Literary Qualities

Swift’s masterful use of satire is what has made Gulliver’s Travels the delightfully enduring work that it is. Satire has the advantage of allowing the readers to feel that the ridicule is aimed at everyone but themselves. What normally would be tedious and uncomfortable as a lesson can be enjoyable and satisfying when dished out as satire. This is not to say that Gulliver’s Travels is a completely comfortable literary work; readers will most likely be disturbed when they see their own flaws subject to ridicule. Swift’s use of the literary genre of a travelogue is well suited to his satirical observations. Travel accounts were especially popular during the 18th century when parts of the world were still unexplored and could conceivably be inhabited by the exotic creatures and cultures that Gulliver encounters. Thus, Swift was free to intermingle reality, fantasy, and satire with relative impunity.

The first two books of Gulliver’s Travels are tightly structured, as Gulliver first looks through the wrong end of a telescope at humanity and then finds himself the subject of microscopic scrutiny. The third book, however, is rambling and episodic, bearing no obvious relationship to the other three. Even though Gulliver is among his own race in this book, he is more the observer and less of a participant than in the other three books. The fourth book, while the most disturbing, follows the pattern of the first two in that Gulliver must adapt to and live within a strange culture.

The conclusion of Gulliver’s Travels presents problems. Gulliver returns from his first three voyages and resumes his life with no apparent effects from what he has experienced. After returning from the land of the Houyhnhnms, though, he is a changed man, refusing to acknowledge his connection with the human race. At this stage in his life, he supposedly writes of his travels-after he has come to despise all humans as despicable Yahoos. But the warm, personable Gulliver who describes the Lilliputians, Brobdingnagians, and the people of Laputa is not the same Gulliver who despises people. The reader’s last picture of Gulliver is a sad one. He is now a man who spurns contact with humanity because of his blind worship of a race of horses.

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