Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travel
Brief Biography of Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift was born of English parents in Dublin in 1667 (Firdaus, S. & Jan, K.M., p. 1). Prior to his birth however, his father died and they had to live on the meager financial support coming from their relatives. Despite of his economic condition, Swift was able to enter and finished college from Trinity College, Dublin and worked as private secretary to distant relative, Sir William Temple who was a retired diplomat.
Swift’s work with Sir William Temple was never fulfilling rather it was full of bitterness as his pride was hurt by the fact that his work, The Battle of Books was not published on the ground of his superior intelligence than that of William Temple. He then spent the next ten years of his life in Moor’s Park after which he briefly worked in the Church of England as dean. He then went back to Ireland and settled in the little church of Laracor, Ireland and “earn his living there” (Jan, K.M. & Firdaus, S. p. 1). It was during this time that he wrote his second work entitled The Tale of a Tub and published it along with The Battle of Books in 1704. Swift’s excellent skills in pamphleteering made him an important person as his frequent visit to London put him in the company of the leading personality in Government. However, his failure to achieve the position that he wanted in the Church of England drove him back to Ireland. It was from this time that the context of his writings began to reflect the present social condition of the society. Among his works that made him popular among the Irish people were the Drapiers Letters in 1724 which K.M. Jan and Shabnam Firdaus points out, “… was an attack on the government proposal for a new Irish coinage” (p. 2), the Short view of the Present State of Ireland (1727), and the A Modest Proposal. His most renowned work, the Gulliver’s Travel was also written in Ireland. Swift stayed in Dublin where he mourned the death of a beautiful young woman who “loved him ever since they met in the house of Temple.” His bitterness of his misfortune had the point of insanity. The brain disease that appeared earlier aggravated his insanity. Swift died in 1745 “leaving behind his will to found St. Patrick’s asylum for lunatics and incurables” (p. 3).
Over view of his work
Swift’s best known work the Gulliver’s Travel is children’s classics and appears to be a travelogue, a story of the four imaginary voyages of Lemuel Gulliver to four different countries. As we have seen in the movie, the first voyage ends in a shipwreck which brings him to a place called Lilliput being inhabited by people as tall as thumb. Jan and Ferdaus noted that “Gulliver gives almost a realistic account of the details of his stay with them and their way of living” (p. 6). This first voyage reflects many contemporary scenarios during Swift’s time. Gulliver depicted the Lilliputans to be of very small size which according to Jan and Ferdaus “is quite symbolic” (p. 6) as it reflects the smallness or littleness of humanity. The entire political and religious parties of Lilliput were engaged in petty quarrels.
The second Voyage brings Gulliver to the land of Brobdingnag which we learned from the movie to have been inhabited by the giant size people. The land of the Brobdingnag is a stark contrast with the Lilliput as everything here “is carried on large scale” (p. 7). In the movie, Gulliver tries to explain to the Brobdingnagian king about the ambitions, wars, and victories of his own world.
The third voyage however, brings him to the land of Laputa which is a flying island. The people in this island were scientists and professors at the academy of Lagado. They were engaged in extracting sun rays from cucumbers which according to Jan and Firdaus is peculiarly “Switian satire on science and speculative philosophy” (p. 7)
The fourth voyage led him to the country of the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos. The Houyhnhnms according to Jan and Firdaus are horses endowed with intelligence which is a conclusion of the satire that began with Gulliver’s voyage to the Lilliput. Gulliver’s fourth book depicted that the human corruptions had opened his eyes and enlarged his understanding “that I began to view the actions and passions of men in a very different light to think that that the honor of my own kind not worth honoring” (p. 7).
As a whole, the Gulliver’s travel has been viewed as the work of Swift’s madness. However, in his introduction on Swift’s Gulliver’s Travel, Michael Seidel noted that the 1735 edition signals readers that book was written after Swift’s madness. Regardless of how readers judge the book, Gulliver’s travel is an interesting story depicting some realities of the time and even today such as in the case of the Lilliputans who were frequently engaged in petty quarrels. While it is obvious that the stories are satire and the characters and places are those that jumbled in the mind of the writer, and perhaps the work of a mad narrator, as Seidel points out, “mad lunatic narrators appear in virtually all his important works, even his famous A Modest Proposal…” (p. xiv), yet it is a likely that perception on Swift’s work was influenced by the fact that readers knew his mental condition. His works were readily thrown to subjective judgment based on his insanity.
Objective view of the Gulliver’s Travel would categorize the book as a product of Swift’s fantasy of the reality. It is his way of expressing deepest thoughts about his misfortunes such as the “smallness and littleness of humanity” mentioned by Jan and Firdaus. In other words, Swift’s works as mentioned earlier were based on the real situation that he was seeing as depicted in his other works.
Jan, K.M. & Firdaus, Shabnam. Perspectives on Gulliver’s Travels New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, 2004.
Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels (Barnes & Noble Classics Series) New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 2003.