Gulliver’s Travels as a Travelogue
Table of Contents
Obviously, the genre of travel literature informs the entire travels. Gulliver very definitely does travel from place to place and publishes his journals for the edification of those who have never been abroad. His scrupulous detailing of events, places, actions, etc., is also in the travel vein, since travellers, in order to appear truthful to the reader, made certain they padded their adventures with as much circumstantial detail as possible.
The Elements of Philosophic Voyages
The elements of the philosophic voyages are present as well. In these a traveller generally discovers peoples who are more advanced in morals, more simple in their needs than Europeans and so he is able to satirize existing institutions, Gulliver, upon becoming acquainted with the language and manners of the various countries, can dispute or argue the respective merits of them compared to Europe, naturally, such discourse has a philosophic cast in that the glaring inadequacies of Europe are exposed.
Especially in Book 1 and Book 2, Gulliver’s Travels Swift has depicted societies that have the essence of ideal life. Brobdingnag in Part II is the land of plants whose ingenuous and benevolent nature put human meanness and malignant nature to share. In Book 4 Houyhnhnms appear. Their society is founded on the basis of reason and what is natural. Such an orderly society has no place for self-indulgence, hatred and malice.
As an Utopian Literature
The philosophic voyage is only a step away from utopian literature. Plato’s Republic, Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, Bacon’s New Atlantis are just a few examples of imaginary societies that are perfectly ordered and governed and in which people lead full, untroubled, vital lives. Utopian elements are found in each book of the travels, but Swift makes it apparent that he is no believer in any abstract utopia. Human nature and human beings are not made to endure perfection. And if the land of the Houyhnhnms seems at first blush to be the perfect utopia, one must recall that human beings are not horses. Here, in Part IV, Swift has relied heavily on the fable, particularly as written by Aesop. This last genre is always successful for satiric purposes because the human elements can be brilliantly contrasted with the animal which Swift does with a vengeance. Often as not, the animal emerges as superior, and human pride is whittled down a notch or two in the course of the reversal. Understanding that Gulliver’s Travels is a book which stresses if not preaches-moral behavior, one can conclude that Swift, like Aesop, found animals the most suitable examples from which to exhibit and draw morals for human beings.
Earlier Society of Lilliputians : A Utopian Society
While the Lilliputians would seem to have little to commend them, Swift does not detract from their institutions entirely. Some of their laws and customs could certainly be incorporated into any body of government today with excellent results. In Lilliput-before it grew decadent-false accusers were punished more severely than those guilty of crime: fraud was considered a greater crime than theft; any who had led a blameless life were rewarded by the government: people were chosen for government posts because they possessed superior morals and virtues as well as intelligence; ingratitude was a capital crime, communal nurseries were limited in size so that children might get a superior education as early as possible, etc. All in all, the older institutions of Lilliput are to be envied.
Brobdingnagian Society: A Utopian Society
The Brobdingnagians, too, have many ideal customs, laws and procedures. The wiles of political intrigue have been reduced to a minimum. Morality, poetry history and mathematics are emphasized in the schools, and the latter is directed to making practical advances in art and agriculture. The standing army is composed of volunteers and all men volunteer since wars are almost non-existent in a kingdom ruled by a benevolent and gracious king who is interested only in the welfare of his people.
Utopian Elements in Laputan Society
Difficult as it may be in Part III to find any enduring utopian principles a few can be isolated. The Laputans control scientific information which could be potentially valuable to mankind, although they as yet are too short sighted to understand its value. Learning is means and end to the Laputans, something not despicable in itself but weakened by the impracticality of the uses to which learning is put. Becoming cognizant of Human wants, the Laputans could do many great things with their knowledge. In Gulliver’s voyage to Luggnagg he discovers a people courteous and kind, and philosophically composed to accept death in view of the omnipresent Struldbruggs who provide living examples of the vanity and horror of immortality.
Utopian Society of the Houyhnhnms
But perhaps the society of Part IV offers some of the most desirable bases for a utopia. The “grand maxim” of the Houyhnhnms is to “cultivate reason and to be wholly governed by it,” and the two principal virtues they possess are friendship and benevolence. They never lie; indeed, they have no name for lying in their language; they practice birth control so that their land can support its inhabitants. The youth are brought up to be content and stoic, and are taught temperance, industry, exercise and cleanliness. Lastly, the Houyhnhnms live basically simple lives, wasting not and wanting not,” and greeting death without fear or pain.
Gulliver’s Travels is a book on mankind. It calls man to his potential greatness, something far above Lilliputian party divisions, small intrigues, jealousies and treacheries. In the final chapter of Part IV Swift reminds the reader of the least corrupted” of man-like creatures, the Brobdingnazians, “whose wise maxims in morality and government would be our happiness to observe.”
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