In 1726, the first edition of Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World {Gulliver’s Travels) was published to great fanfare, first in London and early the following year in Continental Europe. Upon publication, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu wrote, “Here is a book come out, that all our people of taste run mad about. This is no less than the united Work of a dignified clergyman, an Eminent Physician, and the first poet of the Age, and very wonderful it is, God knows” (qtd. in Williams, Kathleen 65). This great adventure story, fable and satire has entertained and confounded readers for the better part of three centuries. It is at once a parodic treatment of travel writing and a satirical exploration of politics, colonialism, human characteristics and human ideals. When dealing with a multi-genre text like Gulliver ‘s Travels, criticism can easily lock the book into one particular category. On one level, Travels appears to be a travel narrative and the subtext appears to be a political satire and fantasy, not a historical chronicle. Moreover, the text’s “surprise factor” for all intents has been “spoiled” through its reputation. Modem readers recognize the text as an imaginary tale of little people, giants, flying islands, and horse-people, so they probably do not approach the text in the same way reading one reading the text for the first time did in 1726. As a history text, criticism tends to link Travels to the historical works of Clarendon, as Swift considered him the most important historian of the seventeenth century (Brownley xiii).

At every stage of Gulliver’s Travels, the fantastic elements are subservient to Swift’s satire and critical thinking. Swift is hardly an exception in this regard. Almost from the birth of storytelling, works of imaginative fiction have served as powerful platforms for social commentary. This was true of Ovid and Homer, Apuleius and Rabelais, H.G. Wells and Olaf Stapledon, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, Margaret Atwood and Robert Heinlein, all the way to the present day, when science fiction and fantasy themes have taken over a host of mainstream highbrow literary works. Each of these passages comes from the final section of Gulliver’s Travels, which describes that narrator’s visit to the Houyhnhnms—a race of rational horses who live along-side brutish human beings known as Yahoos (note Swift’s contribution both to our vocabulary and the Internet age).But those who are familiar with the cantankerous spirit of Jonathan Swift know full well that he was capable of his own kind of ‘special effects’—with no advanced software or stop-motion animation required.Yet for all the satire, Swift also set the stage for the later blossoming of genre literature. Gulliver’s Travels is very much a forerunner of the later adventure stories of H. Rider Haggard and Rudyard Kipling—and reminds us that travel literature set the blueprint for many pulp fiction formulas. The fantasy genre is also very much an extension of such works—how many of them even come with a map as frontispiece? Certainly Gulliver’s Travels is an important part of that lineage as well. Still another genre is anticipated in these pages: in the section on Gulliver’s visit to the flying island of Laputa, Swift moves clearly on to the terrain of science fiction. His explanations of the magnetic principles that allow the flying island to elevate and move may not be scientifically sound, but the very fact that our author felt compelled to provide technological descriptions is revealing. The storytellers who gave us the Arabian Nights or Grimm’s Fairy Tales never felt the need to bring science to the aid of their fantastic stories, and Swift’s gesture here, ever so fleeting, points the way towards the later mind set of a Jules Verne or H.G. Wells. Gulliver’s Travels can be deciphered as a multi genre text with the highlights of the genres of-political as well as universal satire, comedy, tragedy (to some extent),the use of fantasy and travelogue ruling the text.

