All of us would have seen, read, or heard Gulliver’s Travels and the terms coined from the novel like Lilliput. Mostly, we would’ve read it during our childhood. The novel has been shortened, simplified, and used as short stories in school curriculums worldwide. It has been adapted for screenplay and made into numerous cartoons, animation and live-action films, theatrical plays, etc.
Gulliver’s Travels (Review)
I was studying fifth grade, and just after school, I remember lending the book Gulliver’s Travels from a dainty library near my home. The book was very old, sporadically torn, had yellowish pages. But since I started reading about the voyage of Lemuel Gulliver and his arrival at Lilliput, I was enthralled by the plotline. So although the book didn’t have any illustrations or colours in it, I painted every last detail of the book with my own imagination.
Even back then, I noticed the absurdities in the story, especially the characters. But I did not realize the satirical commentary on politics and human society. To me, it just felt like an adventure novel. Perhaps that is the genius of the writer Jonathan Swift. He was an Irish author who had a unique style of writing. His dry humour and satirical sense were unmatched compared to his contemporaries. And at the same time, his usage of antiquated and fictional wordings might prove to be strenuous for readers.
As the title suggests, the story is about the protagonist Lemuel Gulliver’s chronicles during his voyage to mysterious magical realms. Gulliver is an unsuccessful surgeon who looks to voyage into the seas hoping to make money. He joins as an onboard doctor on a ship that was on its way to East Indies. Antelope – the ship in which the crew travels meets with a violent storm, and Gulliver ends up as the only survivor.
Part 1️⃣ – The book’s first major event is set at Lilliput – an island inhabited by tiny humans. Gulliver, being a giant in the eyes of the aboriginals, receives a hostile reception. The island’s narcissistic emperor seeks Gulliver’s hand in waging war against their neighboring island country – Blefuscu. Even though Gulliver helps the emperor, things turn sour due to subsequent events narrated in the book. Here, it is not the actual narration by Gulliver that is important. Instead, the subtext is basically a pasquinade at the conceited English rulers of Swift’s era. And the writer’s satire doesn’t stop with just the rulers.
Part 2️⃣ – Gulliver eventually escapes from the island and returns home. Even though he is not a fan of the voyages, he again sets out to the high seas. This time, he ends up in a land occupied by giants. Brobdingnag is the name of this contrasting place. The giants see Gulliver like he saw the Lilliputians. Here, Gulliver ends up being a showpiece of a farmer and later rescued by their queen. Jonathan Swift describes the exceptional moral virtue of the giants. But at the same time, the giants treat Gulliver like a toy. They fail to acknowledge him as a human being. Gulliver’s views are not considered seriously by the rulers because of his inconsequential stature. Meanwhile, Gulliver gets to compare the giants and reflect upon the vacuous humans through a magnifying glass. It makes the readers realize and appreciate every little aspect of life.
Quote: “This made me reflect upon the fair skins of our English ladies, who appear so beautiful to us, only because they are of our own size, and their defects not to be seen through a magnifying glass, where we find by experiment that the smoothest and whitest skins look rough and coarse, and ill colored.”
In many modern renditions and reproductions of the work, the story ends with these two parts. Most of the children’s storybooks end here. As a result, it will feel more like an adventure than satire. And that is completely fine. Some abridged versions and movies also end here. But the original novel contains four parts.
Part 3️⃣ – Gulliver escapes by chance from Brobdingnag and returns home. But he sets out on a journey again, and this time, he reaches the mystical floating island of Laputa. The Laputans are described as intelligent but unpragmatic. Gulliver finds the absurdities of the meaningless pursuit of knowledge. He believes that life becomes ambiguous when there is no practical application of theoretical, mathematical, and abstract knowledge. From Laputa, he travels to neighbouring islands of Balnibarbi, Glubbdubdrib, and Luggnagg. At Luggnagg, Gulliver gets an extraordinary chance of speaking with great personalities from the past. Jonathan Swift tries to establish that history, as we know it, is filled with lies. Apart from this, he was explicit in calling out the authoritarian nature of the royalties.
But personally, I reject the author’s claim that the pursuit of knowledge is useless. The is an underlying reason. Swift was an Anglican priest and a hardcore traditionalist. He frowned upon the people propagating new theories, ideas, and philosophies.
Trivia: The author was against the changes happening during his time. This satirical chapter was aimed at George I of Great Britain and Sir Isaac Newton for the aforementioned reasons.
Part 4️⃣ – You guessed it right. Gulliver sets out to voyage again, but this time as the captain of a ship. He is left alone in a calm land filled with horse-like beings called Houyhnhnms. They are communal and rational beings who live by a strong code of conduct. Houyhnhnms control and rule another set of characters in the land – the Yahoos. They are savages who represent the worst qualities of human beings. After spending three years, Gulliver is rejected by the Houyhnhnm society and is forced to go back to England. Gulliver finds the savage behaviour displayed the humans is not different from that of Yahoos but comes to peace as he settles at home.
Jonathan Swift implies life led by reason would be fine but at the same time makes the readers question what life would be without emotional experiences. After all, that makes us humans.
Verdict: Gulliver’s Travels has multiple versions, and readers might find conflicting ideologies in some places. It depends upon the audience’s perspective. For instance, the book could be an engaging fantasy adventure tale for kids, a philosophical novel for a casual reader, or a satirical masterpiece for a bookworm. The storyline is almost absurd many times. But still, I found it to be creative. I would say Gulliver’s Travels is a must-read book for kids. You can get the book here! 📖
Inspired by the books of Mark Twain at school, Sabari Nath started his habit of reading fiction and adventure novels. Gradually, he evolved to enjoy more nuanced novels like The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and Sophie’s World. Having worked for years as a content writer, he hopes to follow his passion for writing novels in the near future!
All of us would have seen, read, or heard Gulliver's Travels and the terms coined from the novel like Lilliput. Mostly, we would've read it during our childhood. The novel has been shortened, simplified, and used as short stories in school curriculums worldwide. It has been adapted for screenplay and made into numerous cartoons, animation and live-action films, theatrical plays, etc.
Author: Jonathan Swift