Gulliver’s Travels

Introduction to Gulliver’s Travels

A very popular satire as well as one of the favorite children’s books, Gulliver’s Travels, is widely taught in schools and colleges as a syllabus book across the globe. Gulliver’s Travels was written by Jonathan Swift, an Irish author. This satirical travelogue was first published in 1726 and hit the headlines at that time for its biting satire and hidden attacks on the politicians, religious clergy, and a plethora of travelogues appearing at that time. The book has achieved the status of the classics of the English language, has impacted the world, specifically the children. Robert McCrum has considered it one of the best 100 novels during his calculated assessment of the best 100 novels in 2015.

Summary of Gulliver’s Travels

The story starts with the self-revelatory letter of Lemuel Gulliver, an English surgeon, who takes to navigate seas to lift his spirits after a business failure. However, the story goes in a linear fashion in that he goes from one place to another and narrates important happenings in an impassioned tone.

One of the first travels is to the world of Lilliput, the land of the small people in the size of 6 inches(15cm), where he lands after his ship is torn apart during a storm. He finds himself in the captivity of the little people who tie him with tiny threads and shots needle-like arrows at him when he tries to free himself. Soon he finds himself learning their language to converse with them. He finds them highly honorable people with traits of hospitality, though, a bit violent. He visits their land and joins them in everything until he differs from them in the matter of war with their neighbor, Blefuscu, though, he helps them bring the Blefuscu’s whole fleet singlehandedly. He also learns about their interesting politics, differences, creeds, and concepts about eating, breaking eggs, and superstitions in doing certain things. Despite providing great assistance and having such an understanding, he soon becomes a pariah for committing supposed treason of urinating on the regal palace that wants immediate assistance during the fire. Sensing a threat to his life, he flees to Blefuscu and sets sail back to England.

He stays with his family for a while and soon starts another voyage after being fed up with his stay. He soon finds himself coincidently landing in Brobdingnag, the land of the giants in comparison to which Gulliver himself looks like a Lilliputian. When one of the giants, working as a farmer, discovers him in the field, they are very surprised to look at such a small creature and play with Gulliver, while Gulliver minutely observes and records their social manners. Not only their giantess but also their social life where politicking is non-existent seems entirely different from the Lilliputians. The farmer and his daughter Glumdalclitch take care of him, also exhibited him for money. He was very exhausted and couldn’t perform anymore.

That’s when the farmer sells Gulliver to the Queen for ransom. Gulliver makes an exception of going to live with the Queen only if Glumdalclitch came with him as a caretaker. During his stay, he is abducted by a monkey, fights giant wasps when they entered the small house that is specially made for him by the Queen. However, finally, he leaves them when an eagle accidentally takes his cage and drops him in the sea.

During his next travel, he lands on the land of Laputa, a floating island, where intellectuals enjoy life. Despite their intellectuality, they wreak havoc. On the other land, Balnibarbi. The competitive scientific research going on both the lands is entirely insane as far as the welfare of the residents of both the lands is concerned. Their experiments were just a blind pursuit of science rather than to meet the practical ends like extracting sunbeams from cucumber, softening the marble in order to use as a pillow. This was a satire on Royal Society and especially Issac Newton on a professional as well as personal level.  Swift never really understood the purpose of Newton’s experiments and theories, also his stance on religion. The mention of rivalry between Laputa and Balnibarbi is in reality the power relations between British and Ireland. Laputa intimidates Balnibarbi into blocking the sun or rain or crushing their land by lowering Laputa. Mocking the threats from the English to the Irish.

From there Gulliver reaches Glubbdubdrib, where he meets and converses with historical figures from antiquity and the present time. He also visits Struldbrugs and Luggnag where he meets cynics and then visiting Japan, he comes back where rest is nowhere, for he again departs for the land of Houyhnhnms where horses are rational animals, while Yahoos are brute apes resembling the humans. Gulliver lives there for some time to exchange views about his world and their world. He even decides to spend the rest of his life with them as he appreciates their sincerity, hard work honesty, and simple life principles. Many months pass, Gulliver almost settles at the land of Houyhnhnms. After an unfortunate incident, however, Gullivers time with them comes to an end.