To begin with Gulliver’s Travels as a satire, a satire is a (generally funny) fictional work that uses sarcasm and irony to poke fun at the general patheticness of humanity.Due to the restoration period the early eighteenth century was a good time for haters and Jonathan Swift was one of the greatest writers of satire that English literature has ever seen. Swift saw the book as politically explosive, and therefore as something that he had to present and position quite carefully in order to avoid prosecution. “Gulliver is neither a fully developed character nor even an altogether distinguishable persona; rather, he is a satiric device enabling Swift to score satirical points” (Rodino 124). Indeed, whereas the work begins with more specific satire, attacking perhaps one political machine or aimed at one particular custom in each instance, it finishes with “the most savage onslaught on humanity ever written,” satirizing the whole of the human condition. (Murry 3). In order to convey this satire, Gulliver is taken on four adventures, driven by fate, a restless spirit, and the pen of Swift. Gulliver’s first journey takes him to the Land of Lilliput, where he finds himself a giant among six inch tall beings. His next journey brings him to Brobdingnag, where his situation is reversed: now he is the midget in a land of giants. His third journey leads him to Laputa, the floating island, inhabited by strange (although similarly sized) beings who derive their whole culture from music and mathematics. Gulliver’s fourth and final journey places him in the land of the Houyhnhnm, a society of intelligent, reasoning horses. As Swift leads Gulliver on these four fantastical journeys, Gulliver’s perceptions of himself and the people and things around him change, giving Swift ample opportunity to inject into the story both irony and satire of the England of his day and of the human condition. As Swift’s story of Gulliver unfolds, the satire begins to take a much more general focus: humanity as a whole. Gulliver manages to escape the land of miniature, and after a brief stay in England, returns to the sea. Again, he finds himself in a strange land, but this time, he is the small one, with everything around him many times the normal size. Unlike the Lilliputians, however, he is alone in this world. When he encounters the first natives, he fears for his life, “for as human creatures are observed to be more savage in proportion to their bulk” (II.i.96). This is but one of the many attacks on humanity that Swift’s satire will perform. While in Lilliput Gulliver had been treated with respect, largely due to his size; here in this land of giants, Brobdingnag, he is treated as a curiosity, forced to perform shows for public amusement, until the royalty of this nation learn of his presence. During the time Gulliver spends at this court, he relates much of the situation of Europe to the king, who listens with much eagerness. Gulliver tells us:“I would hide the frailties and deformities of my political mother, and place her virtues and beauties in the most advantageous light. This was my sincere endeavor in those many discourses I had with that mighty monarch, although it unfortunately failed of success.”

Swifts own views of humanity begin to show through Gulliver, as Gulliver relates, “But rather I take this quality to spring from a very common infirmity of human nature” (III.ii.192). Gulliver doesn’t remain long on the island of Laputa. It is during Gulliver’s fourth journey that Swift’s satire reaches its pinnacle, where “Swift put his most biting, hard lines, that speak against not only the government, but human nature itself” (Glicksman). In this journey, Gulliver comes to the land of the Houyhnhnms, which are creatures that look like horses but have the ability to reason. Also in this land are the Yahoos, of which Gulliver could only say that “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” (IV.i.263). With great irony, Swift brings Gulliver into contact with a Yahoo once again. “My horror and astonishment are not to be described, when I observed in this abdominal animal a perfect human figure” (IV.ii.269-270). Indeed, Gulliver finds that the only difference between himself and the Yahoo to be the Yahoo’s lack of cleanliness and clothes; otherwise, a Yahoo would be indistinguishably human. With this line, Swift’s satire achieves its goal, and shows that the flaws of humanity are overwhelming, and let to continue, result in a total degradation of the human. Furthermore, satire is shown through the plot of journey and return. The Lilliputians symbolize humankind’s widely excessive pride in its own puny existence because, in spite of the small size of the Lilliputians, they do not consider the notion that Gulliver is enormous compared to them and could kill them with just a flick of his finger. Gulliver has learned that their society suffers from the same flaws inherent in the English society (rebellions over relatively minor issues), but their society is more utopian compared to the English society. On the contrary, the people of Brobdingnag are peaceful and fair, and not violent and cruel as the people of Europe have been. This is illustrated with the King of Brobdingnag’s conclusion about European society, “I cannot but conclude hte Bulk of your Natives to be the most pernicious Race of little odious Vermin” (121). In his fourth voyage, Gulliver has seen unusual societies. The Yahoos represent human follies, greed and selfishness, while the Houyhnhnms represent humanity free of strife and hardship. The Houyhnhnms seem like model citizens, and Gulliver’s intense grief when he is forced to leave them suggests that they have made an impact on him greater than that of any other society he has visited.

