Modern Literature: Gulliver’s Travels
What is becoming of the world? A modernist author before writing would ask a similar question. Modernism often refers to a “movement towards modifying traditional beliefs in accordance with modern ideas” and Irish novelist Jonathan Swift has written works that question the very idea of human morality; he is best known for Gulliver’s Travels, a familiar story to young and old in which Lemuel Gulliver narrates his adventures in strange islands. , Not only was this novel meant for entertainment, but also it is full of his indignation and matters of concerns the author felt necessary to address. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Swift moved to England; since, he criticized English ideologies that are targeted in his novel. Mastering the art of satire, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels portrays a work of modern literature in the eighteenth century by criticizing British government, emphasizing the pointlessness of domination and by stating the flaws of humanity and society in a relatively newer genre of a travelogue.
Shipwrecked, Gulliver finds himself on the island of Lilliput tied down and made prisoner by its inhabitants; humans that are six inches tall. In Gulliver’s famous first voyage, Swift described England as being Lilliput; although relatively smaller in size and structure, it was a dominating force and had the potential to conquer other nations. There are two parties in Lilliput distinguished by the height of their shoes, the “high heels” and the “low heels”. Gulliver explains that, “his Majesty hath determined to make use of only low heels in the administration of the government” while “the heir to the crown, [had] some tendency towards the high-heels; [because] one of his heels is higher than the other”. Swift satirized the British government by creating a similar, yet ridiculous government system in Lilliput. The two parities of English government at the time were the Whigs and the Tories, of which, King George I favored the Whigs, making them the low heels, while the Prince of Whales preferred both parties. This satirical comparison is also found in other aspects of government.
The nature of a superficial split of the two parities stresses what the Emperor is disregarding, genuine capability. When a great office is vacant in Lilliput, a process is established in which candidates must show their skills by “[entertaining the] Majesty and the court with a dance on [a] rope; and whoever jumps the highest without falling, succeeds in the office”. To Gulliver and the reader, this method of selecting candidates is senseless, yet to the Lilliputians it is normal. Here, Swift attempts to use satire against the British government and political system of how ministers were elected into office in England. Lilliputian believe mistakes are better made out of obliviousness, versus mistakes made by those who are superiorly cunning, therefore instead of candidates being selected based on knowledge, political sagacity and wisdom, they elect fools who are capable only to entertain, in order to prevent corruption, ultimately mirroring English government. Since all of Lilliput is a miniature England, Swift wanted to call attention to the faults of those who ran the administration and indicates the corruption of government and politics, showing an example of modernity because he challenges British régime with the use of satire to mock their procedures.
During Gulliver’s time in Lilliput, he learns that the country is in an ongoing war with a nearby island, Blefuscu. Gulliver describes their conflict: Blefuscu opens their eggs by the larger end while, Lilliput opens theirs on the small end due to the Majesty’s grandfather cutting his finger while opening an egg the traditional way from the larger end; “there have been six rebellions raised on that account…eleven thousand persons have, at several times, suffered death, rather than submit to break their eggs at the smaller end”....
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