At the assembly of Houyhnhnms, Gulliver was ruled as a Yahoo who can’t live with his master anymore because it would a threat to civilization. His master gives him time to build a canoe to go back to his land and then returns. He is heartbroken but the master of  Houyhnhnms encourages him to find his destiny. When he boards a Portuguese ship, the borders are surprised when Gulliver expresses his disgust at the sight of Captain Pedro de Mendez who Gulliver thought of as yahoo but was a kind and wise man. He reaches England with the claim of having English rights on the lands he has visited. He couldn’t ingest the idea of him living with Yahoos, so he avoids his family and spends time in stables talking to his horses.

Major Themes in Gulliver’s Travels

  1. Human Physical Condition: The mention of diminutive human beings, then giants, and then of different shapes in different voyages Gulliver comes across show the main thematic strand that runs throughout the book. In the voyage to Lilliput, he sees Lilliputians, and in the voyage to Brobdingnag, he comes across giants. He also meets different people of different shapes, sizes, and different mental capacities during his voyages to Glubbdubdrib and the land of Houyhnhnms where he meets brutish apes as well as rational horses. These are different physical conditions of human beings that demonstrate the deep observation of the author as pointed out through Gulliver’s experience.
  2. Importance of Education: Gulliver has stressed the importance of education in the very early pages of his voyages, declaring that most of his leisure is spent reading. His encounter with the Lilliputians and Brobdingnagians makes him aware of different types of knowledge being pursued by these creatures. However, it is quite contradictory that creatures, like human beings such as Yahoos, run away from knowledge, while the Houyhnhnms are pursuing knowledge and education as sane creatures.
  3. Narrow-Mindedness and Enlightenment: In the first voyage Gulliver observes shrewdness, judging nature, violence, and the narrow-mindedness of the Lilliputians. He also witnesses the enlightenment during his other voyages and makes the readers aware of how political situations turn from good to bad and from bad to ugly just over the petty issues of breaking eggs and urinating, though, it might be a benign purpose. Even his journey to the land of Houyhnhnms and Glubbdubdrib makes certain points about this narrowmindedness as well as enlightenment that even the horses are able to be rational when Yahoos want to stay in the darkness of life as well as mind.
  4. Otherness: The thematic strand of otherness emerges when Gulliver could not merge in the Lilliputians due to his physique as well as manners and understanding of the culture. What he thinks of their narrowmindedness is their cultural politics and antagonism against the Blefuscudians. The same goes for his other voyages including his voyage to Brobdingnag and Glubdubdrib where he is unsuitable and unfit among the natives; he is either too small, too clever, or to dunce to mix up with them. This is actually the cultural otherness that he could not merge in any of these lands nor did the locals consider him a local person.
  5. Perspective and Relevance: The individual perspective and its relevance to the culture is another theme that runs through the book. It happens that he is a Mountain Man in Lilliput but a human specimen in Brobdingnag. Not only does the perspective about his physicality change but also the relevance of the perspective changes from land to land and people to people. When he meets Houyhnhnms in their land, he comes to know that even animals could be rational when their perspective and relevance changes. His final arrival to the United Kingdom opens up new vistas of life for him to understand.
  6. Travel: Travel is another major theme of the book as it is actually a travelogue and tells its readers that they learn new things and new perspectives during travels, which eventually becomes an adventure too. Gulliver comes to know about the existence of new people, along with their strange and odd customs and conventions such as Lilliputians even fight on the breaking of eggs and urination, while the Brobdingnagians do not see such things from this perspective. Had Gulliver not traveled so far, he would not have come to know such things. Moreover, it also sheds light on the spirit of that time about travel and exploration.
  7. Question of Truth: Man has always been in search of truth and reality and nature of truth. The question of truth looms large in the background of Gulliver’s travels. Even Gulliver as a narrator is not a reliable person as the readers question his authenticity on account of the fantasies he has weaved and the chances he has taken to travel to these far-off lands, for every reader knows that such lands do not exist. However, Jonathan Swift has done every effort to make the story feels true.
  8. Moral versus Physical Power: The theme of moral and physical power emerges when Gulliver faces the dilemma of attacking the Blefuscudians at the behest of the king of Lilliput and he knows if he does not use his physical power, he is liable to face consequences. Therefore, he uses moral power but faces consequences. He also learns that every land has its own ethical framework regarding the use of physical power such as the Brobdingnagians do not use physical power so often as the Lilliputians.
  9. Governance: The issue of government also comes up during different travels; somewhere it is rational and despotic while at some other places it is democratic and rational such as in the land of Houyhnhnm, while the Lilliputians are despotic.