Another genre through which Gulliver’s Travel can be explained as is the genre of travelogue. A travelogue is usually a single person’s account of a trip, journey or otherwise. We have numerous famous travelogues written by some of the European explorers.A few contemporary critics go to some lengths to read Travels primarily as parody of travel narratives like Robinson Crusoe. Frank Boyle, in particular, argues that Gulliver stands at the center of eighteenth-century debates of travel and discovery. Further, Gulliver undergoes his journeys with utopian expectations of spreading English ideology, only to be disappointed (208). This view of Travels, however, relies too much on the external framework of the book and as a consequence, privileges the book’s travel aspects over its political and historical ones. Swift’s life experience indicates he never travelled beyond Europe and the texts he wrote during that period, like the Drapier Letters and “A Modest Proposal, revolve more around questions of British politics than around world travel. Moreover, several critics, including Carole Fabricant and J. Paul Hunter, have identified the text itself as a multi-genre work. Consequently, Travel’s political and historical aspects should be evaluated at least equally with its travel aspects. As some critics still analyze Travels primarily as a travel narrative, a further study of the genre issues surrounding the paratexts of the book, one of the chief aspects of the text for privileging a travel narrative interpretation, appears necessary in order to explore how the text pushes the boundaries of genre. As some critics still analyze Travels primarily as a travel narrative, a further study of the genre issues surrounding the paratexts of the book, one of the chief aspects of the text for privileging a travel narrative interpretation, appears necessary in order to explore how the text pushes the boundaries of genre. J. Paul Hunter opens this door by using reader-response theory to expand the categorization of Travels to encompass biography, travel narratives, and historical writings. Gulliver’s Travels comprises four different books, each detailing accounts from a different voyage undertaken by the putative author, Lemuel Gulliver. Published anonymously by Swift, it was ostensibly just another travelogue, describing the new territories emerging as a result of progress made in technology and commerce. Swift helps establish this ruse by describing the author as ‘Lemuel Gulliver, first a Surgeon, and then a Captain of many ships’. He provides a fictional biography of Gulliver in the prefatory dedication and provides maps of the territories discussed.

It is only when Gulliver is ship-wrecked and awakens on a beach with ‘arms and legs strongly fastened on each side to the ground’, captured by creatures ‘not six inches high’ (p.8) that the reader begins to question the veracity of the account. This is, of course, a description of Gulliver’s encounter with the Lilliputians, a race of people no larger than his middle finger. Gulliver is completely befuddled at the end of the Travels. He has reached for an unhuman ideal and has rejected the sub-human Yahoos as too thoroughly human. He believes that the Travels is a defense of himself, showing how morally he acted. In truth, the Travels is the best evidence one could have that Gulliver often acted very ridiculously. He imagines one type of audience; Swift created for another. Gulliver’s gullibility and his simplicity are responsible for his downfall. He does not realize that human beings are infinitely more complex than the Yahoos or the Houyhnhnms. F. P. Lock argues that Swift’s primary agenda in Gulliver’s Travels was to ‘record in an imaginative creation for posterity a vision of political wisdom he had been denied the opportunity of using in the service of his own time and country’.

Moving on to the next genre many critics have believed Gulliver’s Travel to highlight the genres of comedy as well as tragedy. Comedy is a form of literature in which flaws of human nature, human society, and even the natural world we live in are exaggerated, blown out of proportion, and caricatured. In doing this, the comic artist has a larger-than-life depiction of imperfection that provides fodder for laughter. Comedy also necessarily distances the audience from the humans within the text through this exaggeration of their ugliness, in order for the humour to be effective on them. This is to ultimately serve a corrective purpose by pointing out to humans their own defects in a light-hearted manner. Tragedy, however, often has a distinguished main character who is the tragic hero. Thus, instead of dealing with generalised behaviours and foibles of entire societies, tragedy instead zooms in on the individual. The tragic hero is usually noble, by birth or by character, and is usually virtuous and has a consistency with his own value system or moral compass. However, the tragic hero possesses a crucial flaw that leads to his downfall, thus creating the tragedy – the fall from grace of a respectable human being – and in turn the catharsis of the audience.

