A Story About a Country Where Little Heroes And a Big Wanderer Live
In the novel “Gulliver’s Travels” it discuss the ways in which Swift insures that the readers will be suspicious of Gulliver, be on guard against him, and be critical. When Gulliver gets to the island the emperor is immediately suspicious of him immediately, the reason being is Gulliver point of view on life and morality is different from everyone else as the people of the island haven’t been anywhere else but the island as Gulliver is from the outside world and considering the fact that none of the people ever been outside there own island. Through the novel it is a ups and downs cycle of how the people feel about him.
Of course in the beginning they are skeptical about him of him being big and different look of a person. As the book progresses the start to feel fond of him and starts to consider on how he views everything which triggers the one that is in charge. In his first three travels Gulliver never encounters “different” peoples. From the beginning Gulliver’s presence in Lilliput presents political problems and he becomes the focus of political intrigue: ‘It seems that upon the first Moment I was discovered sleeping on the Ground after my Landing, the Emperor had early Notice of it by an Express: and determined in Council that I should be typed in the Manner I have related.
The immediate alertness of Gulliver’s arrival to the King, the summoning of a council, stress the fact that Lilliput is from our first encounter with it to be imagined as a political world. The political events and practices of Lilliput have been related to the political history of England during early 1700s by Firth and others. the power of the book is not just restricted to these particular political allusions: the general satire of the methods of promotion to ministerial office in Lilliput is parodic of the attitude of mind behind and nature of such procedures in any political society. The land Gulliver visit is a form of post colonialism as the society is full of colonized people and their lands and is ruled by one person and that’s who the people look for guidance.In reality the people have a reason to skeptical about Gulliver because he’s an outsider from there own unique world, for example if an American where to go to Africa he or she is not adapted to the culture and not knowing the language will make the person visiting an outsider. As in our world we call them tourists which is indifferent from the island Gulliver travels to which is totally isolated from the rest of the world, backed up in technology and isn’t to new visitors coming.
The whigs and the Lilliputians are political allusions, for example in Part 1 the Lilliputian Emperor tyrannical, cruel, corrupt, and obsessed with ceremony though a timeless symbol of bad government, is also a biting satire of George I, King of England which was the King from 1714 to 1727, during much of Swift’s career. The Lilliputian Empress stands for Queen Anne, who blocked Swift’s advancement in the Church of England, having taken offense at some of his earlier, signed satires. There are two political parties in Lilliput, the Low-Heels and the High-Heels. These correspond respectively to the Whigs and Tories, the two major British political parties. Swift uses the two island as allusions of England and France. In the book Gulliver is the catalyst of change and the emperor sees that and is afraid that he’ll change the mindset of the people and can considered overthrowing the emperor. In overall they are suspicious of Gulliver because he’s different from everyone else from appearance to mindset wise.
Big Man’ And ‘Small Problems’
European expansionist ideas overwhelmed the world after the onset of the 15th century. Every European colonial power had reasons for acquisition of new colonial territories. Gulliver’s Travels shows a mixed impression about colonialism. Jonathan Swift’s uses of satires to describe different events, outlines the mixed reaction Gulliver had in his travels of the remote areas. Gulliver opposed conquest battles, even among the natives themselves. For example, Gulliver offers to support the Lilliput when they are up against Blefuscu, but after the capture of Blefuscu’s naval fleet, Gulliver does not participate in conquest against the Blesfucu as asked by the Lilliput. This shows that Gulliver is opposed to imperialistic motives. Despite the fact that Gulliver refuses conquest motives, some of his views, as portrayed in Swift’s satire, depict a demeaning view towards the natives of these areas.
Gulliver’s Travels portrays support for colonialism in different perspectives. For example, in the description of the region’s governance. Swift’s depiction of the Lilliputian debates is a satirical indication that Gulliver thought the Europeans were more advanced. Gulliver described Lilliputian debate as petty compared to English forms of debate. This view reflects one of the factors that led to European conquest. After the struggles of the Middle Ages, European powers such as the Spanish, the English, the Dutch, and the Portuguese believed they had the responsibility to civilize the rest of the globe. This belief showed the growth of imperialistic motives. So when Gulliver describes the inferior reflection of the English Tories and the Whigs in one of the remote areas, the cause must have been that establishment of English colonial rule in the region would help make the territory better from its inferior governance practices.
The text demeans the customs of the remote areas. The descriptions of the peoples’ culture in the regions show Gulliver’s concerns. Gulliver could have embraced the notion that different people liked diverse cultures. However, Gulliver’s perception of the people’s customs as barbaric shows his inner support for imperialism. Gulliver must have held beliefs that Europeans had the responsibility to save the region from their primitive traditions, a view represented but most European explorers to other parts of the world. Also, the text describes these areas’ customs as cause of conflict between the natives of these lands. The demeaning perception of these customs shows Gulliver’s support for imperialism.
The need to spread Christianity to the rest of the world was one of the main reasons for European colonization. Many Europeans thought that Christianity was the rightful religious practice and that it should be embraced globally. These biased religious beliefs made European colonialists want to establish colonies all over the world. Gulliver also depicts conflicting views towards the spiritual practices in the areas he visited. Gulliver ridicules religious beliefs in Lilliputian and The blesfuscu regions. In fact, Gulliver is detained for extinguishing a palace fire by urinating on the fireplace. This act portrayed arrogance towards the areas of religious practices. However, the act also depicted the imperialistic views that Christianity is the rightful spiritual practice. Therefore, the attitude of the region’s religious beliefs is an indication of Gulliver’s indirect support for imperialism.
The text further portrays indirect support for colonialism by outlining Gulliver’s inner views. At Brobdingnag, Gulliver is warmly received in the region’s palace where he becomes popular in the court. However, despite this friendliness, Gulliver praises the English government. These praises for the English government show disrespect for his hosts who decide to throw him out of the region. In one instance, the text praises the massive achievements of the English race. These descriptions come after the text’s funny depiction of the ethnic groups inhabiting the remote areas. This shows that Gulliver regards the European race as superior to the native ethnics and therefore shows his support for colonialism. Colonialism thrived on the belief that the Europeans were superior people which is portrayed in Swift’s satires.
The text outlines how the Laputa attempted to extract sunbeams from cucumbers. This sought to portray the barbaric practices in the remote areas. Gulliver further indicates that the natives showed interest in areas such as mathematics. However, there was no practical application for learning it. The description shows the natives as barbaric and now having any component of civilization. The description of natives’ ignorance shows that to some extent, Gulliver shared the belief that Europeans had the responsibility to civilize the world. However, European civilization was based on the acquisition of colonies. Gulliver must have harboured significant support for imperialistic motives, otherwise, the western civilization could not change the barbaric practices described in the text.
Use Of Themes in Gulliver’s Travels
The book Gulliver’s Travel has a lot of themes. There are 3 themes in the book that are like the major and important in the book. So, what are the themes in the book? The 3 themes that are important and appropriate for the book Gulliver’s travel are working abroad, society and learning new language. So why are the 3 themes important? Firstly, working abroad. Working abroad is like the most important theme the book and it is also like the main idea in the book. Gulliver want to find a job abroad and he wants to work on ships as a surgeon. He wants to travel the world and wants to finds a job that he doesn’t want to do at his country. For example, ” I was surgeon successively in two ships, and made several voyages, for six years”.