Major Characters in Gulliver’s Travels

  1. Lemuel Gulliver: Despite being the main narrator and protagonist of the book, Gulliver is neither heroic nor legendary but an ordinary human being due to the misanthropy he demonstrates by the end of the book. However, his observations of human nature, if it is small like the Lilliputians and giant like that of the Brobdingnagians and wily or cruel like that of the Yahoos, show that he has uncovered a secret to understanding the human soul better. However, despite his love for Houyhnhnm and his spite for the Yahoos, he does not leave human society and ultimately returns to England to live and demonstrate his hatred for the man. With some of the best traits, Gulliver also shows that he is gullible as well as a non-savvy person who shows what he comes across during his travels.
  2. The Emperor of Lilliput: Lilliput, the land of small people, is ruled by the emperor, who like all other Lilliputians, is just six inches in height. However, the powers that he wields over their lives are limitless yet to Gulliver he seems quite a sinister character who is not only an expert in politics but also adept in strategy. Gulliver learns about the frightening aspects of his personality through the harsh punishments he awards to his subjects over minor mistakes or crimes and that too in politics. However, his traits of hospitality and culinary tastes rather amaze Gulliver.
  3. Brobdingnagian Queen: The queen is another important figure in the text who comes across Gulliver during his voyage to the land of Brobdingnag. She falls in love with him as she keeps him with her to play with the little man as he is compared to their giant statures. During his stay at the palace, he feels safe and satisfied with her but also his interaction with her becomes significant, belittling other living or dead characters, even his wife to some extent.
  4. Lord Munodi: Although Lord is not a significant character in the text, he wins the attention of Gulliver on account of his being the governor of the land of Lagado who is still interested in Gulliver about knowing him and informing him of his land where he rules supreme amid the theoretical delusions of its intellectuals. Isolated in his own estate, Munodi suffers from acute alienation that seems similar to Gulliver, showing him that human predicaments are not different whether it is the far-off land or England.
  5. The Farmer: The importance of farmer from the land of Brobdingnag, is the first person who comes into contact with Gulliver when he accidentally lands there. Gulliver comes to know about his rationality and his credulity that he also believes that tiny creatures like Gulliver, too, could be rational. He uses Gulliver as an object of entertainment to earn money by using him as labor. His greedy and simplemindedness costs Gulliver very dearly which shows the trait of the few Brobdingnagians’ greedy nature but is non-violent.
  6. Reldresal: Reldresal is the aide of the king of Lilliput. As his principal secretary, he acts as an intermediary between the king and Gulliver and exploits things to make Gulliver understand the situation. He communicates with Gulliver and makes arrangements for his stay and also for his services to the land of Lilliput.
  7. Glumdalclitch: Gulliver’s first caretaker in the land of Brobdingnag is the farmer’s young daughter, Glumdalclithc, a nine-year-old, who is almost a kid if measured from the age of Gulliver’s world yet very young to seem to take care of Gulliver. She cared for Gulliver in the land of giants where a minor mistake could cost his life. Later, when royalty comes to know about the absence of good caretakers for Gulliver, she again finds herself in the court to continue to protect Gulliver until the bird picks him up.
  8. The King: The Brobdingnagian king is comparatively generous and liberal when he demonstrates when meeting Gulliver. He prefers peace over war and shows his intellect and his expertise in political science and other statecrafts. His erudition displays itself during his political debate with Gulliver about English history and politics.
  9. Yahoos: The importance of Yahoos lies in their humanlike shapes that they keep themselves unkempt and illiterate and behave like animals without giving a second thought to their actions. Their hairy bodies cripple their mental faculties, too, making them subservient to Houyhnhnms, ironic governance that runs contrary to what Gulliver has been experiencing in England. Their worst impact on Gulliver is that he considers himself one of them.
  10. Houyhnhnms: These creatures are horses in shapes but highly rational in thinking and dealing with Gulliver, as they display all moral traits necessary for good human beings. Their rationality and association with socialism what Gulliver likes the most.

Writing Style of Gulliver’s Travels

Gulliver’s Travels is written in the first-person narrative. The presentation and commentary are through Gulliver’s experience of whom he meets and what he sees during his voyages. The presentation occurs in a very simple and direct language that shows that Gulliver knows how to reach his audiences. Most of the words have been coined as they do not exist in English or any other language. Generalization has been used to make them common for the readers to understand. Since then, the words have taken meanings of their own, specifically, Lilliput, Yahoo, and Houyhnhnms. The sentence style is quite simple but sometimes becomes very intricate and complex when Swift becomes philosophical and comments on the politics and culture of the land Gulliver visits. Swift turns to irony, satire, hyperbole, and metaphors to highlight thematic ideas.

