Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift: Satirical Commentary on Society

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At first, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels comes off as a fantasy/adventure, but it is in actuality a satirical commentary on society. Gulliver’s travels is both a satire on human nature and a parody of the “traveler’s tale” literary sub genre. The fascination of the tale lies in the fact that although every phase seems immediately comprehensible, the whole subject matter is endlessly complex. The novel offers a clear parody of colonialism and it’s working against what is conventionally known. Swift takes up the different ideas surrounding the working of colonialism and gradually debunks them by offering a reversal of scales. He redirects the tropes of colonial discourse and turns them against the masters in a very adroit manner. And interestingly all this is done with great wit and slapstick humor: be it Gulliver’s urinating to extinguish the fire or the experiments taking place at the Grand Academy of Lagado.

Gulliver's Travels derived much of its popularity from the contemporary readers' enthusiastic consumption of travel compilations and the records of journeys and voyages. Swift himself owned a number of accounts by famous travel writers, including the sixteenth century such as travel writers Richard Hakluyt, Samuel Purchas, and William Dampier. There is a sustained imitation of various travel accounts in Gulliver's Travels: the description of the storm in Book II closely copies the style of a seventeenth narrative called Mariners Magazine by Captain Samuel Sturmy. Swift places the locations of his fictitious voyages in regions visited by one of the most famous travel writers of the period: the pirate, explorer and author William Dampier. Dampier produced an account of his 1699 expedition to Australia, then known as New Holland, which had appeared as a two part account called A Voyage to New Holland published in 1702, and A Continuation of a Voyage to New Holland published in 1709. Lilliput is supposed to be between Van Dieman's land, which was Tasmania, and the northern coast of Australia. The land of the Houyhnhnms in Book 4 is just south west of Australia.

Gulliver's Travels also exploits some of the potential for absurdity that was evident in travel accounts. In contemporary travelogues, one way in which authors attempted to emphasize the authenticity of their account was by representing islands in woodcuts as they would appear if they were seen through a telescope. Having no sea shown on them, and cut off at the base, they in fact look as if they’re flying through the air. When Laputa flies over Balnibarbi, Swift literalizes the comic potential of the travel narrative and its illustrative apparatus.

Jonathan Swift has chosen a first-person narrator in his novel of Gulliver's Travels. The narrator is Gulliver who has been plunged into extraordinary and absurd circumstances during his four voyages to a multitude of strange lands around the globe. Although Gulliver's vivid and detailed style of narration makes it obvious that he is intelligent and well educated, his perceptions are naive and gullible. As an example, Gulliver is a naive consumer of the Lilliputians' grandiose imaginings, because he is cowed by their threats of punishment, and their formally worded condemnation of Gulliver on grounds of treason works quite effectively on the naive Gulliver, forgetting that they have no real physical power over him. Gulliver is a round character which is a kind of character who encounters conflict and is changed by it. He changes in relation to the places he visits and the events that befall him as he voyages. As an example, he is the giant in Lilliput and he is worried about trampling on the Lilliputians, while he is at risk of being trampled upon and he is treated as a doll in the land of Brobdingnag. In his last voyage, he develops such a love for the Houyhnhnms society that he no longer desires to return to humankind. And he becomes more and more narrow-minded as the story progresses. On the whole,...
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