This quote in when he works as a surgeon for 2 ships and made a lot of voyages for six years, It states that he works abroad successfully on ship and travel the world to heal people in needed. This is also a thing in real life and a lot of people wants to have a job that is in another country. People think it is more interesting and more fun to have a job in another country because people think it better to have a job and also get to travel the world and explore new things. The most common job is teacher, a lot of people in the world right now wants to teach in other countries. While teaching abroad, they can still travel, have new experiences living in a new country with new people and explore that country. Gulliver also get to travel to other country, he travels to Lilliput, Laputa and other countries and he gets to explore new things. While traveling, there are a lot of good thing and some struggles while traveling like the government. Secondly, the society. In the book Gulliver’s travel. When Gulliver at Lilliput and other places, he see a lot of kings and organized. He also have a lot of conflict with some of the countries he went like Lilliput ” I lay all this while, as the reader may believe, in great uneasiness; at length, struggling to get loose”. This quote shows that when Gulliver got on Lilliput and got captured by Lilliputians. In real life, there are a lot of situations like this. Tourists goes to somewhere and got detained for a period of time because of doing bad stuff.
For example like a college student who got detained in North Korea for stealing a poster and died after a day he got released back to America. So he is like Gulliver because they both get arrest in a new country that they went to travel. And both of the countries have organized system of society. The most common struggles tourists get while travelling to communicate with your surroundings. Studying a little of the language that is in your country is a big advantage while you are in a new country. If you are able to speak a little bit it is a good thing. Third and the final theme is learning a new language. Learning a new language that the country you are form in an advantage because you can easily communicate with someone. It is better than knowing nothing. “that six of his majesty’s greatest scholars should be employed to instruct me in their language”, “All these orders were duly put in execution; and in about three weeks I made a great progress in learning their language”.
At first, he doesn’t know anything when he first come to Lilliput. But after a while, he was able to speak and understand that the Lilliputian talk. He been teach by the scholars and now he can understand and being able to communicate. This is like in real life, a lot of tourists doesn’t know the language of a country they are in so they basically can’t communicate with the people. So studying a bit of a language of a country they are in is an advantage. You can communicate for emergency and to be able to talk to other people. In conclusion, there are 3 important themes in the book Gulliver’s travel. working abroad, society and learning new language. And they are important in a lot of ways.
Significant Characters in Gulliver’s Travels Book
Character Analysis of Youth
CAPTAIN LEMUEL GULLIVER (46): Straight out of Jonathan Swift’s novel, Gulliver “travels” to the island and is taken aback by its barbaric customs. Exhausted and starving yet quick-witted and intelligent, Captain Gulliver immediately sees through the younger islanders’ naivety and struggles to convince them of the errors of their ways. While zany and over-the-top characters surround him, he is in my mind what keeps the play grounded; he therefore is able to react to the humor of the play to complement its comedic moments while not necessarily causing them. I hesitate to use the phrase “straight man” because he is so much more than that, but that is his purpose at certain points in the story. A substantial role despite the play’s shorter length, the actor who plays Gulliver must have a penchant for monologue memorization and a strong grasp of subtext. Despite Gulliver’s grounded nature in this play, I would identify his basic drive as Adventure. Being the character from Gulliver’s Travels, he has a penchant for voyaging to strange new worlds and encountering odd stories. His adamancy at persuading the island’s citizens to change their ways seems to indicate this as well.
MISTRESS BELINDA JENKINS (18): Belinda is above all else young and impressionable. She begins the play comically abhorring Gulliver, as everything about him is foreign to her—his age, his kindness, and his fatherly nature. As the story progresses, however, she develops a strong paternal connection to him and, realizing what she is currently missing, decides to help him escape. Belinda is in fact the only member of the island’s citizens who actually sees Gulliver for who he really is. The play’s most dynamic character, she is the least likely to remain stubborn in her ways. This actress must be able to sell to an audience the act of sudden realization and enlightenment. I would also identify her basic drive as Adventure. As aforementioned, she is the only one who sees Gulliver for who he really is, and is therefore more of a dreamer in my head. Her ending—the escape from the island—supports this claim.
LADY SIBYL PONSONBY (24): As close to a stereotype as this play gets, Lady Sibyl on the surface epitomizes the uptight, pretentious, upper class citizen. In terms of personality and obstinacy, I see her as a more extreme version of Belinda. An exaggeration in more ways than one, she totes an ostentatious parasol and fan which—combined with her costume—create a ridiculous and over-the-top ensemble. While in her discourse with Gulliver she rebukes all his arguments for the criticism of their traditions, a key detail towards the end of the play indicates that there is perhaps more to Lady Sibyl than haughty self-importance. The actress who plays her must have excellent comedic timing and convey zero tolerance for lower-class impertinence. Lady Sibyl’s basic drive is Security. Her main objective in the play seems to prevent Gulliver from staying on the island as long as possible. She is adamant in her resistance to him and never falters on her beliefs.
THE DUKE OF CORNWALL (28): If Gulliver represents the wisdom of age, the Duke represents the other side of the coin: the stubbornness of youth. Of the island’s four speaking-role citizens, he is by far the strongest presence onstage—or at least he thinks he is. My vision of this character is similar to the air-headed athlete who struts around the locker room as if he owns the place; he’s the type who Gulliver would ordinarily not bother to deal with if his life was not at stake. The Duke matches Gulliver’s eloquence in their debates, but is so cartoonish in appearance and intensity that he is difficult to take seriously. He is nonetheless a formidable opponent for Gulliver and the play’s antagonist. Actor must be able to convey arrogance and an utter lack of self-awareness. The Duke’s basic drive is Recognition. He is, after all, the man on the island with the greatest athletic skill and who is most renowned physically. Because of this and his love at hearing his own voice, it stands to reason that he above all wishes to be recognized by others and held in high esteem.
MR. SIMPSON (20): Initially a minor role with very few lines, Simpson serves as a subversion of the “silent servant” type by becoming more outspoken towards the end and even critical to the play’s conclusion. A commoner and a servant living in the Duke’s shadow, he is introverted and obedient, taking the nobles’ word as law and following orders and subscribing to customs without question. It is because of this that he is the most reluctant of the two island defectors to finally decide to escape with Gulliver, and it is because of his society’s harsh implementation of toxic masculinity that he is so emotionally unprepared to face Gulliver’s persuasive influence that he lashes out and attacks him when the two are left alone. This actor is tasked with convincingly expressing inner conflict which is comedic in one moment and devastating in the next. Simpson’s basic drive is Response. His whole life he has been living in silence, never really achieving much. His desire to learn the nature of the arch supports this idea; he wants to be acknowledged and, if he obtained this knowledge, he would get his wish.
BOY GUARDS (15): Not making their appearance until the final moment of the play (in the original Samuel French play text), the two guards help add a button to the story and create its final tableau . . . and the implications for those who remain on the island. Their drive—like most of the island’s inhabitants—is Security. They want to live their short lives ignorant of the world’s capabilities and resist any opposing viewpoints, much like Lady Sibyl.
