Gulliver's Travels: Summary
Many of the critics who have critiqued Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels have used the word extraneous more then once. Swift was viewed as an insane person who was a failure in life. But this is far from the truth. Swift wrote Gulliver's Travels, a book that has been assigned to students for years, and it is written from experience. Swift's experience with the Tories and their conflicts with the Whigs caused him to write books that mock religious beliefs, government, or people with views differing from his own. In one of these books, Gulliver's Travels, Swift criticizes the corruption of the English government, society, science, religion, and man in general.
In Gulliver's first travel, in which he visited Lilliput, Gulliver is faced with the minute people, called Lilliputians. Now while this is the premise for a fantasy story, Swift uses the events within to make severe criticisms of England between reigns of Queen Anne and George the first. The people of Lilliput are about six inches tall, and there size signifies that their motives, acts, and humanity are in the same, dwarfish (Long 276). In this section, the royal palace is accidentally set on fire, containing the empress inside. Instead of making his way across town, to the ocean, squashing the people of Lilliput as he goes, Gulliver makes use of his urine to save the palace. While this vulgar episode was a display of bravery, it infuriated the emperor, causing revenge to be vowed on Gulliver. Rather then be happy that both the emperor and the palace are not in ruin, the littleness of the government and the people in general is displayed in this act. Another display of this is the fact that Gulliver is used as the Emperor's absolute weapon, but the emperor only uses him to conquer his world of two islands. This makes the emperor's ambition seem extremely low (Bloom, Interpretations 84-5).
Swift also criticizes the religious beliefs of the Lilliputians and England in the first story. In Lilliput, Ministers were chosen strictly on agility, or their ability to walk a tightrope or stick jumping. They were able to maintain their rank of minister as long as they could keep these defeating these tasks (Swift, Writings 89).
The political parties of the English government are represented by the conservative High Heels who depict the Tories, and the progressive Low Heels, or Whigs. As per their names, the distinguishing mark of the parties is the height of their heels. Within these two parties, Swift criticizes the English political parties, and the Prince of Wales (Brady 21). Swift also mocks the religion war that was going on in England, through the use of the war between Lilliput, and its nearest neighbor, Blefuscu. Swift's use of the terms High Heels and Low Heels to compare the meaningless battles of the Whigs and Tories, such as the height of heels (Swift, Writings 81).
With Gulliver's next travel, we find him in Brobdingnag. His voyage shows us the filthy mental and physical characteristics of man. Here, Gulliver is confronted with an adult nurse. The nurse's repulsive action of revealing her breasts to Gulliver. This reminds him of how the Lilliputians found his skin full of crater like pores, and stumps of hair growing from them. The odor of the immense creatures is offending, and it caused Gulliver to recall the fact that the Lilliputians were also offended of his body odor (Bloom, Interpretations 27-8).
In Laputa, Gulliver is confronted with the old age Struldbuggs, which look utterly hideous resulting from old age, and the deterioration of their bodies. The Yahoos from the land of Houyhnhnms are filthy, uncivilized creatures, who use their own dung as a weapon. In these descriptions, Swift criticizes both the moral and physical corruption of man (Bloom, Critical Views 87).
Gulliver's first owner in Brobdingnag represents the selfishness of man. Gulliver is constantly displayed in public, abused...
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Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver 's Travels, and other Writings. New York: Bantam
Books, Inc., 1962.
Harold, Bloom, ed. Modern Critical Interpretations of Gulliver 's Travels. New
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Long, William J. "Jonathan Swift," English Literature. Boston, Mass.: Ginn and
United States: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1961.
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