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Gulliver’s Travels – a book for children?

Analysis and Summary


Contents

1.    Gulliver’s Travels is the best known novel written by Jonathan Swift 2

2.    Swift’s biography and creation of Gulliver’s Travels. 3

3.    Summary of the novel 5

3.1.     Voyage to Lilliput 6

3.2.     Voyage to Brobdingnag. 7

3.3.     Voyage to Laputa. 9

3.4.     Voyage to Houyhnhnm-Land. 9

4.    Analysis of the novel 10

4.1.     Gulliver as main character 10

4.2.     Interpretation of the story. 11

4.3.     Satire as a technique of social criticism 13

4.3.1.      Definition of satire. 13

4.3.2.      Targets of Swift’s Satire. 15

5.    Is Gulliver’s Travels a book for children?. 16

6.    Citations. 17

7.    Used Sources. 18


1.    Gulliver’s Travels is the best known novel written by Jonathan Swift


Gulliver’s Travels was published in 1726 and it still remains a very popular book for children of all ages even today, almost three hundred years after its publication. But after it was published it came also under harsh criticism because of the very witty but at the same time biting satire on English political and social system.

So how can this satirical novel actually attract both children and adults? How can this controversial novel, written with the use of powerful political and social satire, be attractive for children? Its creator Jonathan Swift is said to be the greatest English satirist that ever existed, so it is not surprising that his brilliant work survived over the centuries.

But it is also clear that times change but not the children who are looking for an exciting story with unusual or strange creatures. It is common knowledge that Swift’s masterpiece belongs to 100 of the greatest literature books of all countries and times. George Orwell who was an extraordinarily famous writer as well rated it among the several most indispensable books in world literature.

His exact words were: “If I were to make a list of six books which were to be preserved when all others were destroyed, I would certainly put Gulliver’s Travels among them.”1 The original title of this satirical novel “Travels into several remote nations of the world. In four parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, first a surgeon, and then a captain of several ships.” is also copied into the later published editions.

Thus the author informs the reader briefly about the hero of this story which describes four different journeys done by the protagonist Lemuel Gulliver to four completely different and extraordinary countries where he had made the wildest and outstanding experiences the reader could imagine. In the first called Lilliput, all people are very small it means five inches tall, in the second the inhabitants are real giants compared to Gulliver, they are sixty or seventy feet high.

The third country is a kind of satellite inhabited by impractical scientists whose only interests are music and mathematics, and the fourth and last country visited by Gulliver is governed by horses who treat humans as stupid and wild animals. Despite all this firstly sounds like a quite ordinary science-fiction story typical of modern literature, Swift created so many secondary details around Gulliver’s fantastic adventures that the novel became perfectly authentic.

The reader has practically no chance to escape the author’s magical use of language and so he has to experience this book. But under the surface of this exciting and humorous story Swift shows the humankind in general from four different points of view and the prospect is often frightening and disgusting. So Swift ridicules human nature and especially such widespread vices like avarice, envy, malice and cruelty as well as visible effects like conspiracies, murders and revolutions, which were quite usual things at those times in England as wel.....[read full text]

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When Tories came to power in 1710 Swift has officially supported the new government by writing Tory propaganda in order to explain their politics and to decrease the existing influence of Whigs which brought him a high recognition among common people and good contacts to the Tory leaders. But four years later, after King George came in charge, the Tories were overthrown and they have lost every power they had possessed as well as Swift who had to leave his beloved political coulisse.

After this disappointing change in governmental circles which was responsible for the abrupt end of his glorious but very short political career, Swift devoted his life to the Irish parishes. He spent six next years in silence only cumulating his wealth by religious activity as Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral. The last action of the great satirist on the political scenery was his official protest against the decision to transfer the rights of producing Irish coins to an English businessman.

This loud scream of protest brought great praise from Irish people and made him very popular once more however in Ireland. And this is the most strange and striking specialty about Swift’s life: Ireland was the country of his birth but he had always tried to escape to England, in Ireland he had got the greatest praise and support but he despised this country.

However his negative attitude towards Ireland changed in the latest part of his life when “A Modest Proposal” was created, this polemical satire written in an unforgettable style aimed at English Whigs and their selfish politics of exploitation of Ireland. At last in 1726 Gulliver’s Travels was published, became popular immediately and made the author immortal.

Another thing worth to mention is the well known fact that during his long life Swift had affairs with different women and he hinted obviously at some of them in his books for example Jane Waring, a woman he wanted to marry temporary, was called “Varina” in his recordings. Nevertheless the most important (woman)role played Hester Johnson in his life, who appeared as “Stella” in his works.

They knew each other already as Swift was teaching in those days this young girl while living by Sir William Temple. She accompanied Swift as previously mentioned from her childhood up to death and had even followed him to Ireland then living near his estate. But the true nature of their relationship still remains unknown. So this is perhaps one of the reasons for existence of many rumours about his sex life.