Depiction Of English Nation in Gulliver’s Travels
Jonathan Swift, a master satirist, used his writing as an outlet for his frustrations with the English nation and as a way to convey his antipathy towards the general state of the society in which he lived. Growing increasingly disappointed with the state of affairs in England, as well as the surrounding nations, Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels in order to articulate his extreme discontent with the many aspects of society. Throughout the books, Gulliver finds himself on many strange islands and meets an assortment of civilizations which personified the specific aspects of life, ranging from religion to politics, that troubled Swift the most. Using clever satire, Swift is able to place Gulliver in situations that make his opinions very clear. In the fourth book, however, Gulliver finds himself on the island of the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos facing a group that is far too rational as well as a group that is overly emotional in their behaviors. His opinions in this book leave the reader questioning whether Gulliver was a representation of Swift’s true beliefs or merely a character used to show two extremes that should not be ventured into. This portrayal of polar opposites is Swift’s warning to English society about the pitfalls of following either.
In Book IV of Gulliver’s Travels Swift explores the idea of Utopia. He lands his ship on an island occupied by the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos, two contradictory groups. The Houyhnhnms, to Gulliver, represent the ultimate successes of society, while the Yahoos are a portrayal of the downward spiral he feels humanity is facing. When Gulliver first reaches the island, he is immediately mistaken for a Yahoo by the intelligent Houyhnhnms who are shocked to find that Gulliver is actually capable of logic and learning beyond that of any Yahoo they have ever encountered. Much like the upper classes back in Gulliver’s society, the Houyhnhnms judge Gulliver immediately based on his looks. To them, if he looks like a Yahoo than he must be a Yahoo, just as to England’s gentry, the lower classes all looked the same. The Yahoos are described as horrible, primitive beasts, unable to reason or learn. As Gulliver is taken in by the Houyhnhnms, however, he begins to learn more about each culture, and the parallels between the Yahoos and English society are rapidly revealed. Gulliver’s Master Houyhnhnm tells him that the Yahoos seem to always form groups and fight against other groups with no apparent reason other than, occasionally, over shiny rocks, which, in Gulliver’s world, could be compared to money or jewelry.
When introduced to a Yahoo servant Gulliver exclaims, “My horror and astonishment are not to be described, when I observed in this abdominal animal a perfect human figure”. It is at this point that Gulliver realizes that the only difference between himself and the Yahoo is the Yahoo’s lack of cleanliness and clothing. Other than those two minor factors, a Yahoo looked to him to be indistinguishable from any other human. At this moment Swift’s satire is able to achieve its main goal: to show the overwhelming flaws of humanity which, if left to develop and expand this far in the emotional direction, could lead to the complete humiliation of the entire human race.
In addition to the physical similarities between humans and Yahoos are the similar behaviors and mannerisms shared by people and Houyhnhnms. The one aspect most notably comparable to that of English culture is Swift’s description of the female Houyhnhnms, who obviously share many likenesses to the ladies of royal stature in England. The have their colts and foals and then barely pay any emotional attention to them, although they stress education and try to get their offspring the best schooling they can. As Gulliver explains,
They have no fondness for their colts or foals, but the care they take in educating them proceeds entirely from the dictates of reason.
This treatment of their young is a scoff at the way English royalty raise their own children: coldly and distantly, allowing servants to do most of the work.
Similarly, traditional roles of men and women as Swift knew them in England are presented in the world of the Houyhnhnms. The male horses are admired for their strength while the female horses must present an air of “comeliness,” much like the customary expectation for women to be gentle, charming, and beautiful while the man must present an air of force, muscle, and power. Also, many young Houyhnhnm couples are joined by their parents or friends based on their genetics and the plan for their future offspring. As Gulliver describes, “in their marriages they are exactly careful to choose such colours as will not make any disagreeable mixture in the breed” and when the couples are joined it is by the “determination of their parents and friends: it is what they see every day, and they look upon it as one of the necessary actions in a reasonable being.” This predetermined pact made to preserve the “perfection” expected by the Houyhnhnms is very close to the arranged marriages of the gentry, which were set up based on politics, dowry and other superficial matters.
In contrast, Swift also emphasizes the over-rational nature of the Houyhnhnms. Although Gulliver comes to admire their great logic and eventually decides that it is the best way to live life, Swift uses this extreme to show that the other half of English society may be headed in the opposite direction from the Yahoos, towards that of the Houyhnhnms, which would also lead to a crisis. As Ernest Tuveson, a professor of English at Berkley University in California puts is,
The absurdity of a domestic animal exhibiting more “humanity” than humans throws light on the defects of human nature in the form of the Yahoos, who look and act like humans stripped of higher reason. Gulliver and the reader are forced to evaluate such behavior from a vantage point outside of man that makes it both shocking and revelatory.
It seems that by creating a race as devoid of emotion and as driven by reason as the Houyhnhnms, Swift is criticizing the Royal Society’s over emphasis on logical experimentation. Swift loathed the science and rationality of the Enlightenment because “he felt that with the advancement of science, mankind will abandon the morals and values that define the human race.” He thought that the scientists were headed in a direction where emotion and passion were abhorred and was therefore disapproving of “the strange experiments of the scientists of the Royal Society.” Swift preferred the old religious faith as a way to explain what the new scientists were trying to rationalize.
More so, the rationality the Houyhnhnms use is not always the most reasonable form of logic. For example, they make the Yahoos into the “others”, a race of immigrants to their island, who were not original habitants as they were, which therefore helps them rationalize the stigmatization they place on them.
In closing, it is clear that Swift’s fourth book from Gulliver’s Travels is intended as the ultimate attack on mankind. Where the first three books attack specific actions of people that seem frivolous to Swift, the fourth book covers all of these which include political corruption, the self-importance of the English court, the follies of allowing one to become overcome by greed and selfishness, and the excessive reasoning of the scientist. In general, this refers to the essence of man himself. As Swift takes the reader through the four books of Gulliver’s Travels, bit by bit all pretensions are peeled away until all that is left is Swift’s urgent challenge to improve mankind. Swift proposes that becoming too reasonable and lacking any feelings would be just as bad as becoming a nation of overemotional illogical beasts, controlled by their hunger for power and money. Generally, Swift feels that mankind can survive if their unwarranted pride could only be overcome and a balance between the rationality of the Houyhnhnms and the irrationality of the Yahoos could be reached.
Search For Family in Gulliver’s Travels
The Fatal Final Journey
We all have a crazy family member. Whether it’s your mother, little brother, or Aunt Karen, they can always be counted on to make a scene at Christmas dinner. In almost all cultures, family is a core value we are taught to respect and love, even when you want to wring their neck. It often feels like family is inescapable; “you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.” Or at least, that is what people are led to believe. Yet in his novel Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift uses Gulliver’s relationship both with his family and the people he discovers (primarily the Houyhnhnms) to demonstrate that family is not a concrete idea an individual is born into, but rather can be discovered for oneself.
