Gulliver Travels

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Part one:
The hero, ship’s surgeon Lemuel Gulliver, tells of his shipwreck off the island of Lilliput, whose inhabitants are tiny. Here he learns about the local customs and culture, and about the country’s political system. He agrees to help the people in their war against the island of Blefuscu, after which he returns to England.
Interpretation: the Lilliputians can be seen to represent cruelty, pettiness and provincialism, that is the way Swift saw the England of his time. The Lilliput’s politicians were modelled on leading political figures of Swift’s time. Though they are initially kind to him, the Lilliputians see Gulliver as a huge body controlled by its physical needs. Their only use for him is as a weapon to destroy their enemies.

Part two:
Gulliver sets off for India but after a series of misadventures finds him abandoned on the island of Brobdingnag whose inhabitants are all giants. Here Gulliver finds himself regarded as something like a living doll for children to play with. He is sold to the queen and has some interesting discussions with the king about the political situation in Europe, before returning once again to England.
Interpretation: The giants of Brobdingnag represent human vanity and self-love. Gulliver descriptions of their bodies reveal a mixture of fascination and disgust and repulsion towards the human body, which may be seen as an obstacle to spiritual growth.

Part three:
Gulliver lands on the amazing flying island of Laputa with its capital Lagado which is populated by philosophers and scientists, all involved in bizarre and ultimately futile scientific research and speculations. From here he journeys to another two islands, Glubbdubdrib, where meets great historical figures of the past, and Luggnagg, where meets people deeply unhappy because, endowed with immortality, they can never die.
Interpretation: The Laputans can be seen as a parody of the pretensions of abstract intellectual thinking, which has no connection to reality, and also as a satire on Britain’s military and colonial ambitions. This was probably a satirical attack against the members of the Royal Society. However, the world of the Laputans is also a world of lightness, where ideas are liberated from the constraints of reality.
Part four:
Gulliver arrives in a land ruled by intelligent horses who call themselves the Houyhnhnms, which is also the name of the island, and who are served by a filthy, bestial, subhuman race called the Yahoos. Gulliver spends his time trying to learn the language and ways of the Houyhnhnms, and assimilates them so well that when he returns home to his wife and children he finds himself disgusted by their humanness.
Interpretation: The land of the Houyhnhnms where horses rule over a bestial sub-human race is one of the best examples of Swiftian reversal. We are made to see Gulliver from the perspective of the horses whose only experience of the human race is with the savage Yahoos. Gulliver tries to convince them that his own race is not all like Yahoos, but from the horses’ point of view humans, after Gulliver explained his society, is indeed just like the Yahoos, only more sophisticated in their barbarism.
Gulliver’s Travels can be read at various levels. It may be seen as:
o An account of imaginary adventures in utopian countries;
o A travel book (a parody of Robinson Crusoe);
o An allegorical story;
o A satirical essay (on the political, social and religious conflict of the time, as well as on the problems caused by scientific an economic progress);
o A tale for children.
Gulliver is a matter-of-fact man who records the marvels he sees with careful detail, in the language of the traveller who speaks with great seriousness about what he has seen and wants to be believed.
The novel’s dense mixture of fantasy, political satire, moral fable and playfulness, cause a crevice between the critics: many have regarded it as a misanthropic book, a vicious attack on the human race as a whole; the book’s defenders say that the book is a satire of man’s hypocrisy, vanity and cruelty, his small-mindedness and absurd pretensions.