Gulliver’s Travels Essay Example

Gulliver’s Travels is a mock-travel book, written by Jonathan Swift. The unreliable narrator, Lemuel Gulliver, chronicles his adventures, or crash landings, into the lives of unknown peoples, that have seemingly different views from his own on social construct, government, and morals, and vastly vary in physique. Gulliver, an unsuccessful student turned failed businessman, goes to sea as a surgeon, and later as a captain, to support his family (being a surgeon was not a highly regarded job at that time).

Lemuel uses his isolation from his own society to write his own history of his adventures to bring back home and incidental, or not, boost his self and public image. Gulliver by the end of his travels becomes a shell of his former self, as he has seen the flaws in his own society - England in the late 17th and early 18th century. Swift uses this as the body of his critiques of England and its constituents. To truly understand Gulliver’s Travels and the purpose Swift had in writing it, one has to first understand the context in which Swift is writing, as well as, the audience for which Swift is writing. Swifts target audience was England as a whole.

Aligned with the Tory political party, Swift was under rule by the Whigs, who were in power with the help of King George I. Swift comments on relationship between the two political factions in Gulliver's travels to lilliput. Other shots at England include comments on war, the behavior of King George I, and morality in England. Swift originally meant Gulliver’s Travels for his community, but, just like many great works of literature, there are applications of the lessons the book teaches that are still relevant to today. Gulliver’s travels can be seen as a critique to the current United States government, as well as, social media. The quote by T.J. Miller (above) applies to Swift writing Gulliver's travels, because Swift’s audience is England and its constituents. Swift's satire takes aim at societal and governmental problems in England. As someone who lives in England, Swift has a strong love and respect for his muse. 

Swift uses foreign lands and peoples for two reasons: Gulliver seems more unbiased and therefore truthful, and it allows him to make characters in line with people and groups of England without directly addressing them. Swift uses size and physical attributes to completely disconnect Gulliver from the peoples around him. A man, ”who seemed to be a Person of Quality, made me a long Speech, whereof I understood not one Syllable.” (Swift 19) As a new person to the foreign lands Gulliver travelled to, he could make unbiased comments on the culture he’s observing. Furthermore, Swift’s use of difference in size, aesthetics, and language allows him to create a battleground for which he has an impenetrable bunker and he’s locked and loaded. Satire in English society was brutal, relentless, and popular. If an author were to write about the wrong person, said author could be and would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. To avoid getting in trouble with the law, Swift uses the format of a travel book to hide his true intent.

Gulliver’s persona towards the Lilliputians is that he is superior to them, but in England it is known that he was somewhat of a lame; he couldn’t finish school, became a surgeon, but couldn’t run his business without his mentor. Gulliver uses the opportunity of being isolated from everyone he knows to right his own history. With that in mind Gulliver’s accounts have many errors in them that tend to paint him as someone with brains and brawn. Gulliver interprets the name of Laputa as, “the Flying or Floating Island,” (Swift 136) when in actuality it means “The Whore.”

Gulliver tries to sound like intelligent by being able to communicate with foreigners, but with a little digging up its clear to see that he is wrong. Swift is trying to say that England is overly confident in its abilities. Swift could be writing in general terms, but specifically aimed to speak against British imperialism.  By the time Gulliver returned home from the Houyhnhnms, he had lost the confidence he once had in himself. He shows more humility. When Gulliver reaches his family he stays recluse and separates himself from society. This change in character in Gulliver was Swift’s solution to the problem that he has brought up. Swift’s solution is that Englanders must step back and take a look at the society they have created to be able to fix what’s broken.

Swift critique of the feud between the Tories and the Whigs through the two parties from Gulliver’s journey to Lilliput, the High- and Low- Heels. The Low Heels were in power, and the emperor of Lilliput, being a Lowheel, only put people in his political alliance in positions of power. The emperor's single most important criteria for a candidate to become an official was if they were low heels. Lilliputs emperor is King George I, who was a Whig. In his time as king, he helped the Whigs hold the power in parliament and retain that power for years to come. Swift intricately infers that the King was blind to ability and aptitude for the position, and fixated on political affiliation. 

Gulliver criticizes the morales of the English, by means of Gullivers interaction with the Houyhnhnms. When Gulliver is talking with the Horses, he has to explain the concept of lying to their bewilderment. Gulliver insinuates that the Horses are the pure in heart, unlike the the Englishmen. Swift drives home this point as Gulliver, an English resident, lied to the horses face. The Houyhnhnms asked what they’re counterparts were in his culture. Gulliver told them that for the Houyhnhnms in his homeland, “Yahoo-Servants were employed to rub their skins smooth, comb their Manes,” etc. (Swift 203) Obviously, horses are treated like that but they have been domesticated by humans to carry out the work that man cannot do. Swift shows that Gulliver has seen the sins in the English society, while committing the sin himself, which shows how ingrained it is in England at the time. 

Gulliver’s Travels is still relevant today in many ways. Relating it to the United States Government, Swift might argue against the U.S.’s foreign affairs. Just like the Gulliver translated the name of Laputa wrong, Swift might say that the United States government is wrong to assume they understand foreign cultures, and furthermore invene in internal conflicts. Swift might also critique the Trump administration. Betsy Devos, the Secretary of Education, is not qualified for the position she holds, but she is a Republican, thus meeting the criteria of Trump. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are senior advisors for President Trump, but they wouldn’t even be remotely considered candidates for these prestigious positions if they were not related to the President. 

Gulliver’s Travels could also be applied to the social media craze in today's world. Gullivers intelligent bravado that he creates for himself in his memoirs of his adventures create a strapping persona that any man would be jealous of. That's exactly what social media does, people can put out old memories or fake pictures to make themselves look elegant, extravagant, or any facade the user so chooses. One could interpret the ending with Gulliver interacting with the horses, having turned his back on society, as his solution to social media.

This could mean that we must return back to simple ways free of societal pressures. Gulliver states that, “he feels his spirits revived by the smell he contracts in the stable.” (Swift 244) Gulliver returns back to nature, and this could be the first literal meaning Swift has given us. The solution to social media is returning to nature and being one without surroundings without interruption. Swift would critique social media especially because of all the females who flaunt their body for attention. “The Lady's Dressing Room,” was a masterful piece by Swift, and if he could critique people on social media now it would take his work to the next level. 

After everything Lemuel experienced throughout the book his view on the society and his own morales had changed. From someone who was very content with his life and man of his country to leading an ascetic life, the journey’s Gulliver went one made him look intrinsically and realize the problems in the previous life he was living

But I must freely confess, that the many virtues of those excellent quadrupeds, placed in opposite view to human corruptions, had so far opened my eyes and enlarged my understanding, that I began to view the actions and passions of man in a very different light, and to think the honour of my own kind not worth managing; which, besides, it was impossible for me to do, before a person of so acute a judgment as my master, who daily convinced me of a thousand faults in myself, whereof I had not the least perception before, and which, with us, would never be numbered even among human infirmities. (Swift 217-18)

Swift writes this at the end of the book, as a conclusion of all of his character’s travels. Gulliver starts off confident, and had a strong sense of national pride in Lilliput, but as the story progressed Gulliver's opinions started to shift. Once he reached Brobdingnag he realized how he was in a role reversal, which is the beginning of when Gulliver starts to see the faults in his life and his people. By the time Lemuel reaches the Houyhnhnms he has realized all the faults in his life and of the community that he lives in. All in all, Gulliver's Travels was a story by an acclaimed satirist that was a critique of not just the England as a society, but himself as an English citizen, as well.