Gulliver’s relationship with his wife may not be one of equals due to the time period, but it does progress from one of mutual respect to total disregard on his behalf. In the beginning of their relationship, Gulliver’s business as a doctor began to fail. An opportunity arose for him to become a ship’s surgeon, but before making a decision, he “therefore consulted my Wife, and some of my Acquaintance, I determined to go again to Sea” (22). Gulliver understood that this would impact all of his new family, and made sure that this was a mutual agreement because he respected his wife’s position. However, after two voyages that caused him to be at home for only two months of a total seven years, his wife was no longer open to the idea. When Gulliver proposed another voyage, his “Wife protested I should never go to Sea any more; although my evil Destiny so ordered that she had not Power to hinder me” (139). He justifies his actions by claiming that it is his “destiny” which has set him upon this course of neglect. Not 10 days later, he began planning his next sea voyage against his wife’s wishes. Gulliver said, “the only Difficulty that remained was to persuade my Wife”, removing all doubt that he was unaware of just how afflicted she was (144). Within the next month, he was finally able to convince her, saying “consent however I at last obtained by the prospect of Advantage proposed to her Children” (144). This statement demonstrates two points: that Gulliver addresses the children as hers–showing no interest in claiming them himself as family–and that the proposed “advantage” is in fact his absence. Gulliver believes that her children will be better off without him.
Out of all the cultures Gulliver visits in his travels, he relates most deeply with the Houyhnhnms, a community of intelligent horses living on a secluded island. On this island, the horses are dominant over the Yahoos, a primitive race of humans. Over the course of 5 years Gulliver learns about the Houyhnhnms’ society, and has a particular interest in their family practices. He explains that these horses have a strong sense of comradery, demonstrated by his observation that “a Stranger from the remotest Part is equally treated with the nearest Neighbour” (246). Interestingly, despite this communal bond, the Houyhnhnms do not invest in one another emotionally. They have “no Fondness for their Colts or Foals” and breed specifically based on attributes (246). This Houyhnhnm belief parallels directly with Gulliver’s reaction to his children and his wife. It would seem that he no longer has any compassion towards any of his family, disappearing with the slightest blow of the wind. Gulliver says specifically, “Nature teaches them to love the whole Species, and it is Reason only that maketh a Distinction of Persons, where there is a superior Degree of Virtue” (246). Gulliver has reasoned that his weak Yahoo family back in England is of no benefit to him or society, and cast them aside in his pursuit of emulating the Houyhnhnms. Unfortunately for him, the Houyhnhnms have decided the same. At the convening of their grand council, the horses concluded that it was inappropriate for Gulliver to continue residing in their community, and that he must return to his own country. He utters that in comparison, “Death would have been too great an Happiness” (257). This man learns that he will be sent home to his wife and children, and only responds with a yearning for death. To Gulliver, he is being expelled from the only family he has known.
The clearest insight into Gulliver’s relationship with his family occurs on his return from living with the Houyhnhnms. Upon his return , he is says that “My Wife and Family received me with great Surprise and Joy, because they concluded me certainly dead; but I must freely confess the sight of them only filled me with Hatred, Disgust, and Contempt” (265). These are extremely polarized reactions; yet it is crucial to note that Gulliver is not numb to his family. Unlike his precious Houyhnhnms, Gulliver continues to harbor emotional attachment to his family. Most troubling is his delusion that he remains above the “Yahoos” (his family) when in reality he is reacting in a much more primal manner: negatively. He quickly realizes that “by copulating with one of the Yahoo Species I had become a Parent of more, it struck me with the utmost Shame, Confusion, and Horror” (265). Gulliver’s abhorrence of the “Yahoos” living under his roof does not fade, and he explains that after five years of being home he is still unable to sit in the same room as them. His solution to this is to “buy to young Stone-Horses, which I kept in a good Stable” (266). After 16 years of voyages to supposedly provide for his family, he chooses to invest his money in the care and maintenance of creatures of the same breed which ousted him from the community he so adored. They are his closest and only friends, of whom Gulliver says “understand me tolerably well; I converse with them at least four Hours every Day” (266). He attempts to continue to live his life as a Houyhnhnm in every regard, but is continuously crippled by his intolerance his family. Most certainly, they feel as though Gulliver never returned from that fatal final journey.
Some critics may object to Swift encouraging his character to broaden his familial horizons out of concern for Gulliver’s actual family. In reality, his family had become accustomed to his absence and was thriving despite of it. When returning from Brobdingnag (being gone for four years), Gulliver says of his wife, “I found she had starved herself and her Daughter to nothing” (139). Clearly in this case Gulliver’s family was hemorrhaging; however this was only halfway through his period of adventure. When he leaves again, and then returns 5 years later the scene is much different. His family has prospered, and Gulliver “found my Wife and Family in good Health” (201). This is not to say that his family was unwelcoming, but they were habituated with his escapades, creating a separate life for themselves.
Jonathan Swift uses the relationships with the people circling Gulliver’s life to demonstrate his hungry search for family. Although Gulliver does not get acceptance into his chosen preference, the Houyhnhnms, he is able to start a smaller group when he returns home through the purchase of two horses. These creatures occupy most of his time, and he remains unable to interact with his blood family without experiencing intense disgust. While Gulliver may not be experiencing the “happily ever after” he desperately sought, his story is one that must be recognized as a journey; a journey in more than discovery of new worlds, but the discovery of one’s family.
Analysis of Politics in Gulliver’s Travels
Change is inevitable; it grows with the next generation and time and time again sneaks up on those that are not looking for it. This is true for music, fashion, literature, religion, and even politics. The tide of any of these subjects may change dramatically in a short period, however, the basic principles of each are never truly lost. The reoccurrence of once obsolete ideals can be proven simply by looking at the past and comparing to our current situation. This is also seen in literary plots spanning from the 1800s to today. The novels I am focusing on, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift and Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, are two prime examples of retrograde literature and the ability of essential doctrines to move from the past into novels of the future. Though authors may unknowingly do so, they are responsible for this continuation and the production of novels with identical or similar concepts. Although Gulliver’s Travels was written before Herland, they both mention politics and religion as overarching themes throughout the stories.
Gulliver’s Travels covers the adventures of Lemuel Gulliver as he discovers a number of unknown colonies with peculiar residents. Though his initial reaction, when arriving at Lilliput, is one of shock at the tiny citizens that attempt to restrain him, he also is presented with the political system that is Lilliput’s kingdom. The emperor, a hospitable man once Gulliver provides him with decent entertainment and protection, rules over a noble system and kingdom. This usually successful model is corrupted by the emperor’s willingness to place his friends and loved ones in positions of power, an act of blatant nepotism. Comparably, the king of the Brobdingnagians often contemplates the necessary actions for his government to be acceptable at least, exceptional at most. Other kings, like the one that rules over Luggnaggia, refused to consider the political ramifications of his actions; instead, he chose to force his subjects to flatter him and obey his every order and command. Finally, the Laputian king chose monetary gain over the success of his own kingdom, by selling off the lands that surrounded them he gained power through money, not respect. Swift may not be inherently misogynistic, but his continued placement of a male as the head of all ficticous governments in his novel perpetuates the stereotype that women are incapable of leading. This is most likely due to the time period Gulliver’s Travels was produced within, it is just an unfortunate view to have, especially when compared with the equality-driven society of Herland.