Gulliver’s Travels does not have a clear tragic hero that fits the above criteria. Gulliver himself possesses hardly any noble quality, and is often extremely flawed and unreliable. Even his name prompts a mental connection with the word “Gullible”, and he himself and the way he reacts to certain events within the book only serves to further illustrate the human defects Swift feels so strongly about. One of his major weaknesses is his pride and an innate sense of superiority. This can be seen in Book II, where Gulliver describes to the King of Brobdingnag the concept of gunpowder, and “humbly offered” to help the King build some. However, the King was “struck with Horror” by the “terrible Engines” and is amazed how humans are “wholly unmoved at all the Scenes of Blood and Desolation”. After this clear condemnation and indictment of the cruelty humans are capable of for material gain, Gulliver remains proud and indignant, complaining about the King’s “narrow Principles and short Views” and referred to the King’s value of life as a “nice unnecessary scruple.In Book IV, Gulliver’s failings are once again shown. The Houyhnhnms, though rational, possess a certain degree of pride – despite Gulliver demonstrating “rudiments of reason”, they say that they “observed in [him] all Qualities of a Yahoo” and was “far inferior to the Houyhnhnm Race” simply because he resembles a yahoo in physical form. However, upon Gulliver’s return to human society, he does not learn from the rationality of the Houyhnhnms but instead adopts their pride, identifying all humans as “offensive” and “brutish” Yahoos despite them possessing the same amount of reason as him. Furthermore, he descends into further misanthropy and madness when he tries to “converse” with Horses “four hours a day”, saying that the horses live in “great Amity” with him. Thus, the ending is no anagnorisis of Gulliver, but another opportunity for the reader to see how superficial humans can be. This inane behaviour Gulliver is absurd and once again emotionally remote from any reader. It can only be intended for a comic purpose.Swift also often employs exaggeration and amplification to expose the problems that he sees in us. Lilliputians are diminutive in size such that we can see the triviality of politics when stripped of all its superficial grandeur. The sashes of the ministers are reduced to mere ‘threads’, and exaggeration on another level draws a comparison between climbing up the political ladder and “a dance on the rope” – ministers gain their positions through competitions of “whoever jumps the highest, without falling”.In Brobdingnag, humans are gigantic and this exposes the physical imperfections and ugliness that causes Gulliver to become “disgusted” and “nauseous”. Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels is a comedy. Its mechanism for achieving the purpose of Swift and for spreading his message to the reader is essentially exaggeration. Furthermore, Gulliver and all the other societies depicted are deeply flawed, and do not seem to possess any redeeming quality that ennobles them to allow the reader to identify with them. Thus, it can in no way provoke a cathartic response and its intended effect is definitely an emotional distance and a humorous reaction from the reader, classifying it as a comedy.

Taken on four voyages, Gulliver’s ultimate travels are to a greater understanding of human nature and its flaws through the use of political as well as topical satire . Matthew Levy argues that as the “visited society” has an effect on Gulliver, “he no longer can be said to function as a constant or impartial measure” (Levy 2); however, this is the point: that Gulliver’s perceptions change, and so do his narrations, as a result, and through this Swift can convey his satire and social commentary. After the first voyage, his image of humanity is little changed, likewise for the 2nd, although after this point, Gulliver’s image steadily declines until the fourth voyage, when he meets the Yahoos. In this way, Swift presents his commentary on the human condition through Gulliver’s Travels. The human condition is a tragedy as it is extremely flawed, yet humans are capable of changing for the better due to our capacity for reason. However, in the end these same flaws of pride keep us from actually attaining the ideal embodied in Houyhnhnm Reason and Brobdingnaggian Morality, causing the human condition to be a pitiful and fearful thing to behold, evoking a cathartic response to its Tragedy. The novel is arguably Swift’s greatest satiric attempt to “shame men out of their vices”. The structure and the choice of metaphors also serve Swift’s purpose of attacking politics, religion, morality, human nature and of course colonialism which is at the heart of the novel. Swift clearly undercuts the ideas endorsed by colonialism by putting forth a reverse scenario and demonstrating how the truth about people and objects is heavily influenced by the observer’s perception.

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