Gullivers Travels Major Themes- Handout

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Major Themes
The Body
Throughout Gulliver's Travels the narrator spends a great deal of time discussing the human body-going so far as to detail his own urination and defecation. In each of the various lands to which Gulliver travels, he comes face to face with excrement. In Lilliput he urinates on the queen's apartment to put out a fire; in Luggnagg the professors work to turn excrement back into the food it began as; in the country of the Houyhnhnms the Yahoos throw their excrement at each other and at him. Looking at the body from new perspectives gives Gulliver a special insight into the body's materiality. When he is relatively small, he can see the minute, ugly details of others' bodies. By looking closely at the body as a material thing and paying attention to what humans do on a daily basis, Swift makes it impossible to look at humans as exclusively spiritual or intellectual beings. Literature and Language

Gulliver is a reader: "My Hours of Leisure I spent in reading the best Authors ancient and modern, being always provided with a good number of books." He reads whenever he has the time. And on each of the islands he visits, he makes a point of noticing whether the inhabitants write or do not write. The Lilliputians, for instance, write diagonally like the ladies of England. The Houyhnhnms lack a form of writing, but Gulliver spends a great deal of time considering how they pass on their history. Gulliver is also a master linguist, making him a man of virtually all peoples. On each of the islands he visits, he learns the language quickly, sometimes being taught by learned scholars (as in Lilliput) and once being taught by a young girl (in Brobdingnag). His ability to communicate suggests the value of communication across cultures. Once Gulliver has learned the language of a given society, he visits the King or Queen or Emperor or Governor and discusses politics. This ability to share knowledge is beneficial to both parties. Narrow-Mindedness and...
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