Shipwrecked on the high seas, Gulliver finds himself washed up on the strange island of Lilliput and thus begins a journey through various strange lands, from the land of miniature people to the land of giants. This forms the plot of Jonathan Swifts popular prose work Gullivers Travels. In this scathing satire on the politics and the morals of the eighteenth century, Swifts condemnation of society and its institutions still resonates today. In this essay we aim to give a critical analysis of this work. We will be focusing only on the first part of Gullivers Travels. We will be discussing the various themes found in this part, discussing each chapter one by one.
In chapter 1 the author introduces us to the protagonist Lemuel Gulliver, his life and work and how he ended up in the state of Lilliput. Moreover in this chapter we see the Lilliput Empire from the perspective of the traveller Lemuel Gulliver. The themes pertaining to the first two chapters are discussed in the proceeding paragraphs.
The themes that are significant in the first two chapters and are discussed are related to culture, civilization, political psychological and physical appearance. First we will discuss the psychological perspectives, which I think are present in Gullivers travels, the curiosity of the human beings about other existences. We see this in the manner of the Lilliputians, when they see Gulliver they are amazed to see a giant in their territory and apart from the authorities, the civilians are also interested in seeing this creature. Another psychological perspective is the us-other binary. Lilliputians can be categorized as the us and Gulliver as they. Lilliputians saw him as an outsider though he was an outsider but they without any affirmation considered him a threat and an imposter. They captured him and were always attentive to his every motion and still considered him a threat even after the peace treaty between the King and Gulliver was signed.
Another aspect we see in the character of Lemuel Gulliver is the characteristic of inner turmoil, the one which makes him think about the destroying the Lilliputians but again this idea is negated by his conscience, that the small creatures do not deserve such an atrocity. As a result of their hospitality they show to him, before and latter, we see the idea of do good have good. When defining the binary we also see that the physical appearance plays a role. Both the Lilliputians and Gulliver defined each other by their stature. Lilliputians were afraid of him because of his gigantic person and his ability to destroy.
When we come to the political perspective the first thing we see is power, which in the case of Lilliput was emperor centric, however they justify this by portraying the emperor as a well civilized person, who cares for his subjects and as the subjects are not civilized to the extent of their mighty emperor so he gives the orders and the others have to follow.
In chapter 2 we see a reference to the political history of England. The unnatural murder in the temple in this chapter refers to the beheading of King Charles 1.
Under the theme of politics we can also include the idea of colonization and liberty. In this case, Gulliver can be seen as the colonized and the Lilliputians as the colonizers who have deprived him of his possessions and are always fearful of him that he might prove fatal for them so thus compelling them to be always conscious of him. They restrict his liberty and his every action is being observed and he is under constant surveillance.
In chapter three of Gullivers Travels, Swift has shown humanitys pretension to power. The difference in size between the Lilliputians and Gulliver reflects the importance of physical power, a theme that recurs throughout the novel. Gulliver begins to gain the trust of Lilliputians over time, but it is unnecessary. For instance, My gentle and good behaviour had gained so far on the emperor and his court and indeed upon the army and people in general that I began to conceive hopes of getting my liberty. These lines show the gentle behaviour of Gulliver towards the Lilliputians. He begins to gain the trust of Lilliputians over time which has been shown in the following lines: The natives came by degrees, to be less apprehensive of any danger of me. I would sometimes lie down and let five or six of them dance on my hand. However his efforts are unnecessary as Gulliver can easily crush them just by walking carelessly. They never recognize their own insignificance. They keep Gulliver tied up thinking that he is under their control, while in fact he can destroy them quite effortlessly.
The most important theme in this chapter is the under qualification of the statesmen. This he shows through the method of selection of the state officials which is their ability to dance on a tightrope instead of moral or intellectual basis. This diversion is only practiced by those persons who are candidates of great employments. Here Swift is satirizing the political system of England. The officials are chosen by their skill at rope dancing which seems to be ridiculous. In order to get a powerful position in society people are ready to jump through hoops, there is an insinuation here at the British political appointments and the fact that it is more important to be dexterous than well-qualified to obtain a position in government.
In the fourth chapter we find two very important themes. In the first part of this chapter Swift begins to describe the metropolis of Lilliput and the Emperors palace. This is not a theme, however equally important as this shows Swifts brilliance at describing places and likewise his capabilities as a travel writer. Now coming to the themes. In this chapter Gulliver meets with Reldresal, the principal secretary of private affairs of Lilliput. He tells Gulliver about the two mighty evils the Lilliputians are faced with.
