Exploring the Themes and Messages of Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift: A Modern Literary Analysis
Modern Literary Analysis of Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
Gulliver's Travels is one of the most famous and influential works of literature in English history. Written by Jonathan Swift, an Anglo-Irish writer, clergyman, and satirist, in 1726, it is a four-part novel that recounts the adventures of Lemuel Gulliver, a ship surgeon who travels to various remote regions of the world. Along the way, he encounters different races of people, animals, and plants, some of which are tiny, some gigantic, some rational, some irrational, some civilized, some barbaric.
modern literary analysis of gullivers travels by jonathan swift
The novel is not only a thrilling and entertaining story, but also a profound and complex critique of human nature and society. Swift uses various literary techniques, such as satire, parody, allegory, fantasy, and bildungsroman, to expose the follies and vices of mankind, as well as to challenge the readers to reflect on their own values and beliefs. In this analysis, we will explore how Swift employs these techniques in each of the four voyages of Gulliver, and what messages he conveys through them.
Gulliver's Travels as a Satire
Satire is a genre of literature that uses humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize the corruption or stupidity of individuals, institutions, or society. Swift is widely regarded as one of the master satirists in English literature, and Gulliver's Travels is his most famous satirical work.
In each voyage, Swift uses Gulliver as a lens to mock and attack various aspects of human society, politics, religion, and culture. For example:
In his first voyage to Lilliput, Gulliver encounters a race of tiny people who are obsessed with trivial matters, such as which end of an egg should be broken first. Swift satirizes the religious conflicts between Protestants and Catholics in England and Ireland by making this issue the cause of a war between Lilliput and its rival nation Blefuscu.
In his second voyage to Brobdingnag, Gulliver encounters a race of giants who are simple and virtuous. Swift satirizes the pride and vanity of Europeans by making them appear ridiculous and insignificant in comparison to the Brobdingnagians. He also exposes the cruelty and injustice of European politics by having Gulliver describe them to the king of Brobdingnag, who is shocked and disgusted by them.
In his third voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan, Gulliver encounters various races of people who are either absurdly impractical or excessively rational. Swift satirizes the follies and limitations of human knowledge and science by showing the absurd consequences of their pursuit. He also mocks the pretensions and corruption of the nobility, the clergy, the lawyers, and the historians.
In his fourth voyage to the land of the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver encounters a race of intelligent and noble horses who live in harmony with nature and reason, and a race of savage and brutish humanoids called Yahoos. Swift satirizes the degeneration and depravity of human nature by contrasting it with the perfection and purity of the Houyhnhnms. He also questions the validity and superiority of human civilization and culture.
Gulliver's Travels as a Travel Narrative
A travel narrative is a genre of literature that describes the experiences and observations of a traveler in a foreign place. It is usually intended to inform or entertain the readers, or to persuade them to visit or avoid certain destinations. Swift parodies this genre in Gulliver's Travels by making Gulliver visit fantastical and improbable lands, and by making him report his adventures in a realistic and detailed manner.
Swift uses this technique to create a sense of realism and authenticity in his novel, as well as to enhance the satirical effect. By making Gulliver a credible and reliable narrator, Swift makes the readers more likely to believe his descriptions and opinions, even when they are absurd or exaggerated. By making Gulliver's travels resemble those of real explorers and travelers, Swift makes the readers more likely to compare his fictional worlds with their own world, and to see the similarities and differences.
Some examples of how Swift parodies the travel narrative genre are:
Gulliver provides precise geographical coordinates, dates, names, measurements, and statistics for each place he visits, as well as maps and illustrations. He also includes footnotes, appendices, letters, and a preface to support his claims.
Gulliver adopts the tone and style of a typical travel writer, using formal language, scientific terms, historical references, and moral judgments. He also expresses his curiosity, admiration, disgust, or surprise at various things he sees or hears.
Gulliver follows the conventions and expectations of a travel narrative, such as describing the physical features, customs, laws, religions, languages, arts, sciences, governments, wars, trade, etc. of each place he visits. He also interacts with the natives, learns from them, teaches them, helps them, or offends them.
Gulliver's Travels as an Allegory
An allegory is a literary device that uses characters, events, or symbols to represent abstract ideas or principles. It is usually intended to convey a moral or political message or to teach a lesson. Swift uses allegory in Gulliver's Travels to convey hidden meanings and messages that are not explicitly stated by Gulliver.
In each voyage, Swift uses different races of people or animals to represent different aspects of human society or nature. He also uses different situations or conflicts to represent different historical or contemporary issues or events. Some examples of how Swift uses allegory are:
The Lilliputians represent the Whigs (a political party in England), while the Blefuscudians represent the Tories (another political party in England). The war between them represents the War of Spanish Succession (a European conflict in the early 18th century).
The Brobdingnagians represent an idealized version of humanity, while Gulliver represents a flawed and corrupted version of humanity. The contrast between them represents the moral decline of European civilization.
The Laputans represent the scientists and philosophers who are detached from reality and obsessed with abstract theories. The Balnibarbians represent the common people who suffer from the consequences of their experiments. The contrast between them represents the dangers of impractical knowledge.
The Houyhnhnms represent reason and virtue, while the Yahoos represent passion and vice. The contrast between them represents the dual nature of human beings.