The patriarchcal model seen throughout Gulliver’s Travels is not easily overlapped with the socialist society seen within Herland. Rather than uplifting a singular person or a small class of well off individuals, the women within Herland’s society shift their focus to communal peace. The action of treating the entire community as if it is one large family produces individual members who care more about their sisters than they do themselves. Though some may see this as self-destructive, to this particular society, the concept of socialism provides a simple and trustworthy community in which they can raise their children. Common education and communal farming insure no inequality will take place, thus also insuring there will not be quarrels over “special treatment”. Furthermore, the lack of laws showcases the advancement these women have already made; there is not violence or a need for disagreement because they have reached their prime potential, only moving forward to further scientific and research based operations. There is a large difference with Gulliver’s Travels as we see a different political system in Herland than any mentioned in the former novel. Where Swift seems so focused on the necessity of a formal, rigid political structure, Gilman prefers a more simplistic approach. The change of ideals is stark, a night and day comparison of sorts; it is near impossible to find even a slight continuation from the early 1800s publication of Gulliver to the early 1900s publication of Herland and the Amazonian-like women. Gilman does not produce a singular leader within her colony of self-reproducing females; they all view each other as equals to not only those within their society, but also those who stumble upon them. However curious they may be, the women are not afraid of the men, nor do they feel the need to elect one their king and serve under him.
Though it is true in certain aspects that history does repeat itself, it is difficult to find such close comparisons when location, author age and gender, and a span of about a century create the differences spotted. Gulliver’s Travels enforces an age old idea that a patriarchy is the best option for a civilized land while Herland accepts the notion that perhaps there is no need for a ruling body. Given the fact that these two novels present quite separate ideas of a utopia it is not entirely fair to claim one as correct and the other as misinformed; however, it is not impossible to tell which literary piece and author expanded their frame of thinking to include larger possibilities for politics and leadership.
The Deconstruction of the Idea of Paradise
It is human nature to strive for paradise, but is it actually attainable? There have been countless attempts to establish utopian societies, yet ultimately, all have failed. In his work, Gulliver’s Travels, Swift recounts the journeys of Gulliver to various fantastical lands. Each land is vastly different from our own but also more similar than would ostensibly appear. In all the lands but the last, Gulliver finds that the other societies also experience much the same problems that plague human society. In the final land, however, that of the Houyhnhnms, human problems do not exist; instead, there is a much deeper, more profound problem – a complete lack of the very emotion which defines us as human. By placing Gulliver in various environments in which his perspective and relation to his surroundings change drastically, Swift is able to delineate, through the use of satire, the shortcomings of each society, as well as those extant in ours – shortcomings that cause us to fall short of a utopian ideal.
On his first journey, Gulliver travels to the land of Lilliput, where the inhabitants are a fraction of the size of humans. Despite this obvious difference in size, however, the society of the Lilliputians shares many attributes with that of humans. For instance, their politics are very similar to that of the Europeans. In their society, the nobles are advanced based on favor earned with the king by performing inane tasks, rather than ability in a specific area. Gulliver describes this practice, saying, “When a great office is vacant…those [rope dancers]…petition the Emperor…and whoever jumps the highest without falling, succeeds the office” (28). Swift uses this custom to satirize the manner in which European nobles advance themselves based on favor with royalty rather than ability. Because advancement is not based on merit, problems in the government ensue, thereby precluding a utopian society. Swift further ridicules European practices by citing the bitter war being fought between the Lilliputians and their kinsmen, the Blefuscans. This war is being fought because of disagreement as to the proper end on which to crack an egg. Gulliver says, “[Lilliput and Blefuscu] have…been engaged in a most obstinate war… It began…[when] the Emperor published an edict, commanding all subjects…to break the smaller end of their eggs” (40). This asinine reason for so much savagery and bloodshed is used to satirize the incessant European warfare. Swift feels that the constant wars between European powers are also being fought for equally asinine reasons. Violence due to such absurdity is yet another reason Utopia has not been achieved. By bringing Gulliver to Lilliput, Swift is able to expose various flaws in European and human society based on human pettiness.
On his next outing, Gulliver travels to Brobdingnag. Here he is a fraction of the size of the inhabitants, rather than the other way around. Due to this abrupt reversal, he undergoes a complete change in perspective. Despite this change though, he continues to observe many similarities between this new society and that of the Europeans. The inhabitants of Brobdingnag, like humans, have a very high opinion of themselves. Gulliver, however, exposes this opinion to be in error. He relates their numerous physical blemishes saying, “Their skins appeared so coarse and uneven, so variously coloured, when I saw them near, with a mole here and there as broad as a trencher, and hairs hanging from it thicker than packthreads, to say nothing further concerning the rest of their persons” (117). He continues, saying, “…[A] very offensive smell came from their skins…” (117). Disparaging their education, Gulliver says, “The learning of this people is very defective…” (136). There are clearly many things wrong with their society, yet they, like humans, refuse to admit to and address them. Also like humans, the inhabitants of Brobdingnag deplore practices which differ from their own. When Gulliver tells the King of various human practices, the King responds, saying, “…I cannot but conclude that the bulk of your natives are the most pernicious race of odious little vermin ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the Earth” (133). As humans often do, the King of Brobdingnag immediately dismisses and deprecates that which is different and that which he does not understand. Through Gulliver’s journey to this land of giants, Swift reveals faults that stem from the over-inflated sense of self prevalent in human society.
Gulliver’s next excursion takes him to Laputa, a floating island where the inhabitants are fanatical believers in scientific reasoning and technology. The Laputians, however, are utterly misguided in their attempt to harness the power science can provide. They conduct ludicrous experiments such as constructing buildings from the roof down and attempting to extract sunlight from vegetables. Their clothing is also adorned with scientific symbols, and their eyes pointed toward astrological signs. They literally cannot see straight. The pursuit of knowledge through science has completely overtaken their lives. Common sense has been abandoned, leaving the Laputians to pursue enlightenment blindly and stupidly. They’ve sacrificed sense for reason and lost both. Here Swift is pointing out the folly in relying solely on scientific reasoning and its inability to provide the solution for the puzzle of Utopia . Also in this land, Gulliver meets the Immortals. These Immortals do not live blessed, envied lives though. Instead, their immortality is viewed as an eternal curse, in which they are destined to live horrible, pathetic lives, utterly lacking in relief. Swift uses this example to show the foolishness in desiring eternal life. The journey to Laputa works to refute human aspirations concerning immortality and other impossibilities. Through Gulliver’s ascent to this land in the sky, Swift tells the reader to get his head out of the clouds.
Gulliver’s final and most significant journey takes him to the land of the Houynhnhnms. In this exotic locale, he discovers two societies that exist side-by-side but are completely different. One society is that of the Yahoos. The Yahoos have a bestial society, ravaged by rampant problems such as cupidity, lust, and vulgarity. They are described as “odious” (246), “degenerate and brutal” (248). They are driven by uninhibited emotion and live only to fulfill their primal desires. This society illustrates one extreme of humanity. If humans were to follow their passions without regard for the consequences and morality of their actions, this is what human society would regress to. In stark contrast to the Yahoos are the Houynhnhnms. They exist in a utopian paradise free of the problems that plague man. There are no problems which cannot be peaceably and easily solved, and there is no disease. They have achieved perfection. They are, however, fundamentally different from humans; they lack passion and emotion. It is because of this lack of any intense sensation, though, that they are able to achieve perfection. Humanity is, by definition, flawed, for that which makes us human, makes us inherently imperfect. By juxtaposing these two societies, Swift is able to illustrate the extremes of society – a society in which the pursuit of paradise has been completely abandoned and one in which it has been inhumanly achieved.
