Olesya Franiel September 2010
Essay on the Topic:
Thestructure,problems and artistic peculiarities of Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’sTravels”
Jonathan Swift's development as a writer started at the turn of two centuries when an immensely diverse experience of the English literature of the 17th century underwent a process of revaluation from the standpoint of emerging ideas of the Enlightenment. Being a contemporary of the great social movement and, partially, belonging to it, Swift perfected his skill during one of the most intensive epochs from the entire political history of England. Monarchy, feudal aristocracy, bourgeoisie, the outset of the country’s capitalist system, severe exploitation of his fellow man, religious wars, - everything was experienced and acutely felt by the writer throughout his tough seventy-eight-year life. Being focused upon
suffering, foibles and frailty, pride and stupidity,Gulliver’sTravelscould be seen as the quintessence of the writer’s life experience, ideas and feelings.
It is accepted by some scholars that Swift’s outlook was influenced by the essayist Sir William Temple who offered Swift a post in his household. Swift’s earliest contact with the high politics must have been in discussions with Temple. Many argue that the main idea ofGulliver’sTravelswas conceived amidst the famed literary group the Scriblerus Club which brought together wits of congenial political sympathies including J. Swift, J. Arbuthnot, A. Pope, and J. Gay. It is difficult to assert today who exactly influenced Swift’s views and favoured the coming out of the immortal work. Judging by the contents, in basic philosophical and religious issues Swift shared Montaigne’s skepticism, in its Anglican interpretation, concerning weakness, narrow-mindedness, and delusiveness of human intellect.
This book became popular already in the 18th century and continues to attract both, children and grown-ups even today. I question myself what is the reason for Gulliver’s Travels success. Maybe kids are fascinated by its fictional stories; or maybe it is a deep sense of the book that grown-ups discover for themselves. It could also depend on its easy narrative style by the adventurer or on the timeliness of its themes. Probably it would clear to me after I analyse first the structure, the plot and the problems of this book. Additionally I would look at the artistic peculiarities of the author to assert how his creation became a masterpiece.
1. The Structure and Problems of the Book
Swift’s full title for this work isTravels Into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ships.It consists of four parts where the narrator undertakes four voyages. In the first, he is shipwrecked in the empire of Lilliput (AVoyage to Lilliput); in the second, he visits a land of giants Brobdingnag (AVoyage to Brobdingnag); in the third, he finds himself on the flying island of Laputa (AVoyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Glubbdubdrib, Luggnagg, and Japan); and, finally, the fourth voyage sets the hero between a race of horses with the ability to reason (AVoyage to the Country of Houyhnhnms). All these kinds of states must have been the prototypes of various social and political systems J. Swift wanted to depict.
To unveil the most striking contradictions of the society, the writer uses a generalized image of the state, which could be traced through all four parts of the book. England and probably even broader – Europe, appear before us in various dimensions. Thus, tiny inhabitants of Lilliput, ugly dwellers of Laputa and obscene Yahoos from the country of Houyhnhnms are fictionally and satirically transfigured Europeans, the embodiment of incurable vices of humanity. Such contrast of creatures of various size and shape allows the author to show a man from an unexpected angle and unmask the hidden sides of his nature.
In Lilliputians’ eye a human being seems enormously big, but in giants’ eye – very small. Everything depends on the point of view. One can see, however, that despite the Lilliputians’ small size they have their own country, cities, the Emperor, the court, ministers, as well as rather peculiar laws and customs based on what they think to be ancient and wise establishments. Swift resorts to a vivid metaphor depicting servility and dexterity which one has to possess in order to get promotion at the court of Emperor of
Lilliput. One has to be trained from his youth to aptly dance on the rope. One has to be dexterous enough to either leap over the stick held by the Emperor, or to creep under it. An asseveration of power and majesty sounds comical in Lilliputians’ lips and suggests that any authority is relative. The struggle of the two parties at the court – under the names of High-Heels and Low-Heels – serves the only aim, namely, drawing the people’s attention from urgent social problems. The struggle is accompanied by religious faction which is shown in the novel in the form of a war between Big-Endians and Small-Endians: whether an egg should be broken at the larger or smaller end is a matter of death and life for religious fanatics. I see here Swift’s protest against religious fanaticism and prejudices.
Another description of human nature, showing its worth in politics this time, is given in the part where they weave a plot against Gulliver who has protected the country from the enemy’s intrusion and has saved the palace from great fire but has not been appreciated and understood by Lilliputians. By no clear reason a violent hatred towards Gulliver is aroused and some really terrible plans are maturing behind his back. While Gulliver’s enemies propose to kill him, his friend mercifully suggests a more humane measure – to put out his eyes. The friend believes it must comply with justice on the one hand; on the other hand, his gentleness will enrapture the world. Swift’s bitter irony lay bare all wretchedness of good deeds of a friend not casting aside with the foul logics of reigning regime. Mean Lilliputians are undersized which symbolizes their pettiness and insignificance of their deeds, – hence, of human deeds in general.