Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift

Historical and Cultural Context

Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels is a classic novel that was published in 1726. It tells the story of Lemuel Gulliver, a ship's surgeon who travels to four different lands: Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa, and the land of the Houyhnhnms. Each of these lands represents different aspects of society and culture during Swift's time. He even travels briefly to Japan! 

During the early 18th century, Britain was in the midst of the Enlightenment, a time of great intellectual and cultural change. The Enlightenment emphasised the importance of reason, science, and progress, and it had a profound impact on British society. Swift was a prominent figure during this period, and he was known for his satirical writings that criticised the social and political institutions of his time.

One of the main themes of Gulliver's Travels is the idea of power and authority. In Lilliput, Gulliver finds himself in a land where the tiny inhabitants are obsessed with hierarchy and order, despite their small size. This reflects Swift's criticism of the rigid social structure of his time, where the upper class held all the power and the lower classes were forced to obey.

In Brobdingnag, Gulliver encounters giants who see him as a mere insect. This land represents the opposite extreme of Lilliput, where the powerful dominate the weak. Swift uses this contrast to highlight the flaws of both systems and to suggest that a more balanced and egalitarian society is needed.

In Laputa, Gulliver visits a floating island where the inhabitants are obsessed with mathematics and science, but are completely detached from reality. This land represents the dangers of excessive intellectualism and the need for practicality and common sense.

Finally, in the land of the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver encounters a race of intelligent horses who live in harmony with nature and have no concept of lies or deceit. This land represents Swift's ideal society, one that is based on reason, morality, and a deep connection to nature.

Gulliver's Travels is a satirical commentary on the society and culture of Swift's time. It explores themes of power, authority, reason, and morality, and it offers a vision of a more just and equitable society. Its enduring popularity and relevance make it a classic work of literature that continues to captivate readers around the world.

a) 16th century

b) 17th century

c) 18th century

d) 19th century

a) Lilliput

b) Brobdingnag

c) Laputa

d) The land of the Houyhnhnms

a) The importance of hierarchy and order

b) The dangers of practicality and common sense

c) The need for excessive intellectualism

d) The idea of power and authority

a) The Romantic movement

b) The Gothic movement

c) The Renaissance

d) The Enlightenment

DISCUSSION: If you could visit any of the lands that Gulliver travels to in Gulliver's Travels, which one would you choose and why? 

Further reading