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Gulliver’s Travel As a Symbolical Work
Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) was a writer, journalist and political activist. He is best known for his satirical novel Gulliver’s Travels and the satirical essay “A Modest Proposal” on the Irish Famine. ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ is a fantasy, satire and political allegory book, and is loved by all ages. He wrote Gulliver’s Travels in 1725 and it was published in 1726. The book was a great success throughout the British Empire and earned the author the title of author and commentator of great quality and reputation. In this book, the travels of Gulliver, a surgeon on a merchant ship, are made in four fictional countries. Thus, the book is divided into four parts. His first trip is to Lilliput whose inhabitants are about six inches tall. His second visit was to Brobdingnag, the land of the giants. His third visit was to the islands of Laputa and Lejedo, inhabited by philosophers and scientists, while maintaining his love of music and mathematics. His last visit was to the country of the Honyhnhnms and the Yahoos. They are the rational and civilized horses, and the Yahoos are the irrational and animalistic men, utterly filthy.
Before discussing the symbolism of his work ‘The Gulliver’s Travels’ we should know something about the word ‘symbol’ in literature. The word ‘symbol’ comes from the Late Latin word ‘symbolum’ meaning token, sign or symbol. It is actually a literary ornament. The author uses it to reveal all the hidden things or philosophy of the work honestly to the readers, as they may not face any difficulty in understanding. If such happens, the work will not be attractive and helpful to represent the age. It is clear that Jonathan Swift uses symbols to easily convey his ideas to the readers. With all things in mind, we can say that a symbol is something that stands for something else. In Gulliver’s Travels, everything stands for something else because it is written to criticize contemporary philosophies and customs. Almost every person in this book stands for either a historical figure or an idea.
Let us survey the symbols used in his work, ‘The Gulliver’s Travels’.
In the first book, Swift describes Gulliver’s visit to the Lilliputians, the six-inch inhabitants. They represent the symbol of the utmost pride of mankind. The author ironically represents race. He found that they were small-minded little creatures, but they were the stock of gossip and intrigue; Nevertheless, they consider themselves great. Gulliver comes under the spell of their vain-glory and is convinced by their threat of punishment, even though the race has no real physical power over him. Gulliver learns more about the culture of the Lilliputians and the vast difference in size between him and the nation. This is a clear satire of the British government. Gulliver finds Lilliputian government officials selected by their rope-dancing skills to be admittedly arbitrary and ridiculous. This is symbolic of England’s system of political appointments which is arbitrary. The difference in their size symbolizes the importance of physical strength. Gulliver may walk carelessly and crush the Lilliputians, but they do not realize their own insignificance which symbolizes their small-mindedness. They tie Gulliver up, believing they can control him. Swift symbolizes humanity’s hollow claim to power and significance.
Swift is very careful in his use of irony and symbolism. The articles that Gulliver signs to gain his freedom are symbolic of formal and self-important pieces of paper that are meaningless and self-contradictory, because Gulliver symbolizes great power and strength. He may violate all bonds for his own safety. The history of the conflict between Lilliput and Blefuscu is comical. High-heels and low-heels symbolize the Whigs and Tories of English politics. Lilliput and Blefuscu are symbols of England and France. The violent conflict between the Big Endians and the Little Endians symbolizes the Protestant Reformation and the century-long war between Catholics and Protestants. Thus, European history is a series of brutal wars over pointless and arbitrary disagreements. The conflict ‘how a person chooses to crack an egg’ symbolizes stupidity and frivolity. It is ridiculous and illogical to conclude that there is no right or wrong way to worship. Swift suggests that the Christian Bible can be interpreted in multiple ways. It’s ridiculous for people to fight over how to interpret it when they’re unsure if one interpretation is correct and the others are wrong.
The Lilliputian emperor is a symbol of tyranny, cruelty, and corruption, and he is obsessed with the show, an unchanging symbol of bad government. It is a biting satire on King George I of England (1714 to 1727) for most of Swift’s career. He has no love for the king. The Lilliputian empress refers to Queen Anne, who blocked Swift’s progress in the Church of England, due to some of his earlier satires. Swift’s work of Gulliver urinating in his quarters represents ‘A Tale of a Tub’. The Empress’s distaste for Gulliver’s piss is similar to Queen Anne’s criticism of Swift’s work and his efforts to limit his potential in the Church of England. Indeed, his urine symbolizes his ability to control the Lilliputians. This highlights the importance of physical strength. Gulliver expresses his sense of duty to all creatures by disobeying the emperor’s order to destroy Blefuskure’s fleet. Gulliver finds himself in a position to change Lilliputian society forever. Between Lilliput and Blefuscu there is a reference to the army which symbolizes their patriotic glory as the soldiers march proudly. The Lilliputian emperor’s request for Gulliver to serve as a sort of makeshift arch of triumph for passing troops is a pathetic reminder that their grand parade is extremely silly. The battle with Blefuscu symbolizes the absurdity that emerges from wounded vanity. The Lilliputians therefore symbolize lost human pride and indicate Gulliver’s inability to accurately diagnose it.