Each trip Gulliver takes provides the reader with further insight into the flaws of human society and the reasons for human failure to achieve a utopian ideal. Though the inhabitants of each land seem very different from humans physically, observation of their societies provides the opportunity to grasp more profound insights concerning our own. In Lilliput, the size of the inhabitants represent human pettiness; in Brobdingnag, the size of the inhabitants represent the human ego; in Laputa, the location of the island reveals our impractical aspirations; and in the land of the Houynhnhnms, the contrast between the Yahoos and the Houynhnhnms reveals the fact that perfection is the antithesis of humanity. Man possesses an ideal of perfection without realizing that that very image of paradise is simultaneously an image of the most torturous of hells. The only manner in which humanity could exist in perpetual bliss, is if humanity had no concept whatsoever of bliss. As Gulliver travels from land to land, the reasons for human failure to achieve Utopia are presented again and again, but at the end of his journeys, Swift provides the reader with the reason as to why this is so, or perhaps comes to the realization himself. Faced with a state of passionless existence as the only alternative to our flawed society, he stops criticizing that which cannot be changed and instead accepts it.
The Duality of Book Four of Gulliver’s Travels
During the early 18th century, an explosion of satire swept through British literature. This period, often called the “Age of Reason,” was highly influenced by a group of the elite of society, who called themselves the Augustans and were determined to live their lives according to “truth” and “reason.” Likewise, they often found themselves the object of a good deal of satire. Among the satirists of this age were such distinguished authors as Daniel Defoe, Alexander Pope, and Jonathan Swift. Of the three, the most biting, most pungent, and most bitter writing came from Swift. Swift, unafraid to attack almost every institution, often found himself surrounded by controversy. His most contentious and his greatest work, however, was a series of chronicled voyages known as Gulliver’s Travels. Through the adventures of Lemuel Gulliver, Swift ridiculed everything from English politics to human nature. Indeed, Swift said that the purpose of his Travels was to “wonderfully mend the world” (qtd. in Rowe 143). All four books of Gulliver’s Travels are utterly filled with satire, which, simply put, is a type of writing that derides the frailties and vices of a person, an institution, or society in general. “The satirist holds up for his readers to see a distorted image, and the reader is to be shocked into a realization that the image is his own” (Dyson 673). The fourth book of Gulliver’s Travels, “A Voyage to the Houyhnhnms,” is particularly filled with satire, as Gulliver discovers a Utopian society of horses (Houyhnhnms) who sneer at humans (Yahoos) as being savage. Throughout the selection, Swift also includes irony in his work to aid him in his satire. Verbal irony (the kind that Swift uses) occurs when an author says one thing, but means something entirely different. Although Swift’s primary goal in writing the Fourth Voyage of Gulliver’s Travels was to point out the savagery of human nature, a closer reading reveals a more subtle, ironic caricature of the Augustans.
There can be little doubt that the major purpose of the Fourth Voyage is to reveal the barbarism of humanity. The theme is found nearly everywhere. The reader cannot help but feel in part ashamed of himself after finishing the book. As Gulliver first descends upon the island, he meets a disgusting group of humanlike animals known as Yahoos. Moreover, when he first sees them, he says: “Upon the whole, I never beheld in all my travels so disagreeable an animal, nor one against which I naturally conceived so strong an antipathy” (Swift 2). Towards the end of the story, it becomes obvious that the Yahoos are an exaggeration of mankind itself. More accurately, they represent the savage side of humanity. “Disgusting as the picture is, it still conveys an important moral lesson: it is a probable delineation of what humanity might become if exposed to the brutalizing influences of unregulated passions” (Kallich 70). Moreover, the amoral characteristics of human society appear to be just as bad, if not worse than those of the Yahoos. In fact, the horses of the Utopian society are shocked when they hear Gulliver’s descriptions of all the vices of people and society. Indeed, Gulliver’s description of the causes of wars is particularly astounding.
It is a very justifiable cause of a war to invade a country after the people have been wasted by famine, destroyed by pestilence, or embroiled by factions among themselves. It is justifiable to enter into war against our nearest ally, when one of his towns lies convenient for us, or a territory of land, that would render our dominions round and complete. If a prince sends forces into a nation where the people are poor and ignorant, he may lawfully put half of them to death, and make slaves of the rest, in order to civilize and reduce them from their barbarous way of living. (Swift 13)
Shortly after this selection, the horse to whom Gulliver explains the reasons of war draws quite a few connections between the humans and Yahoos by describing some of the very aggressive activities of the latter that suspiciously resemble the wars of mankind. Certainly, this passage indicates how the sovereigns of many countries can hide their selfish quest for power behind honorable motives. “The justifiable’ is stripped of the rationalizing euphemism of diplomacy and seen for what it really is: Reason of State and Realpolitik are just abstract shields for inhuman opportunism and blatant crimes” (Knowles 124). Likewise, this is a fairly obvious use of irony: Swift calls these actions “very justifiable” when the way he describes them indicates that he does not really mean this. This instance is simply one of many examples throughout the voyage of Swift satirizing the greed and primitive nature of humanity.
Even though Gulliver becomes a misanthrope by the end of the book, this viewpoint is not the one that Swift intends for the reader. At the end of the voyage, Gulliver is forced to return home, by the decree of the Houyhnhnms. When he arrives home, he cannot tolerate the sight of another human being (including his family) because he believes that, deep down, they are truly Yahoos. Many have argued that this is the opinion Swift wants his readers to take up. After all, at one point he did say, “I have ever hated all nations, professions, and communities, and all my love is towards individuals” (qtd. in Rowse 143). However, Swift made Gulliver far more misanthropic than he could realistically expect anyone to be. After his voyage, Gulliver forces his wife and son to eat dinner at the other end of a very long table. Swift intended for the reader to perceive this as silly and perhaps think him a little crazy. “Swift, in constructing the narrative of Gulliver’s transformation from a lover of mankind’ into a perfect misanthrope, went out of his way to introduce various signs into the story the natural effect of which would be to discredit, for attentive readers the extreme conclusions drawn by Gulliver himself from his stay in Houyhnhnmland” (Crane 334-335). Similarly, Gulliver is rescued and brought back to Europe by a Portuguese Captain by the name of Don Pedro. The Captain is extraordinarily nice to Gulliver, who still despises him on account of his being a Yahoo. “The Captain had often entreated me to strip myself of my savage dress, and offered to lend me the best suit of clothes he had. This I would not be prevailed on to accept, abhorring to cover myself with anything that had been on the back of a Yahoo” (Swift 35). Obviously, Gulliver’s refusal to wear something that had simply touched a Yahoo is a little on the extreme side. The last character discussed in the novel (other than Gulliver) happens to be a man with numerous virtues. Swift obviously wants his readers to see that, because of his experiences, Gulliver’s views on human nature are not exactly fair and rational.
