Gulliver’s Travels by Swift: A Literary Analysis
Swift was a figure of the Enlightenment Era, covering almost the entire first half of the eighteenth century. That time has entered the history of humanity as a time of progress and reform, the time of the dawn of human self-consciousness. Many Enlightenment thinkers defended the ideas of freedom and equality, exalted the human mind and man as the primary standards of existence, and rejected the Christian doctrine of humility before the face of the divine. While not denying the general provisions of the Enlightenment, Swift held more conservative views. As a priest, he believed humanity was too proud, putting itself above nature and even God. The novel “Gulliver’s Travels” is, in fact, the result of Swift’s reflections on his life experience, on the current form of government and the mistakes of this form, and, finally, on the essence of man.
The main character, Gulliver, plays an essential role, which will be discussed in this work. The book tells about the life of the ship’s doctor Lemuel Gulliver and consists of four parts. In the first part, Gulliver gets to a country called Lilliput; in the second, he travels through the land of giants; in the third, he goes to Laputa, and finally, in the fourth part, he digs into the land of intelligent horses. At the novel’s end, Gulliver is still returned home, but life among the people he despises is unpleasant. The only joy for the hero is daily conversations with two foals.
For Swift, a person is a traveler who, going through various life trials, learns about the world and themselves, looking for the meaning of his existence. The main character acts as a kind of measure for all the things he encounters, whether little people, giants, residents of a flying island, or intelligent horses ruling wild half-humans. Gulliver is not just a character but a hero who must portray to the reader the contrast between distorted humanoid creatures and a true human, as he should ideally be.
In the introduction to the novel, the task of the work is immediately revealed to the reader: to truthfully display the shortcomings of society and the person. Lines 9-10 confirm this idea: “There is an air of truth apparent through the whole; and indeed the author was so distinguished for his veracity, that it became a sort of proverb among his neighbors at Redriff when anyone affirmed a thing, to say, it was as true as if Mr. Gulliver had spoken it” (Swift, 1996). Speaking about the character’s characterization, it is impossible not to say about his honesty. The man did not hesitate to appear in a funny or unattractive light in front of readers. Gulliver appreciates friendly relations, but questions of more intimate feelings worry him last of all. Philosophical reflections and profound conclusions are not the strongest sides of the character.
Gulliver is a practical character who survived in various conditions during his long journey. In Lilliput, he is formidable and massive, a giant carrying strength and virtue among defenseless little people. In Brobdingnag, the land of giants, Gulliver becomes a court jester, inferior in height to everyone around him. Still, a representative of blue blood appreciates his intelligence and knowledge. Lines 40-45 (the second chapter, part three) show that in flying Laputa, the character appears as a passive observer, capable of description but not action (Swift, 1996). In a state inhabited by intelligent horses, the character has a considerable antipathy to himself.
Thus, Gulliver’s Travels is a satirical novel and a reflection of the writer’s moral and philosophical searches. Lines 10-12 (chapter twelve, part four) summarize the thoughts and impressions of the main character and, with him, the author of the work (Swift, 1996). The author, traveling with his hero, does not find a way to change the world and eradicate the vices of humanity. Nevertheless, he creates a dreamer hero who believes in a better future, despite all the disappointment he suffered during his wanderings.
Swift, J. (1996). Gulliver’s travels (3rd ed.). Dover Publications.