Gulliver\'s Travels


Although it appears simple and straightforward on the surface, a mere
travelogue intended solely for the amusement of children, Gulliver\'s Travels, by
Jonathan Swift, proves, upon closer examination, to be a critical and insightful
work satirizing the political and social systems of eighteenth-century England.
Through frequent and successful employment of irony, ambiguity and symbolism,
Swift makes comments addressing such specific topics as current political
controversies as well as such universal concerns as the moral degeneration of
man. While he incorporates them subtly early in the novel, these observations
and criticisms eventually progress to a point where they may shock or offend
even the most unsuspecting reader. In order to witness this evolution of
presentation, one need only observe the development of the work\'s central
character, Captain Lemuel Gulliver, as Swift has designed his novel in such a
way that, as his aspersions harshen and intensify, so do Gulliver\'s actions and
attitudes.
For instance, in book one, "A Voyage to Lilliput", when Gulliver finds
himself lost in a world one-twelfth the size of his own, he proves himself to be
quite naive and impressionable. Although he is simply too large to perceive
them in detail, Gulliver judges the country\'s inhabitants he meets to be as
perfect and innocent as their toylike appearances. He refers to the Lilliputian
emperor, a being not even six inches high, as “His Imperial Majesty” and blindly
agrees to perform any demanded service, even though he could easily overpower
the tiny nation. It is only after his services have been exploited and himself
banished that Gulliver realizes how cruel and deceitful the Lilliputians truly
are and his personality begins to transform.
In book two, "A Voyage to Brobdingnag", Gulliver faces quite an opposite
situation, for in this world everything is twelve times its expected size.
Somewhat hardened by his unfavorable experiences on Lilliput, Gulliver
approaches the Brobdingnagians from the outset with some degree of suspicion and
contempt. Although it is apparent to the reader that this particular race is
far more benevolent and trustworthy than its predecessor, Gulliver bestows upon
it a great deal more criticism and disrespect. He demonstrates his hypocrisy,
for instance, when he expresses his revulsion at the sight of the
Brobdingnagians\' physical imperfections but never attributes his ability to see
their defects in such detail to his own diminutive size. Furthermore, it
becomes obvious that his dissatisfaction relates directly to his inferiority
among these colossal beings. Gulliver himself 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, he is beginning to shed
his role of observer and become personally involved in the moral controversies
he observes. In the same way, Swift, who devotes much of his satire in the
first two books of Gulliver\'s Travels to social and political conditions, begins
at the close of part two to discuss and criticize situations in which he is
personally at fault.
By the end of book four, both Gulliver and the direction of Swift\'s novel
have been utterly transformed. In this part, titled “A Voyage to the Houyhnhnms”
, Gulliver becomes trapped in a world where horses represent civilization and
reason, while men, indignantly referred to as Yahoos, run wild, savage and
ignorant. As the horses, called Houyhnhnms, make him realize how truly corrupt
his untruthful and immoral race of human beings is, Gulliver learns to love
their virtuous society while gradually beginning to abhor his own. Just as
Swift denounces the state of society outright, by depicting men as offensive,
irrational beasts, Gulliver assumes a similar stance, declaring himself a shamed
and spiteful misanthropist. When he finally returns home after his adventures,
he discovers that he cannot endure the company of other humans, he cannot even
bear to look at his own reflection, knowing what degeneration it represents.
Notably, however, neither Swift nor Gulliver leave 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.

Category: English