Gulliver's Travels as a Fantasy
# Article with HTML formatting (continued) critiques. He also uses fantasy to create a sense of wonder and adventure, as well as to challenge the readers' imagination and perception.
In each voyage, Swift uses different elements of fantasy to create different worlds that are either smaller or larger, more or less rational, more or less civilized, more or less human than the real world. He also uses different elements of fantasy to create different effects on Gulliver and the readers, such as humor, horror, awe, or disgust. Some examples of how Swift uses fantasy are:
Swift uses the element of size to create a world where Gulliver is either a giant or a dwarf among the natives. This creates a comic effect, as Gulliver has to deal with various difficulties and dangers caused by his relative size. It also creates a satiric effect, as Gulliver's size affects his perspective and attitude towards the natives and himself.
Swift uses the element of rationality to create a world where Gulliver encounters rational animals and irrational humans. This creates a shocking effect, as Gulliver has to question his own identity and humanity. It also creates a moral effect, as Gulliver has to compare and contrast the values and behaviors of the rational animals and the irrational humans.
Swift uses the element of civilization to create a world where Gulliver encounters different levels of culture and technology among the natives. This creates an educational effect, as Gulliver learns about the history, arts, sciences, laws, religions, etc. of each place he visits. It also creates a critical effect, as Gulliver evaluates and judges the merits and flaws of each civilization.
Swift uses the element of humanity to create a world where Gulliver encounters different degrees of resemblance or difference between himself and the natives. This creates a curious effect, as Gulliver tries to understand and communicate with the natives who are either similar or dissimilar to him. It also creates a reflective effect, as Gulliver examines and comments on the nature and condition of human beings.
Gulliver's Travels as a Bildungsroman
A bildungsroman is a genre of literature that depicts the psychological and moral development of a protagonist from childhood to adulthood. It is usually intended to show the growth and transformation of a character through various experiences and challenges. Swift uses bildungsroman in Gulliver's Travels to show the development and transformation of Gulliver's character throughout his four voyages.
In each voyage, Swift uses different experiences and challenges to shape and change Gulliver's personality, worldview, and values. He also uses different reactions and responses from Gulliver to reveal his inner thoughts and feelings. Some examples of how Swift uses bildungsroman are:
In his first voyage, Gulliver is naive and optimistic. He is fascinated by the Lilliputians and their culture. He tries to help them in their war against Blefuscu and in their domestic affairs. He is proud of his own country and its achievements. He is loyal to his family and friends.
In his second voyage, Gulliver is humbled and disillusioned. He is disgusted by the Brobdingnagians and their physical appearance. He tries to impress them with his knowledge and skills but fails miserably. He is ashamed of his own country and its faults. He is lonely and homesick.
In his third voyage, Gulliver is curious and adventurous. He is amused by the Laputans and their absurdities. He tries to learn from them and their sciences but finds them useless. He is indifferent to his own country and its affairs. He is restless and wanderlust.
In his fourth voyage, Gulliver is cynical and misanthropic. He is repulsed by the Yahoos and their vices. He tries to escape from them and their world but is rejected by the Houyhnhnms. He is hateful towards his own country and its people. He is isolated and depressed.
Gulliver's Travels is a masterpiece of literature that combines various genres, techniques, themes, and messages in a unique and original way. Swift uses satire, parody, allegory, fantasy, and bildungsroman to create a novel that is both entertaining and enlightening, both realistic and imaginative, both humorous and serious.
The novel is not only a reflection of Swift's own views and opinions, but also a challenge to the readers to think critically and creatively about their own world and themselves. It is a novel that invites multiple interpretations and perspectives, and that raises many questions and issues that are still relevant and important today.
Some suggestions for further reading are:
A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift: A satirical essay that proposes a shocking solution to the problem of poverty and overpopulation in Ireland.
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe: A novel that tells the story of a castaway who survives on a deserted island for 28 years.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis: A series of fantasy novels that depict the adventures of children who travel to a magical land called Narnia.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: A novel that follows the experiences and thoughts of a rebellious teenager who runs away from his boarding school.
What is the full title of Gulliver's Travels?
The full title of Gulliver's Travels is Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships.
Who is Lemuel Gulliver?
Lemuel Gulliver is the protagonist and narrator of Gulliver's Travels. He is an Englishman who works as a ship surgeon and later as a sea captain. He travels to various remote regions of the world and encounters different races of people, animals, and plants.
Who is Jonathan Swift?
Jonathan Swift is the author of Gulliver's Travels. He was an Anglo-Irish writer, clergyman, and satirist who lived from 1667 to 1745. He is best known for his works of satire, such as A Tale of a Tub, A Modest Proposal, and Gulliver's Travels.
What are the four voyages of Gulliver?
The four voyages of Gulliver are:
A Voyage to Lilliput: Gulliver visits a land where the people are six inches tall.
A Voyage to Brobdingnag: Gulliver visits a land where the people are sixty feet tall.
A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan: Gulliver visits various lands where the people have different degrees of rationality or irrationality.
A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms: Gulliver visits a land where the horses are rational and noble, and the humans are savage and brutish.
What are some of the themes and messages of Gulliver's Travels?
Some of the themes and messages of Gulliver's Travels are:
The corruption and stupidity of human society, politics, religion, and culture.
The contrast and comparison between different worlds and different races.
The limitations and dangers of human knowledge and science.
The degeneration and depravity of human nature.
The development and transformation of Gulliver's character.