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Gulliver's Travels

Term Definition
Gulliver's Travels

In Gulliver's Travels, Swift sends his hero on adventures to various lands. However, this is not a typical adventure novel: Swift's main purpose in telling the story is to develop a satire of the actual world. The different peoples met by Gulliver, for example, caricature different aspects of human nature. Some scenes in the novel have been regularly interpreted through a psychoanalytical lens, although the appropriateness of this approach is dubious. 

The Plot Of Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver's Travels is a four-part traveler's tale by Anglo-Irish satirist and clergyman Jonathan Swift (1667-1745). Initially published in 1726, the instantly popular book—originally titled Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships—was amended in 1735.

The book follows the adventures of Lemuel Gulliver, a traveler who encounters fantastical beings and constantly finds himself in compromising situations. In part one, "A Voyage to Lilliput," he washes ashore on a land of miniature people, where he's given residence in exchange for protecting the tiny kingdom against its nearby enemy, Blefuscu. Lilliput turns on him, however, when he puts out a large fire with his urine, and he narrowly escapes punishment via ship. 

Next comes "A Voyage to Brobdingnag," a land of giants where—as a tiny man—Gulliver acts as an exhibition piece, debates with royalty, and fights giant wasps before his travelling box is carted off by an enormous eagle. 

In "A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan," Gulliver spends time on a flying island (Laputa) and its underdog kingdom (Balnibarbi) where frivolous science is pursued. He also visits the islands of Glubbdubdrib, where he talks to ghosts of historical figures, and Luggnagg, which is populated by immortals who still age at a mortal rate. 

In the final part, "A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms," Gulliver encounters a race of intelligent horses (Houyhnhnms) who rule a race of deformed humans (Yahoos). He emulates the former's mannerisms, but is ultimately rejected as a Yahoo, which causes him to withdraw from society.

Theme Of Gulliver's Travels

In Gulliver's Travels, Swift explores the age-old question of might versus right; who should lead society, the physically dominant or the morally righteous? Gulliver himself experiences the dichotomy from both vantage points: in Lilliput, he's the strongest of all by virtue of his size; in Brobdingnag, he has to rely on wisdom and skill to triumph over the odds of his gigantic surroundings. He even gets to witness the effects of one group's dominance over another, such as with the Houyhnhnms enslavement of the Yahoos. The author seems to side with neither solution, portraying force and morality as equally ill-suited principles of governance; a conclusion best exemplified in the Laputans' subjugation of Balnibarbi on the basis of the lower land's perceived rational inferiority. 

Swift also explores the binary of collectivism versus individualism throughout the book. On Lilliput, children are raised by society under the utopian principle that collective—as opposed to parental—rearing generates fairness, yet Lilliputians are an intensely volatile, jealous race. Elsewhere, the Houyhnhnms have a child-trade policy that maintains an even ratio along gender lines in each family; but despite their intelligence and sophistication, there's something unsettling about the lack of individualism within this highly advanced species. Gulliver, meanwhile, is the ultimate individual; an outsider in his homeland due to income and status, he constantly takes to the sea, only to find himself in places where he could never fit in due to physical and cultural differences. After retiring from his travels, he rolls up into a misanthropic existence. The author, in essence, has deemed both collectivism and individualism to be damaging when taken to their extremes.

More Details Of Gulliver's Travels

Swift wrote the first two parts of Gulliver's Travels in 1720, followed by the fourth part in 1723 and the third part the following year. At the time of its publication, the book was viewed by some as a satire against England's Whig party, which favored constitutional monarchy.

In 1939, Gulliver's Travels was made into an animated feature film by Fleischer Studios. Adaptations in recent decades have included a 1977 partial-animation feature starring Richard Harris as Gulliver, and a 2010 3D-adventure comedy starring Jack Black in the titular role.

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