“Gulliver’s Travels” consists of four parts, each of which is about a different voyage to another strange place. The original title of the book was “Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ships.”.
This work is a famous satire of the contemporary England and its institutions. In it Jonathan Swift uses an ancient satirical device: the imaginary voyage.
Lemuel Gulliver, the narrator, is a surgeon in a ship. He received a good education. He is in fact revealed as a good example of humanity. His personality is quite easy for the reader to identify with.
In the first voyage he is shipwrecked. Swimming, he comes to the empire of Lilliput, where he is a giant among diminutive people. He is at first quite amused by what he confronts there: the tiny people with their little civilization. But later it appears that they are vengeful, cruel, treacherous, ambitious, and malicious.
The second voyage is to Brobdingnag. This is the country of the giants, each of whom is ten times larger than a European. It seems that with this country Swift aimed at portraying the ideal country in his mind; therefore, Brobdingnag is a kind of utopia. It is ruled by a decent prince who is the embodiment of moral and political wisdom. Gulliver’s discussions with this prince contain clever satires of the contemporary British politics and institutions.
In his third voyage Gulliver is in Laputa, the flying island. This part is a clear allegory for the political life in England under the administration of the Whig minister Robert Walpole.
The fourth part takes place in the country of the Houyhnhnms (hwin-ims). Houynhnhms are a race of horses. These horses live by reason. Yahoos, who are their slaves, are mere creatures of appetite and passion. Their bodies look like human shapes but they have no sign of reason.
Gulliver’s travels appealed to everyone, and it still does. It was an interesting story for children, simple enough for them, and a challenging satire for adults, complicated enough to leave them in confusion. In the last chapter of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ Gulliver says that he has become incapable of telling lies. What is strange about this is the oath he swears in narrating that is in fact a quotation from Sinon, through whose lies the Trojans were persuaded to accept the Trojan horse. Thus, he forces the reader to keep alert, not to be engaged with the surface, but to look for the depths. However, in the end the reader reaches no clear conclusions but left with some fundamental questions like what a human being is, whether we are reasonable beings. In fact this is what Swift aims at: to make the reader think.
Part I. A Voyage to Lilliput
This part begins with some information that Gulliver gives of himself and his family: his family had a small estate in Nottinghamshire, he attended Emanuel College in Cambridge etc. He always had a desire to travel, which he later fulfills most effectively. In his first voyage he is shipwrecked. After some struggle with the sea he is safely ashore on the coast of the empire of Lilliput. There he finds himself tied and imprisoned by a numerous tiny human beings.
Like in other parts we see in this part, too, the realistic descriptions of the fantastical which gives the incredible some sort of credibility. For example the arrows and spears of the Lilliputians are described as needles.
There he is taken good care of. Some learned men are appointed to teach him the language. He is fed, which scene is impressively described- meat carried by twenty vehicles, and ten vessels of liquor afford him “two or three good mouthfuls”.
Then he is searched, his sword and pistols taken from him. During this search Gulliver is very kind to them though he had the chance to harm them, with which he gains great sympathy and favor of them.
He pleads with the emperor for his liberty, which represents Ireland’s situation with respect to England. Then he witnesses an acrobatic show. In this country, acrobatics is the way to get a governmental office. Only the best acrobats can get the office, which is of course a funny allegory for the political situation in England.
As a result of his mild disposition, he is given liberty on some conditions, which include his allying against the Empire’s enemies. The greatest enemy of the empire is Blefuscu, which stands for France. The emergence of the enmity between them depends on quite ridiculous reasons- the story of the egg.
He is of great help to the empire in the war against Blefuscu. He brings all the enemy fleet fastened by a cable to Lilliput. Blefuscu ambassadors plead for peace. Gulliver is given a title of honor. Blefuscu ambassadors invite him to their country, which intimacy enrages and provokes his enemies in Lilliput.
One day there is a fire at the empress’s apartment. Seeing no other way, Gulliver puts it off by urinating on it. The empress is quite annoyed with that. Then he describes the habits, laws, and customs of the Lilliputians. In these descriptions, there are clear satirical references to the British laws and customs and institutions. For example, “in choosing persons for all employments, they have more regard to good morals than to great abilities”.
Then he is informed of a vicious plan against him prepared by his enemies there (the treasurer, and the admiral, both of whom stand for Swift’s real enemies in England.) The articles of impeachment against him include his urinating on the royal palace to stop the fire, his rejecting the further demands of the king to help them completely take over Blefuscu, his kind behaviour to Blefuscu ambassadors, and his intended voyage to Blefuscu.
Upon learning this, Gulliver leaves Lilliput, and is welcomed in Blefuscu. The emperor there helps him on his departure, providing for him some cows and bulls, by showing which in England he makes ” a considerable profit”.
Part II. A Voyage to Brobdingnag
This, too, begins with realistic elements like “we unshipped our goods and wintered there; for the Captain falling sick..”. In this country everything is a scale of ten to one in relation to our familiar world.
Gulliver is caught on the shore by one of the natives and brought to a farmer’s house where he fights with two rats and kills them. There he establishes good relations with the farmer’s daughter who treats him like her doll, laying him on her doll’s cradle etc. Soon he becomes the center of attention. The farmer decides to take him to town and show him to public so as to gain money through him. Gulliver gets very tired of these shows, during which they travel many cities and towns. Finally they arrive the capital city Lorbruldug. There, the queen recognizes him and buys him. Thus his stay at the court begins.
There he has some discourse with the prince who appears to be a man of wisdom and enlightenment. Gulliver pridefully describes his country, England, and its institutions. The prince ridicules him for that.
Then he describes some accidents that happened to him there out of his comparatively tiny form. There is a repeated emphasis on his weaknesses there and on the ridicules of the others. Some further discourse with the prince takes place. He talks to him about gunpowder and its uses in his own world. The king is both amazed and astonished to hear it. He despises Gulliver and his country for having such inhuman devices, and bids him not to mention it to anyone.Gulliver tries to exempt his country from the king’s accusations in vain.
There is the criticism of the mercenary army in England standing without the authorization by the Parliament, too. Gulliver stays in this country for two years. Then one day the king and the queen go to a place near the ocean taking him, too, within a box. Suddenly an eagle takes him with the box and drops the box down onto the sea with Gulliver in it. After some time an English ship finds him. Thus he comes back to his country.