But “(…) the most scandalous story of all, that the deafness and giddiness which troubled him most of his life were due to venereal disease, has long been completely discredited”3. The fact is that those symptoms, which were almost complete deafness, giddiness and permanent hearing of strange noises, were all allegedly caused by Meniere’s disease – “(…)a disorder of the semicircular canals in the left ear”3.

He had to suffer terrible hardships because of this disease till he became completely insane and died in 1745 at the age of 78. “His famous epitaph, written by himself, is inscribed over his tomb: ubi saeva indignation ulterius cor lacerare nequit. The full inscription on the plaque reads (translated from Latin): 'Here is laid the body of Jonathan Swift, Doctor of Divinity, Dean of this Cathedral Church, where fierce indignation can no longer rend the heart.

Go, traveller, and imitate if you can this earnest and dedicated champion of liberty.”4

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Finally in 1725 the novel was completed so Swift informed his friend with the following words: “I have finished my Travels … they are admirable things and will wonderfully mend the world.”7 Swift had once to deal with the problem of the state censorship when his satirical works “The Battle of Books” and “A Tale of a Tube” were published. So it is understandable that he was afraid of persecution from both state and church authority and that is why he travelled anonymously to London in 1726 in order to publish his ultimate masterpiece.

Swift searched for a proper publisher quite a long time till he found Benjamin Motte who had enough courage to publish Gulliver’s Travels (even it was a light version, reduced in many passages). Only nine years later the full uncut edition of the novel, Swift was at last satisfied with, was printed and circularised. And it was an absolute success. As to the author’s motivation, so it is obvious that he wanted to reflect his “own experiences and impressions in government and social circles.”8 Swift was a deeply resigned and disappointed man who wanted to express his feelings about his life full of ambitions which were not realized because of one or another reason.

Two well-known examples of disappointing events in his life were firstly his religious career in Ireland prevented by the Queen and secondly his political career in London ended up by the Whigs when he almost had a ministerial position at the court.                 

3.1.                  Voyage to Lilliput

Gulliver’s Travels starts out with the letter from Lemuel Gulliver to his cousin and friend Richard Simpson and the short foreword written by Richard Simpson who was the fictive publisher of the novel, too. He gives some information about the protagonist and narrator to the reader and explains that some text passages had to be reduced because these had no importance for the reader (e.g. route descriptions or weather conditions).

Besides he guaranties that the story is not fictitious and had in deed occurred in the same way it is narrated. The main story consists of four different parts and each one describes one of the four voyages done by Gulliver who was first a surgeon and later a captain of several ships as it was expressed in the original title. At the beginning of the story line Gulliver strands on an island somewhere in the Pacific Ocean after his ship sunk in a violent storm.

He is the only survivor of the whole ship crew and the island he has stranded on appears to be inhabited by very small creatures who have captured him over night with the help of innumerable ropes. He notices that these creatures look like miniatures of “normal” human he used to see in Europe and henceforth call them Lilliputians. After they brought Gulliver to their king and he shows an adequate and respectful behaviour towards the royalties he gets the allowance to live in an old huge temple.

The hero learns the Lilliputian language very fast so he can from now on communicate with the little creatures. Further he gets his complete freedom back that is why he can explore the country where all things (flora, fauna, buildings etc.) are very small compared to the standards he is familiar with. As next Gulliver prevents the invasion of the neighbour hostile empire called Blefuscu by stealing their whole fleet and consequently he gets praise, gratitude and the highest title of honour .....

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The queen shows immediately affection to Gulliver and enjoys his company but the king is generally suspicious and not very enthusiastic about this tiny creature that lives from now on in his palace. While living in the royal palace Gulliver goes through many funny or dangerous adventures such as a battle against the mean dwarf of the queen or some assaults with a monkey, rats, flies, wasps and some other animals.

He travels together with the queen and the king over their kingdom and discovers many new facts about the general situation on the island and the people living in Brobdingnag. It is apparently the most important and informative passage of the second part in fact of the whole novel as Gulliver talks with king about his native country England and its weather, fertility, population, geography, religion, history etc.

This conversation reveals the fact that English history was very bloody and full of human cruelty and malice. And consequently the king gives his ultimate and devastating judgement about England and its people, that they are the most perfidious creatures he had ever heard of. With the king had always being quite pessimistic about Gulliver, now his attitude becomes very contemptuous and Gulliver suffers under king’s verbal attacks, insult and prejudices.

Nevertheless the fortune gives Gulliver a chance to escape his involuntary imprisonment and to meet Englishmen on the sea. The return to his wife and children marks the end of the second part.

3.3.                  Voyage to Laputa

 In the third part Gulliver comes by means of fortune to the flying island of Laputa where he meets the most distracted people he has ever seen. They (most of all male aristocracy) are permanently absent in their minds thinking only about mathematical problems and music that is why they are extremely forgetful in the everyday life.

