Report on Gulliver's Travels. Part III: A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Glubbdubdrib. Luggnagg, and Japan In October of 1726 Jonathan Swift published his most famous work, Gulliver's Travels. Most readers are familiar with three of the four parts of this work: the land of the little people (Lilliput), the land of the giants (Brobdingnag), and the land of the ruling horses (Houyhnhnm-land).
However, modem readers may not be as familiar with Part III, which has not received as much critical attention. Some of this neglect is deserved, since this part is less focused and all parts of it are not as good as the other three books. Some of it, however, is quite interesting and deserving of critical attention. In this section, the narrator, Lemuel Gulliver, visits Laputa, the floating island; Balnibarbi, home of the famous academy of Projectors; Glubbdubdrib, the island of magicians; Luggnagg, home of the immortal; and finally Japan, where he finally is able to find a way back home to England. In this paper, I will briefly describe the setting, J summarize the plot, describe the characters, and comment on the satire in each place Gulliver visits in Part III. As in the other parts of Gulliver's Travels.
Gulliver describes in realistic detail how he ends up in a very unrealistic part of the world. The ship Hope-well, on which he holds his usual position of ship's surgeon, is overtaken by pirates, whom Gulliver angers so much that they set him adrift in a canoe to fend for himself. Alone on a land he has managed to reach, he sees an unusual island, which he describes as 'floating in the air, inhabited by men, who were able... to raise, or sink, or put it into a progressive motion, as they pleased' (Swift 26). His desperation to survive conquering any fear of this weird-looking island, Gulliver attracts the inhabitants' attention and allows them to take him up to their island. As literary critic Frank Magill points out, the floating island of Laputa is inhabited by strange-looking intellectuals who 'think only in the realm of the abstract and exceedingly impractical' (352).
Caught up in thought, they are so absent-minded that they have servants who carry flappers, bladders full of pebbles attached to sticks, to remind the masters to listen and speak during conversations. When the master is supposed to listen, the servant gently touches his ear with the flapper. If he is supposed to talk, the servant touches his mouth. The masters of Laputa study only abstract mathematics and music theory, but any practical application they consider beneath them.
Because Gulliver does not need a flapper, he is considered inferior and is placed in the same class as women and servants. As Ernest Tuveson points out in his Introduction to Swift: A Collection of Critical Essays, Swift especially hates theorists who place 'abstract principle above commonplace needs' and saves some of his bitterest satire for them (6). Joseph Horrell, in his essay on Gulliver, points out that whereas hi Book II Swift praises the practical mathematics of the Brobdignagians, he satirizes the impractical Laputians, who attempt to measure Gulliver for clothes by using a quadrant. Of course the resulting clothing does not fit, but such lowly devices as measuring tapes they consider beneath them (60). Unhappy among these inhabitants because no one except the inferior women and servants can carry on a conversation with him, Gulliver decides to visit the continent below, Balnibarbi.
He finds this place as unpractical as Laputa, for some of the inhabitants, after having visited Laputa and learned a little of their impractical knowledge, have tried to improve agriculture and architecture by applying this learning to it. As a result, they dress badly, their houses are poorly built, and their farms produce very little. Only the old-fashioned inhabitants who refuse to try the new ideas live in decent homes and produce anything on their farms. The most interesting part of Book III takes place in the Academy of Projectors in Lag ado, the capital city of Balnibarbi. These projectors, who are supposed to be developing ways to improve agriculture, architecture, and learning in general, represent Swift's bitterest satire against abstract science, or perhaps pseudo-science.
Of course, none of the methods being developed could possibly succeed. For example, one projector is trying to extract sunbeams from cucumbers and bottle them for use during cloudy days. Another attempts to build houses from the roof down, in imitation of spiders and ants. Softening marble for pillows, breeding naked sheep, inventing a book-writing machine, and making conversation simpler by eliminating all parts of speech except nouns are other projects.
One projector even suggests eliminating words altogether and carrying around objects to use instead; however, the women have revolted against this idea. Perhaps the most interesting project is the attempt to teach math problems by writing them on wafers to be eaten; unfortunately, the students must fast for three days to avoid interrupting the passage of information to the brain, and so far the experiment has failed, like all these ridiculous projects. Like the other three books, Book III contains evidence of what some have called Swift's obsession with excretory function. As Norman Brown points out in his essay entitled 'The Excremental Vision,' Swift's emphasis on 'anal function' and use of 'scatological imagery' is 'unique in Western Literature' (31). One projector is working on a method to reduce human excrement to the original food that produced it, and another attempts to cure human diseases with air enemas administered with a bellows.
Unfortunately, the dog that is the subject of the latter experiment dies. A projector studying politics tries to discover people guilty of treason by examining their stools. Psychologists may debate the meaning of Swift's obsession with human excrement, but the reader should remember that doctors during this time treated many human ailments with strong laxatives, and political corruption was common. Instead of indicating an abnormality, Swift's frequent references to excrement may represent a satire on what he considered ridiculous medicine or dirty politics. After leaving the Academy of Projectors, Gulliver visits two other places. First, he sails to Glubbdubdrib, the island of magicians who can call up spirits from the dead.
Once he has overcome his fear of ghosts, Gulliver talks to many historical figures and is surprised to learn that historians have many historical 'facts' wrong. Julius Caesar and Brutus are friends in death, and Homer and Aristotle have been misinterpreted by all their commentators. Many heroes were actually cowards, and many good deeds were done by mistake. This section represents Swift's less than successful attempt to satirize historians.
Then Gulliver sails for Luggnagg, an island near Japan, where he hopes to find passage home. In the most important part of this section, Gulliver observes a small group called the, immortals whom he is eager to meet because he is positive that once the fear of death is eliminated from life, everything will be perfect. Expecting them to be wealthy, well-educated philosophers, teachers, scientists, and philanthropists, he is shocked to find that immortality without eternal youth and good health is a miserable experience. These old, ugly, forgetful, miserable creatures do not enjoy immortality and contribute nothing to society. Swift's melancholy in this section contributes to his reputation as a misanthrope. Finally, Gulliver sails to Japan, where he pretends to be Dutch; supposedly these are the only Europeans the Japanese will trade with because they do not consider the Dutch Christians, whom they fear will send missionaries to destroy Japanese religion.
There may be some satire here on the dissenting Protestant sects allowed religious tolerance in Holland and on religious intolerance ha general. Finally Gulliver returns home, having been absent only five years. Book III of Gulliver's Travels is more uneven in quality than the other three books. However Gulliver's hilarious description of the Academy of Projectors and his melancholy tale of the miserable immortal approach the excellence of the rest of Gulliver's Travels. Works Cited. Magill, Frank, ed.
Masterpieces of World Literature. New York: Harper Collins, 1989. Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver's Travels and other Writings.
Ed. Louis A Landa. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960. Tuveson, Ernest, ed. Swift: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey Prentice-Hall, 1964.
Horrell, Joseph. 'What Gulliver Knew.' Tuveson 55-70. Brown, Norman O. 'The Excremental Vision.' Tuveson 31 -54.