Analysis of the Literary Devices in Gulliver’s Travels

  1. Action: The main action of the text comprises different voyages that Gulliver undertakes to escape the humdrum of England. The falling action occurs at several places in travels such as when he is awarded a death sentence in Lilliput or when he falls down from the grip of an eagle in Glubbdubdrib. However, rising action occurs when he comes to the point that human beings are not worthy creatures to stay on the face of this earth blessed to them by God.
  2. Allusion: The book shows good use of different allusions as given in the below examples,
    i. Although Mr Gulliver was born in Nottinghamshire, where his Father dwelt, yet I have heard him say, his Family came from Oxfordshire; to confirm which, I have observed in the Church-Yard at Banbury,* in that County, several Tombs and Monuments of the Gullivers. (The Publishers to the Reader)
    ii. For it was ever my Opinion, that there must be a Balance of Earth to counterpoise the great Continent of Tartary; and therefore they ought to correct their Maps and Charts, by joining this vast Tract of Land to the North-west Parts of america; wherein I shall be ready to lend them my Assistance. (Chapter-4)
    iii. This Academy is not an entire single Building, but a Continuation of several Houses on both Sides of a Street; which growing waste,*was purchased and applyed to that Use. (Chapter-4)
    iv. The Continent of which this Kingdom is a part, extends itself, as I have Reason to believe, Eastward to that unknown Tract of america, Westward to California, and North to the Pacifick Ocean. (Chapter-7)
    The first example shows the reference to England and different places, the second to an old race and a place, the third to Aristotle’s academy, and the last to America.
  3. Antagonist: Although it is a book of travelogue and not a novel that Gulliver presents few antagonists in the first 3 parts. However, in the 4th adventure by the end, he comes to know that by sketching Yahoos as the most detestable characters, Gulliver wants to say that we human beings are enemies of ourselves. Therefore, apart from the Lilliputian kingdom, the jealous courtier in Brobdingnag kingdom, the mindless scientists in Laputa and neighboring kingdoms, Yahoos are the true antagonists of this travelogue.
  4. Conflict: The text shows both external and internal conflicts. The external conflict is going on between Gulliver and his views about different societies that are also an internal contact. That is why he paints the detestable picture of Yahoos in the last voyage.
  5. Characters: The text shows both static as well as dynamic characters. The young man, Gulliver, is a dynamic character as he shows a considerable transformation in his behavior and conduct by the end of the book when starts hating the people. However, all other characters are static as they do not show or witness any transformation such as Reldresal, the Lilliputians, and even Gulliver’s own family members.
  6. Climax: The climax in the text occurs when Gulliver starts loving the land of horses and horses in return to hating human beings after painting them dirty creatures, equating them to vermin.
  7. Foreshadowing: The text shows many instances of foreshadows as given in the following examples,
    i. I laid them out in learning Navigation, and other Parts of the Mathematicks, useful to those who intend to travel, as I always believed it would be some time or other my Fortune to do. (Chapter-1)
    ii. I had been for some Hours extremely pressed by the Necessities of
    Nature; which was no Wonder, it being almost two Days since I had
    last disburthened myself. (Chapter-2)
    The mention of travel and Necessities of Nature shows the writer is fond of traveling and that he is going on some travel very soon. Both of these points foreshadow of the coming events.
  8. Hyperbole: The book shows various examples of hyperboles such as,
    i. I felt something alive moving on my left Leg, which advancing gently forward over my Breast, came almost up to my Chin; when bending mine Eyes downwards as much as I could, I perceived it to be a human Creature not six Inches high,* with a Bow and Arrow in his Hands, and a Quiver at his Back. (Chapter-1)
    ii. The Dog following the Scent, came directly up, and taking me in his Mouth, ran strait to his Master, wagging his Tail, and set me gently on the Ground. (Chapter-5)
    iii. Having a Desire to see those Antients, who were most renowned for Wit and Learning, I set apart one Day on purpose. I proposed that Homer* and Aristotle might appear at the Head of all their Commentators; but these were so numerous that some Hundreds were forced to attend in the Court and outward Rooms of the Palace. (Chapter-8)
