a periodical assembly to discuss their affairs and to take necessary action to rectify things which have gone wrong; they have their methods to control their population; and they do not marry for love or for the pleasures of sex but only to reproduce and yet to keep their members under check. The Yahoos, who symbolize human beings, are on the contrary despicable creatures who arouse our disgust and abhorrence. This part of the story is not likely to appeal to the young mind very much because it is replete with symbolism, the understanding of which is essential for the appreciation of the entire part. In this part, Swift’s message is more important than the adventurous elements or the element of wonder and enchantment.
Not Enough to Describe the Book as an Adventure Story
Finally, it must be pointed out that it is not enough to describe Gulliver’s Travels merely as an adventure story or a tale of wonder. We must recognize that in it Swift has lashed human institutions and human passions. It is a satiric masterpiece in which Swift exposes human follies and absurdities, and the consequences of human irrationality.

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