Had Swift meant us to take seriously Gulliver’s antipathy to human kind,’ wouldn’t he have made his rescuer an unmistakable Yahoo? And isn’t his emphasis on Don Pedro’s virtues a plain indication, therefore, that he wanted us to think of Gulliver, at this final stage, as a person so infatuated with a false or one-sided theory of human nature that he is blind to any facts which contradict it? (Crane 335)
Gulliver obviously shares the point of view of his equine friends. If that view is wrong, it means that the Houyhnhnms are not the infallible beings originally portrayed. Clearly, if their main purpose is not a perfect race to which man should be compared, they must have another function in the story.
The Houyhnhnms, though apparently perfect beings, are actually just clever imitations of the Augustans. As said before, the Augustans dedicated their lives to reason and truth. Much like the Augustans, everything the Houyhnhnms do is based on a scientific process.
In their marriages they are exactly careful to choose such colors as will not make any disagreeable mixture in the breed. Strength is chiefly valued in the male, and comeliness in the female; not upon the account of love, but to preserve the race from degenerating; for where a female happens to excel in strength, a consort is chosen with regard to comeliness. (Swift 25)
This is a prime example of Swift’s use of irony to aid him in his satire. Throughout the story, he frequently mentions how good the society of the Houyhnhnms is when, through his description of their lifestyle, he actually shows the opposite. The lives of the horses lack passions, pleasures, and ideas. Even if they have no evils in their society, they have no real benefits either. If deleting all the risks in life is what it takes to eliminate vice, shouldn’t mankind accept the necessity of a little bit of evil? The world in which the Houyhnhnms live is far from perfect.
“The horses have, in fact, no passions at all. Their ‘virtue’ is not a triumph over impulse and temptation, but a total immunity from these things and an immunity which is also, by its very nature, an absence of life and vitality? If they are incapable of human bestiality they are even less capable of human glory or sublimity” (Dyson 681).
Swift is brilliantly making fun of the Augustan goal. After all, the “Houyhnhnm” scenario is the way the Augustans strove to live their lives. Later, in the Romantic period, they would be criticized for their scientific approach to everything and their strict adherence to reason. In this way, Swift was ahead of his time, and, although his book did not glorify emotion or anything of that nature, it certainly ridiculed the Augustans and their ideals. “Book IV is still valid, in fact, as a satire upon Augustanism itself. The Augustans, at their most characteristic, disapproved of strong emotions as necessarily disruptive, subordinated even those emotions they could not exile to the stern control of ‘Right Reason,’ and found no place for ‘feeling’ in their search for “truth’” (Dyson 682). The Augustans were a product of the Enlightenment, and with the help of social commentaries like Swift’s, they began to die out as people began to see how senseless a life dedicated to reason truly was.
Hence, the ironical ridicule of the Augustans was just as integral to Book IV as depiction of humans as Yahoos. The whole system of Houyhnhnmland is, in fact, an allegory. The horses represent true reason and the Yahoos pure emotion. Either one of these taken to an extreme is dangerous. If people let emotion completely rule them, they end up with a society without order, such as the Yahoos. On the other hand, if people dedicate themselves entirely to logic, they produce a society with plenty of order, but no vitality. A healthy community has a good mixture of the two. Swift leaves subtle clues like Gulliver’s illogical misanthropy at the end to indicate that one must see the value in both. Sadly, it is easy for a reader to walk away thinking that Swift thinks humanity to be evil. This piece in particular requires multiple readings to gather the true meaning of it. Indeed, there are many interpretations of the piece that criticize Swift for indicating that a flawless society could exist without religion of any kind. Obviously, the author of the criticism could not have possibly understood that the Houyhnhnms simply symbolized all that was rational, and religion would have been out of place in that context. Partially because of such subtleties, the Fourth Voyage, and indeed all of Gulliver’s Travels, contains outstanding satire. In fact, in a bizarre way, Swift almost betrays readers with his satire. He wins their trust with a tone of friendly conversation, and then begins to ruthlessly attack. Perhaps this was even why he was so effective. He also mastered irony by the time he died, as seen in his “A Modest Proposal.” His assaults on society did make people question themselves and their institution, and in a way, they did help to “wonderfully mend the world.”
Crane, R.S. “The Houyhnhnms, the Yahoos, and the History of Ideas.” Greenburg 402-6.
Crane, R.S. “The Rationale of the Fourth Voyage.” Greenburg 331-8.
Dyson, A. E. “Swift: The Metamorphosis of Irony.” The Writings of Jonathan Swift. Ed. Robert Greenburg. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1973. 672-84.
Glendinning, Victoria. Jonathan Swift: A Portrait. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1998.
Greenburg, Robert, ed. Gulliver’s Travels: An Authoritative Text. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1976.
Kallich, Martin. The Other End of the Egg. Bridgeport: Conference on British Studies, 1970.
Knowles, Ronald. Gulliver’s Travels: The Politics of Satire. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1990.
Rowse, A.L. Jonathan Swift: Major Profit. London: Thames and Hudson, 1975.
Swift, Jonathan. “A Voyage to the Houyhnhnms.” Gulliver’s Travels. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Available https://www.gutenberg.net/
Different Educational Traditions in Gulliver’s Travels
Educational practices have evolved in a multitude of ways throughout human history. In Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, each land that Gulliver visits has its own idea of what education should be like for the citizens there. The first land Gulliver visits, Lilliput, which seems most similar to Gulliver’s home of England in its social structure, is also most similar in terms of educational practices. However, each subsequent land he visits is increasingly different from the schooling that Gulliver is used to. As a whole, the educational practices that Gulliver encounters in the various lands are different from the educational practices in England at the time of the book’s writing in 1726. Swift uses these differing practices to make a commentary on the state of education in early eighteenth-century England. Swift uses Gulliver’s Travels to expose the limits in the English educational system in the early eighteenth century through his depiction of schools in the novel’s various foreign lands.
In describing Lilliput, Swift reveals how the educational system is set up similarly to other historical governments in every aspect of life. In the Nurseries for Males of Noble or Eminent Birth, Gulliver reports how the children are “never suffered to converse with Servants” and are only allowed to see their parents twice a year, with the visits not lasting more than an hour (Swift 49). Additionally, Gulliver notes that the children are constantly under the watch of teachers so as to “avoid those early bad Impressions of Folly and Vice to which our children are subject” (49). Swift is addressing the elevated level of amusement and fun that is allowed in the English educational system compared to the Lilliputian system; professors surveil them constantly to prevent any merrymaking, which is not the case in England where the trend of formal education has not yet caught on and children are allowed to run and play freely. Moreover, in the Nurseries for Males of Noble and Eminent Birth’s female counterparts, the treatment of the children stays about the same, but with the inclusion of the small detail that the girls’ nurses would be severely punished and henceforth banished if they were found to “entertain the Girls with frightful or foolish stories, or the common Follies practised by Chamber-Maids among us” (Swift 50). Once again, Swift criticizes how the Lilliputians valued the gravity of their children’s raisings much more than the English did; the Lilliputians aimed to raise their children to be solemn leaders who knew nothing of the Follies of normal life. Unlike the Lilliputians, though, the non-noble children were not educated in England in the early eighteenth century. Education was a privilege that only the nobles were entitled to. The “Nurseries for Children of ordinary Gentlemen, Merchants, Traders, and Handicrafts” were ordered similarly to the nurseries for the noble children, with the exception of those going into trades, who went into apprenticeships instead (Swift 50).