    All of these examples show that Swift has used far-fetched ideas that could only be hyperboles. There cannot be six inches high men, or dogs carrying a man in his mouth and classical figures making their presence felt in this age, or even in the 17th century.
  9. Imagery: Gulliver’s Travels shows the use of imagery as given below,
    i. I likewise felt several slender Ligatures across my Body, from my Armpits to my Thighs. I could only look upwards; the Sun began to grow hot, and the Light offended mine Eyes. I heard a confused Noise about me, but in the Posture I lay, could see nothing except the Sky. In a little time I felt something alive moving on my left Leg, which advancing gently forward over my Breast, came almost up to my Chin; when bending mine Eyes downwards as much as I could, I perceived it to be a human Creature not six Inches high. (Chapter-1)
    ii. Their Heads were all reclined either to the Right or the Left; one of their Eyes turned inward, and the other directly up to the Zenith. Their outward Garments were adorned with the Figures of Suns, Moons, and Stars, interwoven with those of Fiddles, Flutes, Harps, Trumpets, Guittars, Harpsichords, and many more Instruments of Musick, unknown to us in Europe. (Chapter-2)
    These two examples show images of size, color, sound, and shapes.
  10. Metaphor: Gulliver’s Travels shows excellent use of various metaphors as given in the below examples,
    i. Answers I have with much Pains wringed and extorted from you; I cannot but conclude the Bulk of your Natives, to be the most pernicious Race of little odious Vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the Surface of the Earth. (Part-2, Chapter-6)
    ii. The King was struck with Horror at the Description I had given of those terrible Engines, and the Proposal I had made. He was amazed how so impotent and groveling an Insect as I (these were his Expressions) could entertain such inhuman Ideas, and in so familiar a Manner as to appear wholly unmoved at all the Scenes of Blood and Desolation. (Part-2, Chapter-7)
    iii. But my Wife protested I should never go to Sea any more; although my evil Destiny so ordered, that she had not Power to hinder me; as the Reader may know hereafter. In the mean Time, I here conclude the second Part of my unfortunate Voyages. (Part-2, Chapter-8)
    These examples show that several things have been compared directly in the text such as the first shows the king comparing the English people to vermins, the second shows Gulliver comparing himself to an insect and the last one shows him comparing his destiny to a devil.
  11. Mood: The book shows various moods. It starts with a jolly mood of a traveler but becomes unconvincing when it enters the second part of the travel to Lilliput and becomes highly satiric and ironic when it ends after different travels.
  12. Motif: Most important motifs of the text are foreign languages, travels, excrements, and islands.
  13. Narrator: Gulliver’s Travels is narrated from the first person point of view, who happens to be Gulliver.
  14. Personification: The book shows examples of personifications such as,
    i. The Emperor, and all his Court, came out to meet us; but his great Officers would by no means suffer his Majesty to endanger his Person by mounting on my Body. (Chapter-1)
    ii. The Ship came within half a League of this Creek, and sent out her Long-Boat with Vessels to take in fresh Water (for the Place it seems was very well known) but I did not observe it until the Boat was almost on Shore; and it was too late to seek another Hiding-Place. (Chapter-11)
    These examples show as if the court and the ship have emotions and lives of their own.
  15. Protagonist: Gulliver is the protagonist of the text. The travelogue starts with his entry into the world of voyages and moves forward as he goes from one land to the other.
  16. Satire: The travels of Gulliver show the use of satire on religion, political ideas, living style, and above all the whole Western culture during the early 18th
  17. Setting: The setting of the text is some islands and lands that Gulliver visits during his different voyages.
  18. Simile: The book shows good use of various similes such as,
    i. They climbed up into the Engine, and advancing very softly to my Face, one of them, an Officer in the Guards, put the sharp End of his HalfPike a good way up into my left Nostril, which tickled my Nose like a Straw, and made me sneeze violently: (Chapter-1)
    ii. I viewed the Town on my left Hand, which looked like the painted Scene of a City in a Theatre. (Chapter-2)
    iii. He put this Engine to our Ears, which made an incessant Noise like that of a Water-Mill. (Chapter-2)
    These are similes as the use of the word “like” shows the comparison between different things. Whereas the first example shows the comparison like the tickling of the nose with some straw, the town like a scenic picture and noise like that of a water-mill.