The first evil that the Lilliputians are faced with is an internal conflict between two parties of the states which he names as Tramecksan and Slamecksan. The reason for the animosity between these two parties is on the account of the size of the heels of their shoes. Through these parties Gulliver has satirized the two major political parties of that time the Tories and the Whigs. He shows how utterly absurd the differences between the political parties were which were completely based on superficial and physical differences rather than on any substantial moral conundrum.
The second evil is the impending threat of an invasion from the Belfuscu (representing France). The reason for conflict with this other state is as absurd as the one mentioned above. This time the conflict is from which end an egg should be cracked. This account is actually a commentary on the history of religious controversy in England. Through this Swift criticizes the hair splitting theological disputes. The two states are willing to go to war on the basis of this conflict pointing out the ridiculousness of warfare. Another important point to note in this chapter is how the Lilliputians are so careful in restricting Gullivers power on themselves however are very eager to use this power on their enemies. This shows the hypocrisy of the human race.
In chapter 5, we see that Gulliver easily wades the six feet long channel that separates Lilliput from Blefusecu to seize their ships. Gulliver seizing fifty ships at one stroke is comic because for him it is like pulling a few toy boats across a little stream. Lilliputians are overwhelmed by this act of Gulliver. He is honoured with the nardac award. Emperor of Lilliput wants Gulliver to continue the battle so that he can conquer the empire of Blefuscu and further the domain of his rule. Gulliver however, refuses this act as he is against bringing brave people to slavery. The manner in which the two lords at court instigate the emperor against Gulliver is a criticism on intrigues which are a matter of routine at royal courts.
Jealousies and conventional rivalries are also satirized by swift when he explains the differences between the languages of the Empires of Blefuscu and Lilliput. Both nations take pride in the beauty and antiquity of their language with an open contempt towards the other. Another important satire can be seen in the disgusting manner in which Gulliver extinguishes the fire. The resulting annoyance of queen, in reaction to this, can be compared to Queen Annes hostility towards Swift. As a reaction against Swifts satirical book, A Tale of Tub, that was a satire on abuses on religion Queen refused to sanction the office of bishop for Swift.
In Chapter 6, Gulliver describes the way of life of the Lilliputians. We are given some information about their learning, their laws, and their manner of educating their children. There is nothing remarkable in this account though we are certainly amused to read the absurd propositions that the dead are buried with their heads downwards, and would be found standing on their feet when they rise from their grave. Gulliver also talks about their size and says that Lilliputian’s eyesight is adapted to their own scale and they cannot know more than what they see. This shows the limit of human Understanding and Knowledge. Here, Swift singles out theoretical knowledge in particular. He does this by portraying the Lilliputians as disagreeable and self- centred, who show blatant contempt for those who are not sunk in private theorizing, satirizing those who pride themselves on knowledge above all else.
In this chapter we can see the absurdity and hypocrisy of the Justice system in Lilliputian society. For instance, where it is written that lady Justice holds a bag of gold open in her right hand, and a sword sheathed in her left, to show that she is more inclined to reward than to punish. The reality however is that the punishment in Lilliput is more severe. Deceit is considered worse than theft. So the person who lies is sentenced to death.
Another interesting thing is that the children in Lilliput are not brought up or educated by their parents but are the responsibility of the state. This particular custom reflects the system in communist countries of today where the state has full control over the education and upbringing of the children. The description of Lilliputians child rearing evokes philosopher Platos notion that an ideal state would raise children apart from their parents. It also evokes ideals of Egalitarianism by treating both gender equally and with fairness (by spacing non-parents from the costs of other peoples children and by taxing people progressively).
The scandal involving Gulliver and Flimnap’s wife is an oblique reference to Sir Robert Walpole’s wife who was inclined to flirtation and this rumour also intertwine the theme of the state with the theme of deception, as government officials appear to be driven by concealed or untruthful motives.
In Chapter 7, Gulliver goes on to describe the intrigue that initiates his departure from Lilliput. While he prepares to make his trip to Blefuscu. This chapter contains an account of the conspiracy which has been hatched against Gulliver by the high officials who had been hostile to him for a long time. The account of this conspiracy is obviously a satire on Court intrigues which are permanent features of political life in countries which are ruled by Kings and emperors such as England.
Another important point in this chapter is the articles of impeachment against Gulliver which are intended by Swift as a satire on the actual impeachment in 1715 of four Tories ex-ministers. Swift is also mocking here the state of English Justice in general. The punishment proposed for Gulliver shows evil nature of human and even Reldresal, who always presents himself to be Gullivers true friend, is the one to suggest that he should be blinded. This shows the hypocrisy and selfishness of Lilliputians as in this way Gulliver will still be able to communicate and help the emperor in many ways without being a threat for them.
