To generations of schoolchildren, Gulliver s Travels has been a delightful visit to a faraway fantasy kingdom. Upon a closer look, Gulliver s Travels is found to be a potentially critical and very insightful piece, satirizing the political and social systems of eighteenth-century England. During the eighteenth-century there was an upheaval of commercialization in London, England, resulting in a change in attitude and thought in English society. It was an attempt by the middle class to obtain the dignity and splendor of the upper class, which resulted in the English society holding themselves in high regards as an elite society of mankind. Jonathan Swift satirizes English society in many ways, using metaphors to reveal his disapproval of it. Swift makes comments addressing specific topics as current political controversies as well as universal concerns like the moral degeneration of man.
Swift uses graphic representations of the body and its functions to reveal to the reader that grandeur is merely an illusion and a fa ade to hide behind. Swift was one of the greatest satirists of his age and Gulliver s Travels is probably the apex of his art. Gulliver s Travels is the story of Lemuel Gulliver, a ship s surgeon who has a number of adventures, which comprises four sections or books. In Book I, or the first voyage, his ship is blown off course and shipwrecked. Gulliver finds himself in a land of miniature people where his giant size is meant as a metaphor for his superiority over the Lilliputians.
This metaphor represented England s belief that it had superiority over other cultures. Swift goes on to demonstrate that despite his belief in superiority, Gulliver is not as great as he makes himself out to be when the forces of nature call upon him. Gulliver says to the reader that before hand he, was under great difficulties between urgency and shame, and after the deed says that he felt, guilty of so unclean l an action (Jonathan Swift, Norton Anthology of English Literature, New York: Norton, 1986, pg. 2024). By revealing to the reader Gulliver s shame in carrying out 2 a basic function of life, Swift comments on the self-imposed supremacy of English society. By humbling Gulliver, England s representative, the author implies that despite the belief of the English to be the most refined society, they are still human beings who are slaves to the same forces as every other human being regardless of their race or culture.
Although Gulliver is too big to perceive them in detail, he judges the country s inhabitants to be as perfect and innocent as their toy-like appearances. The intelligence and organizational abilities of the Lilliputians at first impress Gulliver. This brings Swift to the essential conflict of Book I: the na ve, ordinary, but compassionate Everyman at the mercy of an army of people with small minds. Since the Lilliputians are technologically adept, Gulliver does not yet see how small-minded the Lilliputians are. Swift has developed his novel in such a way that, as his aspersions harshen and intensify, so do Gulliver s actions and attitudes.
The Lilliputians are separated into two tribes. One is holding Gulliver and the other lives on the second island which is separated from the first by a canal that resembles the watery division between England and France. Gulliver is with the littlendians and the enemy is the bigendians, which live on the island of Blefuscu. Gulliver helps the little nd to defeat the big end. In this Swift emphasizes the stupidity in the war between England and France, along with every war which starts over a stupid reason.
Also during Swift s life, a high level of animosity existed between various English sects that considered themselves Protestant, English Protestants collectively and the Catholics. Swift, an Anglican clergyman himself, is clearly showing how ridiculous such dissension is among people who all profess to be followers of the same path. Swift also points out the meaninglessness in court-life. Swift does this by looking at the Lilliputians form of entertainment. Swift makes a point of telling the reader that the only 3 people who perform the rope dance are people seeking to acquire or maintain a higher position at the court, so this is actually not a form of entertainment at all; its a form of political selection. Swift implies that the Lilliputians form of selecting politics makes about as much sense as the way many political appointments were made in his day which is to say, it makes no sense at all.
Gulliver is won over by the fact that the Lilliputians are well dressed and articulate. He is held captive by these people, both metaphorically, as in being entranced by them, and literally. It is only after his services have been exploited and himself accused of treason that Gulliver realizes how cruel and deceitful the Lilliputians are. The Lilliputians accuse Gulliver of treason for making water within the precincts of the royal palace even though he was just trying to save it from burning down. The Lilliputians also accuse Gulliver of four other articles of treason. The Lilliputians plan to cut back on Gulliver s food so that he will slowly decay and the stench of his carcass will not be as bad.