Two previously mentioned sciences are the only things they really care of and they are totally alienated with things like cleverness, fantasy and curiosity. Contrary to the male noble men on the island the women and servants are quite normal so they can answer some of Gulliver’s questions and help him to understand different things about the life in Laputa. Gulliver notices that the attention on his person has practically disappeared so he decides to leave the flying island and goes then to the capital of the kingdom – Lagado which is located on Balnibarbi a large island on the earth’s surface.

Here he has the possibility to visit the academy of Lagado where the scientists carry out lots of unusual experiments. Being there he is upset about the wealth of people with a high social status and the poverty and distress prevailing by the rest of the people. This contrast is caused by so-called projectors who planed to create a copy of La.....

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This word implies all the bad qualities the Yahoo’s embody: they are aggressive, stupid and absolutely insensible. After all Gulliver gets the order to leave the island because he looks still like a Yahoo for the leaders of the Houyhnhnm. By this time he made friends with his master and is therefore very unhappy about this unfair decision. Nevertheless he prepares a boat and after some difficulties arrives in England by his wife and children who were neglected all the time.

Thus ends the fourth voyage of the protagonist which is his last one.

4.    Analysis of the novel

4.1.                  Gulliver as main character

Further Gulliver’s Travels and particularly the aspect of satire as a tool of social and political criticism will be analyzed. First of all it is necessary to look at the main character of the story. Is Gulliver only a puppet in Swift’s hands or is he an independent individual who expresses his own thoughts? Gulliver is the protagonist and at the same time the narrator of the story.

The reader looks through Gulliver’s eyes on the adventures, he feels and thinks with the character. Moreover Gulliver is an average figure who is the third of five sons from an average family which is neither extremely wealthy nor very poor. He has also got only average education and his attempt to start his own little business was not exceedingly successful. But he is at the same time intelligent enough to mention Homer and Aristotle besides his voracious desire to acquire new knowledge which is expressed for example in the third part when he is furiously enthusiastic about being immortal in order to gain as much knowledge as it is possible.

Gulliver refers to his “(…) insatiable desire of seeing new countries (…)”9 several times, too. In a nutshell the hero is a trustworthy and credible character because he is a mix of bad and good, neither completely black nor white rather a figure of grey shades. For the reason of his bourgeois roots and common education it is also quite understandable that he appreciates the sense of honour which becomes distinct as Gulliver is unwilling to break his .....

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Gulliver can only laugh about their enormous ambitions especially when the king proclaims that he wants to be the emperor of the world. Another example of Lilliputian viciousness was the wish of the Lilliputian ruling class to enslave all people of Blefuscu and then the grudge on Gulliver who refused to bring “free and brave People into Slavery”.12 These characteristics were also widespread by ministers and kings at the time of the novel’s creation.

The second part is determined by the enlargement of the inhabitants in comparison to the protagonist and that is why Gulliver’s inner world and at the same time English wars, conspiracies and revolutions he tries to protect seem to be very little and unimportant. According to this Sir Walter Scott said once: “Brobdingnag places mankind at the other end of the telescope.“13 Here is located the crucial point of the whole story – the conversation between Gulliver and the king of Brobdingnag about England and its attributes.

This conversation exposes the truth about English past and present which was predominantly a “Heap of Conspiracies, Rebellions, Murders, Massacres, Revolutions, Banishments, the very worst Effects that Avarice, Faction, Hypocrisy, Perfidiousness, Cruelty, Rage, Madness, Hatred, Envy, Lust, Malice, and Ambition could produce.”14 Although Gulliver tried all possible tricks to gloss the problems of his native country, the king comes anyway to the conclusion that England is inhabited by the very contemptible little creatures he had ever heard of.

The third part aims generally at the theoretical side of the common sense of human beings and the fact that when it is isolated from the everyday practice it will certainly become blind and pointless. People of Laputa were firstly just eager in sciences and acquiring knowledge, later this eagerness and scientific diligence perverted into total loss of interest in other spheres of science or everyday life. “Imagination, Fancy, and Invention, they are wholly strangers to, nor have any words in their Language by which those Ideas could be expressed.”15 And finally the last part, which is sometimes called “curse at mankind”16, stands on the contrary to the third because it shows the Yahoo - practical embody of all instincts normally hidden in the deepest corner of our souls.

Yahoos have completely lost the human “clothes” of civilisation and they show only the savageness just few animals are able to show. At the beginning it is a real shock for the hero but later he gets accustomed to the irregularities on the Houyhnhnm-island. For example Gulliver mentions that “(…) Houyhnhnms have no word in their language to express any thing that is evil, except what they borrow from the Deformities or ill Qualities of the Yahoos.”17


4.3.                  Satire as a technique of social criticism

4.3.1.                     Definition o.....

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