The idea of colonization is also there that how after blinding Gulliver, they will still get profit and help through him (this idea traces back to when England colonized France). The violation of basic human right of freedom is shown. For instance, when Gulliver says for I confess I owe the preserving mine eyes, and consequently my liberty and because of these reasons we see that he departs from Lilliput to Blefuscu.
In Chapter eight, firstly we come to see how Swift has portrayed human nature by showing lack of gratitude and kindness in kings. Swift through Gulliver in this chapter satirizes the Lilliputian king whom he had saved from the Belfuscan attack but is rewarded by a charge sheet which the king sends to the Belfuscus monarch. It demanded Gulliver to be handed back to Lilliput as he had fled from justice. The leniency promised by the Lilliputian king is ironical as it amounted to no further than the loss of Gullivers eyes. Gulliver was threatened to be deprived of the title of Nardac and declared a traitor if he was not back in two hours. Swift criticizes the thankless, ungracious, and merciless rulers who lack honour and gratitude.
Furthermore, we come to see the theme of political Intrigue and diplomacy among rival countries. Although the monarch of Belfuscu had suffered heavy loss of his fleet of ship and men in the war with the Lilliputians but his reply to the Lilliputian king is very diplomatic as it is full of civilities and excuses. He tries to pacify and satisfy the Lilliputian king by informing him that both of them will soon get rid of Gulliver whom he calls so unsupportable an encumbrance. On the other hand, the secretary offers protection to Gulliver on the condition if he continues to stay in Belfuscu to serve him in war. However, after his bitter experience in Lilliput, Gulliver is reluctant to accept this and resolves never more to put any confidence in princes or ministers, where I could possibly avoid it. This statement represents commentary of governments as ultimately unreliable, which indicates a need for individual self-reliance. The true intention of the Lilliputian allegations against Gulliver becomes clear in their response to his decision to leave the area. Both the kings agree to any course of action that frees them from paying for Gullivers upkeep any longer. Even the Belfuscu king and ministers are inwardly glad to get rid of Gulliver.
In addition, there is also a political satire on the French government. The Lilliputians represent the Puritans of the English government. Whereas, the people of Blefuscu represent the French government who supported James ll who was the last catholic monarch of England, also known as the Pretender. The demand of the Emperor of Lilliput has allegorically been interpreted to mean the English Governments protest to the French government of the time against the latters support to the Pretender.
Swift has also made use of a natural or navigation theme. He has presented a nautical theme in this chapter, as there is a lot of discussion about the description of the boat ,the English ship and sailing. Gullivers efforts to retrieve an overturned boat at sea with the help of Blefuscus navy and its detailed repairs on the shore and minute descriptions. His sailing adventure in the boat and later being picked up by a British vessel are also described elaborately as a voyage while Gulliver says was very prosperous for the most part till he reached his country.
Moreover, we come to find the theme of orientalism in this chapter. The point at which Gulliver is about to leave he takes with him dozens of oxen and cows. He also had wanted to take a bunch of the natives with him to show to the people of his own country but the king of Blefuscu did not agree to this. Here we come to see the colonizing mentality of the people of England, who colonized India later on as well.
Moreover, the theme of Morality has also been depicted in this chapter. We come to see the Blefuscan state to be much more morale than the Lilliputians deceitful schemes and honours Gullivers life. Furthermore, we come to see the theme of perspective and truth. Gullivers return to England intertwines the theme of perspective and truth. What seems true, the text suggests is a matter of perspective not an absolute for example in Lilliput humans like Gulliver seemed strange and unbelievable but back in England, its Lilliput that seems like a fantasy and Gulliver is at pains to prove that Lilliputians exist. This he proves by selling views of Lilliputians cows and then selling the cows themselves.
Moreover, there are many trivial details at the end, which depict the theme of realism. This chapter closes with certain details pertaining to Gullivers family and the financial arrangements he make for them before leaving once again. Gulliver sees the family properly settled in a good house and has the satisfaction that both his children are receiving the proper kind of education. Also specific dates as to when he leaved Blefuscu, arrived in England have also been given. These trivial details serve to lend a realistic quality to the narration which otherwise deals with highly improbable events, human beings only six inches high being one of the most glaring improbabilities. However, due to this very element of realism a state of willing suspension of disbelief applies to the readers. They accept the tiny people and animals and all other fictions to be true as the writer is giving so many