Upon his death, the Lilliputians plan to cut and carry away the flesh from Gulliver s bones, leaving the skeleton as a monument of admiration to posterity. After hearing of the Lilliputian s plans for his demise Gulliver makes his escape and it is here in the book that his personality begins to transform. In book II, or the second voyage, Gulliver faces quite an opposite situation. Gulliver finds himself in a world where everything is twelve times its expected size. In this situation, Gulliver is now the inferior, and due to his miniature size, he is able to examine the human body in a more detailed manner.
Somewhat hardened by his unfavorable experiences on Lilliput, Gulliver approaches the Brobdingnagians from the outset with some degree of suspicion and contempt. Although it appears to the reader that this race is far more benevolent and trustworthy 4 than the Lilliputians, Gulliver bestows upon it a great deal more disrespect and criticism. Upon witnessing the undressing of the Maids of Honor, Gulliver expresses his repulsion for their naked bodies. They were, very far from being a tempting sight, and gave him, any other emotions than those of horror and disgust, because of the acuteness to which he was able to observe their, course and uneven skin, so variously colored (Swift, 2104). Gulliver also talks of the Brobdingnagians moles, here and there as broad as a trencher, and hairs hanging from them thicker than pack-threads (Swift, 2104).
In showing Gulliver s repulsion at the sight of such beautiful women of Brobdingnag, Swift comments again on English society through a very graphic portrayal of the human body. Swift uses the Maids of Honor as a metaphor to comment on the women of England, who, among eighteenth-century English society, were believed to be the most beautiful in the entire world. Swift showed that despite their apparent beauty, they were not perfect and suffered from the same flaws as any other women. It eventually becomes apparent that Gulliver s dissatisfaction relates directly to his inferiority to the giant beings. Gulliver admits how vain an attempt it is for a man to endeavor doing himself honour among those who are out of all degree of equality or comparison with him. In essence, Gulliver is beginning to shed his role of observer and become personally involved in the moral controversies he observes.
This is much like Swift, who devoted much of his satire in the first two books of Gulliver s Travels to social and political conditions, but begins the close of book II to discuss and criticizes situations in which he is personally at fault. At one point during Gulliver s stay in the land of the Brobdingnagians, Swift almost comments directly on his distaste for the self-imposed supremacy of the English over other cultures. This happens when 5 the King of the land comments on, how contemptible a thing was human grandeur, which could be mimicked by such diminutive insects as Gulliver (Swift, 2097). Swift is bluntly criticizing the attitude of the English society for thinking that they are high in rank and eminence, by implying that even the smallest and least civilized creature could assume such a high degree of superiority. By the end of book four, both Gulliver and the direction of Swift s novel have drastically changed. In this part, Gulliver becomes trapped in a world where horses represent civilization and reason, while men, indignantly referred to as Yahoos, run wild, savage, and ignorant.
The Houyhnhnms, the horses, begin to make Gulliver realize how corrupt his untruthful and immoral race of human beings is. Gulliver learns to love their perfect society, all the while gradually beginning to abhor his own. Just like Swift denounces the state of society outright, by depicting men as offensive and irrational monsters, Gulliver assumes a similar stance, declaring himself a shamed and spiteful misanthropist. When Gulliver finally returns home after his adventures, he discovers that he cannot endure the company of other humans or even bear to look at his own reflection, knowing what degeneration it represents. By the end of Swift s life, he too seemed to become a hater of mankind. Gulliver s Travels is a satirical novel of the eighteenth-century English society, a society with superficial ideas of grandeur and nobility.
Through clever representations, Jonathan Swift successfully humbles this society s pride and human vanity. He reveals the flaws in their thinking by reducing them to what they are, human beings, who, like other human beings, have merely adopted a superficial, self-righteous attitude. In doing so, Swift makes a broader statement about mankind today. Despite all the self-acclaimed advances in civilization and 6 technology man is still merely human, suffering from the same forces and flaws, impulses and imperfections as everyone else.
By making the political and religious situations of the eighteenth century seem even more ridiculous than they already were, Swift is able to make people view their actual life choices more rationally. Notably, however, neither Swift nor Gulliver leaves the novel without exercising that one attribute they believe man to possess: his capacity for self-understanding and change. While Swift proposes his constructive criticism throughout the story in the form of irony and satire, Gulliver himself offers a solution to his situation at the close of the novel. He realizes that there is little he can do about being human; he simply must learn to live with himself. To achieve this, he suggests looking in a mirror as often as possible, not only so that he might learn to bear the sight of his own person, but also so that he may be constantly reminded of those shortcomings he seeks so desperately to overcome.