Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift, is an exceptional example of the attempts writers have made to bring about social reform. Jonathan Swift’s stories of Lilliput and Brobdinag are placed on two extremities of culture, putting human frailty up to ridicule. Through the unassuming eyes of Gulliver, the astute reader can pick up on ideas used to delineate the troubles of British law and society. To accomplish his task, Swift threads throughout his novel creative imagery, allusion, and symbolism.
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Imagery is applied in Gulliver’s Travels very carefully to capture the reader’s attention and play on the absurdity of the situation Gulliver finds himself in. Gulliver is in a different world, a land of beings only one inch tall and the sights, feelings, and sounds of the Lillipution’s daily life is shown to be a true microcosm of British life. Swift writes,“I heard one of them cry Tolgo phonac; when in an instant I felt above an hundred arrows discharged on my left hand…they shot another flight into the air, as we do bombs in Europe.”(Swift 489) Immediately, it is clear that the Lilliputions have taken on the warlike tendencies of the British imperialist. The language of Lilliput, even though it is presented as merely gibberish, has a clear military purpose like the English word fire or charge. The result of the efforts of these creatures, however, is of little circumstance to Gulliver who could conceivably “be a match for the greatest armies they could bring.” (489) Like the kingdom of Lilliput, Brobdingnag also mirrors Britain, only the imagery makes the setting much more dangerous. Here a single fly is a huge disturbance that can drive a person mad. “They would sometimes alight upon my victuals, and leave their loathsome excrement or spawn behind, which to me was very visible…Sometimes they would fix upon my nose or forehead, where they stung me to the quick, smelling very offensively.” In a world where everything is amplified, it is hard to imagine how the most trivial of matters is suddenly a significant force to be dealt with. Swift makes his protagonist feel exactly the same way the Lilliputions must have felt when Gulliver could have capriciously crushed them. This stark contrast in settings serves as a learning experience for both Gulliver and the reader.
Gulliver’s Travels has gained its label as a masterpiece because of its ability to parallel humanity or allude to its historical shortcomings. The Lillliputian government officials for example are chosen by their skill at rope-dancing, which the Lilliputians see as relevant but which Gulliver recognizes as ridiculous. The representatives are literally forced to jump through hoops in order to qualify for their positions. Swift means for us to understand this event as a satire of England’s system of political appointments. Gulliver is in the same way forced to defend his society in the land of Brobdingnag . In the giant’s view, Britain is a warlike nation filled with unsurpassed corruption. Gulliver manages to maintain some sense of value in his native country in the face of the king’s criticisms, but his disputes seem so transparently groundless that each argument he gives for England’s superiority serves only to emphasize the futility of his resistance. The king’s assessment of the Europeans as “odious vermin” is left virtually untouched.
The main way that Jonathan Swift perpetuates its message is through the use of elaborate symbolism. Gulliver’s size and strength is the largest of the symbols in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.
His physical bearing and power put Gulliver in a unique position in Lilliputian society and give him obligations and capabilities far beyond those of the people who keep him prisoner. The extreme power Gulliver encompasses can represent England’s position with respect to the people it was in the process of colonizing. Like Gulliver, England had the power to squash its foes with a single fist, but it also took a great deal to restrain from doing great harm as Gulliver does.
Size is also a symbol with respect to the moral leanings of the Brobdingnagians and Liliputians.
The Brobdingnagians are humans who have achieved a massive level of moral achievement unlike the trivial and tiny Lilliputians, in whom the human vices of pride and self-righteousness are exaggerated.
The Brobdingnagians have constructed a society in which those sins are curtailed as much as possible and they are not, as they are in England, set in the foundation of government.
The teachings of Jonathan Swift are echoed forcefully in his novel Gulliver’s Travels. Through the use of imagery, allusion, and symbolism writers have been able to mold public opinion and make the democracy the most desirable government of the modern world. Perhaps Swift was the spark for the burning flame of justice toady.
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