In Book II (Part II), Jonathan Swift describes Gulliver’s visit to the Giant’s Island. His walk here does not symbolize danger to the Borbdingnagians as it did on his visit to Lilliput because the situation is reversed. Borbdingnagians represent the English way. After a short stint as a working madman, Gulliver is rescued by the king and queen and lives a life of considerable comfort at court. He spends most of his time learning the language and talking to the king about life in England. The king appears as a just, benevolent ruler, a very compassionate and humane person. Borbodingnagians symbolize the individual, personal and physical side of man, when examined closely. In the Lilliputians, Gulliver symbolizes god-like power, but here he symbolizes slaves and puppets that perform various tricks on paying audiences. Borbdingnagians do not symbolize negative human characteristics. The Borbodingnagians behave differently and seem more civilized than Gulliver. The Queen’s goodwill and common sense opinion towards Gulliver. His slavery is virtual which symbolizes the basic humanity of the Borbodingnagians. So, it’s like Europeans who are happy to jump quickly when they get the chance. He is a golden doll in their hands, and he is given a comfortable cradle with protection from rats.
In this book, we find a dwarf who is usually unable to gain power with a large physical size, but he gains distinction which symbolizes their politics of trying to gain power not through physical strength but through their individuality which is just immoral and common. Women and their flaws are scrutinized with sufficient scrutiny as symbols of imperfection. Gulliver’s fly and microscopic view of flesh symbolize the invention of the microscope. The late seventeenth century saw the first publication of books, which included large-scale illustrations. Such microscopes knew the degree of complexity and error of vision. In his eyes the small size of the Europeans corresponded to their moral weakness. Gulliver’s offer of gunpowder represents the imperfection of the British. The rejection of the king symbolizes this nation more humanity than other nations. This means that, in this society, sins are minimized as much as possible. Although this race has achieved a huge moral achievement, it is still not perfect.
Gulliver’s third visit to Lufta shows Swift’s attack on science and abstract knowledge. Laputans symbolize the folly of theoretical knowledge irrelevant to human life. During the voyage his ship was attacked by pirates. He spoke to them in Dutch, but his later expression of more compassion towards heathens than Christians is symbolic of Swift’s religious beliefs. In this tour, power is realized not through physical form, but through technology. The floating island represents both a powerful weapon and a metaphorical symbol of government and people. On this tour, he describes the Laputans’ rigid devotion to abstract theories, language, architecture, and geography that symbolize non-humanity. Scientists are engaged in extracting sunlight from cucumbers and turning excrement into food and ice into gun powder. The architect is engaged in designing ways to build houses from the roof which represents the scientific society founded in 1660 as a symbol of impossibility and purposelessness. Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke and Isaac Newton were all members of the Royal Society. Its main function was to use new techniques of science to improve craft etc. Theoreticians destroyed a country by forcing its people to follow their new and completely useless methods.
Gulliver’s escape in Glubbdubdrib symbolizes Swift’s attempt to challenge the standard of abstract learning. Overall, the ancient Greeks and Romans were meant to be truly virtuous, whereas Europeans were somewhat depraved. Apart from this, the Stroldbergs of Lugnag are symbols of human aspirations. They seek eternal life and the primary benefits of old age. Indeed, the wisdom of old age can be used to help humanity, but the immortal Struldbergs only become more superstitious and selfish. Stroldbrug’s immeasurable misery and the emptiness of Gulliver’s desire to acquire wealth symbolize Swift’s condemnation of such self-absorbed goals as small-minded states irrelevant to good society.
Jonathan Swift describes Gulliver’s fourth voyage to the Honyhnhnms, representing an ideal of rational existence. Here, man is supposed to be Yahu, and he is subordinate to the animals. It represents that animals are more civilized or an ideal citizen. Their society is safe from crime, poverty, disunity and disease. They are unaware of passion, joy and passionate love. Honyhnhnms appeals to reason rather than to any sacred writings as the criterion of right action. They do not force, but give strong advice. Gulliver’s entire grief suggests that they have had a greater influence on him than any other society he visits.
In fact, it is a bitter criticism on people. Jonathan Swift has chosen mankind in all three tours, but here he chooses animals. In fact, Honyhnhnms represent human fallibility and justte pride in the power of reason. Gulliver’s sewing of canoes to collect yahoo skins to escape the island represents his quick cynicism for humans. If we discuss further, this is the chief weapon of the cynic or satirist for the betterment of mankind because every satirist is a reformer at heart.
Indeed, this is the scene of his book in a nutshell. His work requires more attention and more time. It hides a great treasure of the relevant age. It is admitted that his criticism was swift and severe, but he used it not to exploit men but to pick out their follies and correct them.
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