While Lilliput had an orderly, structured system for schooling their youth, Gulliver found that the educational practices in Brobdingnag did not appease his standards for the proper education of children based on his raising in England. According to Gulliver, “the Learning of this People is very defective; consisting only in Morality, History, Poetry, and Mathematicks; wherein they must be allowed to excel” (Swift 125). This stance corresponds with the distaste Gulliver has for Brobdingnag’s lack of politics; in this land, the truth is valued more than the punishment for a crime, and the laws are stated so simply that loopholes are not a concern. Swift is indicating that human nature means having an inherent desire for complexity. The educational practices in Brobdingnag are considered defective by Gulliver because of their oversimplified nature: As a man learned in medicine, several different languages, navigation, and multiple sciences, Gulliver is appalled at the small range of subjects studied by the Lilliputians. In England, those fortunate enough to receive an education were taught a variety of subjects, so the Brobdingnagians’ simple manner seems inferior to Gulliver.
Despite his mild discontent with the Brobdingnagians’ educational system in comparison to the English system, Gulliver has a much stronger conviction against the Houyhnhnm system of education. For the most part, these sentiments are due to the fact that the Houyhnhnms only study four subjects: Temperance, Industry, Exercise, and Cleanliness. One facet of the Houyhnhnm educational system that sticks out to Gulliver is the fact that both sexes learn the same subjects. When Gulliver shares his educational experiences, he says his Master “thought it monstrous in us to give the Females a different kind of Education from the Males, except in some articles of Domestick Management” (Swift 261). The Master is appalled at the thought of males and females being separated for their schooling; The Master observes “one Half of our Natives were good for nothing but bringing Children into the World,” which Gulliver agrees with. Swift opposes sexism through the words of the Houyhnhnms; the idea of equal education for women was virtually unheard of in the early eighteenth century, yet here is an argument that women should not be limited in their educational pursuits solely because they can bear children. It also is worth noting that the Houyhnhnms, a non-human species, study subjects such as Temperance and Cleanliness: these traits are taught to human children through years of formal education and parenting, yet they are the main focus of the Houyhnhnms’ studies. The Houyhnhnms think very highly of themselves and act as if they are born already knowing everything there is to know, so they must study only their limited range of subjects. These educational practices are the most different from the educational practices in Swift’s England.
In yet another different direction from the first three lands, Laputa brings about a new design for an educational system that contradicts the English system. The Laputians are too focused on studying music and math to do anything other than music and math. Gulliver tours the Academy of Projectors in Lagado and understands why the whole city is in disarray; the Projectors work on projects that are in no way practical, such as trying to extract sunbeams from cucumbers, recycling food from human excrement to eat again, distinguishing paint by scent, or plowing the ground with hogs. The Laputians are so wrapped up in their own projects that they forget to listen or respond to other people. There is no way a system of education could be implemented so long as the focus of the Laputians is so narrow—the people cannot even collect their thoughts long enough to produce houses with correct angles or properly sewn clothes. This is a stark contrast to the Lilliputians’ rigorous system of nurseries and apprenticeships, or even the Brobdingnagians’ limited range of studies. In the Explanatory Notes, the Academy is compared to a real institution called the Royal Society (Swift 327nn152-157). The Royal Society was renowned for constantly working on fantastical experiments, just as the Laputians in the Academy. Swift did not see the Royal Society as particularly useful, so he drew parallels between the Society and the fictional Academy of Projectors to criticize the Society indirectly. In a way, this makes the Academy most similar to educational practices in Swift’s England, although the Royal Society was far less inclusive than the Academy. Education in England at the time of Gulliver’s Travels’ initial publishing was not nearly as impressive as the Lilliputians’ orderly system, but it was clearly more productive than Laputa’s tragic Academy.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution in the latter half of the eighteenth century, the education system in England lacked order and agreement amongst government officials. According to Clyde Chitty in his book Education Policy in Britain, “Eighteenth-century proponents of liberal political economy objected to all forms of education for the poor—and particularly Charity Schools—as dangerous and misconceived types of benevolence” (4). “They took seriously the view that too much education or school would simply make the working poor discontented with their lot” (4). In the wake of the Middle Ages, education for all citizens was not yet a right due to political figures being scared of what the lower classes would be capable of if they learned to read. The thought was that the translated Bible would be used as “a handbook for the radical transformation of England” (Chitty 3). The notion of keeping poor people, servants, and slaves in the dark is not a new concept, and this practice continued in England up until the early nineteenth century. In Gulliver’s Travels, Gulliver is a fortunate man in his town that he is able to study as an apprentice under a surgeon. Despite his constant commentary on the educational practices in the many lands he visits, Gulliver’s only mention of school back home in England is right after he leaves for one of his many voyages, stating how he left his family, “My son Johnny, named so after his uncle, was at the grammar-school, and a towardly child” (Swift 68). Grammar schools were common, but higher education was less expected of all people like it is today. This lonesome acknowledgment of formal schooling furthers the argument that the educational system in England in the early eighteenth century was just getting its feet off the ground.
In each new land, there is a contrast between the style of education Gulliver learns about and the education he experienced back home. For example, England has nurseries, but not in quite the way Lilliput does. Lilliput has their children separated and sorted and kept under lock and key until they are old enough to work, rule, or be married. In England, this happens in some cases, but in many cases the children are kept at home to do housework or learn a trade without being sent away. While Gulliver doesn’t give details about the structure of Brobdingnag’s schools, he does bring to light which subjects the Brobdingnagians study. Gulliver makes their studies seem like a minimal amount, especially in contrast to what Gulliver himself was taught in England before taking to voyaging. On a different note, the Houyhnhnms only deal in absolute fact, so the need for abstract topics such as poetry and morality (like the Brobdingnagians are taught) is nonexistent. Instead, the Houyhnhnms—male and female—learn subjects of no opinion, such as Cleanliness and Exercise. Subjects such as these are seen as supplementary in England as opposed to the entire basis of one’s schooling. The most different of all the foreign lands’ educational systems is the Laputians’, though. The Academy is an unorganized, impractical house of experiments with no sense of direction: this is a direct contrast to the Lilliputians’ strict rules or the Houyhnhnms’ required Cleanliness courses. Yet the Academy might be the most similar to the mad scientist experimentations that occurred in England during the early eighteenth century. Regardless of content, the educational structure of Lilliput resembles the educational structure of England most closely due to the prioritization of those of noble birth, the use of professors and maids, and the holistic sense of early childhood formation.
On the whole, Swift uses Gulliver’s Travels to expose the limits in the English educational system in the early eighteenth century through his depiction of schools in the novel’s various foreign lands. For the most part, the foreign practices aren’t implausible, but they all have distinctive qualities from the English education system. One glaring difference between the English practice and one of the foreign land’s practice (the Houyhnhnms) was the expectation in educating women: the latter expected equality while the former was shocked to hear the idea. This is a blatant attack on the sexism in the education system in England that limited girls from learning like the boys were permitted to. Overall, Swift recognizes the flaw in the premature English educational system of the early eighteenth century as over-prioritization of nobles and unequal opportunities for girls and boys.
Chitty, Clyde. Education Policy in Britain. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. Oxford University Press, 1998.