Gulliver\'s Travels
Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels is without question the most famous literature to
emerge from this 18th century Tory satiric tradition. It is the strongest,
funniest, and yet in some ways most despairing cry for a halt to the trends
initiated by seventeenth-century philosophy. In Book IV, we discover how

Gulliver’s journey into a discovery of what man is becomes a journey into
madness. We encounter, here, a cruel attack on man. This is an attack using two
of the most striking literary metaphors for man: the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos.

The first are beings in every way like horses except for their possession of
absolute reason; the second are creatures bearing an uncanny resemblance to man
except for their animalistic brutality. Swift’s use of these creatures,

Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos, as an approach to the problem of the nature of man,
has attracted more critical attention than has any other part of his work. Now,
the first important question to ask of any satirist is how he or she achieves
the necessary comic distortion, which transforms the familiar into the
ridiculous. And Swift’s main technique for achieving this--and a wonderful
technique for satire--is the basic plot of science fiction: the voyage by an
average civilized human being into unknown territory and his return back home.

This apparently simple plot immediately opens all sorts of satiric
possibilities, because it enables the writer constantly to play off three
different perspectives in order to give us the reader a comic sense of what is
very familiar. It can do this in the following ways: If the strange new country
is recognizably similar to our culture, then comic distortions in the New World
enable the writer to satirize the familiar in a host of different ways,
providing, in effect, a cartoon style view of our world. If the strange new
country is some sort of utopia--a perfectly realized vision of the ideals often
proclaimed but generally violated in our world--then the satirist can manipulate
the discrepancy between the ideal New World of the fiction and the corrupt world
we live in to illustrate repeatedly just how empty the pretensions to goodness
really are in our world. However, the key to this technique is generally the use
of the traveler, the figure who is, in effect, the reader’s contemporary and
fellow countryman. How that figure reacts to the New World can be a constant
source of amusement and pointed satiric comment, because, in effect, this figure
represents the contact between the normal world and the strange New World of
either caricatured ridiculousness or utopian perfection. We can see Swift moving
back and forth between the first two techniques, and this can create some
confusion. For example, in much of Book I, Lilliput is clearly a comic
distortion of life in Europe. The sections on the public rewards of leaping and
creeping or the endless disputes about whether one should eat one’s eggs by
breaking them at the bigger or the smaller end or the absurdity of the royal
proclamations are obvious and funny distortions of the court life, the pompous
pretentiousness of officials, and the religious disputes familiar to Swift’s
readers. At the same time, however, there are passages where he holds up the
laws of Lilliput as some form of utopian ideal, in order to demonstrate just how
much better they understand true reasonableness than do the Europeans. In book

II, he does the same: for most of the time the people of Brobdingnag are again
caricatured distorted Europeans, but clearly, the King of Brobdingnag is an
ideal figure. This shift in perspective on the New World is at times confusing.

Swift is, in effect, manipulating the fictional world to suit his immediate
satirical purposes. It is easy enough to see what he is doing, but it does, in
some sense, violate our built-up expectations. Just how are we supposed to take

Lilliput and Brobdingna--as a distorted Europe or as a utopia or what? This lack
of a consistent independent reality to the fictional world which he has created
is one of the main reasons why Gulliver’s Travels is not considered one of the
first novels (since one of the requirements of a novel, it is maintained, is a
consistent attitude towards the fictional reality one has created: one cannot
simply manipulate it at will to prove a moral point). We can see Gulliver slowly
becoming accustomed to a new kind of life, the life of reason that he is forced
to imitate from the model supplied by the horses. We can begin to see that

Gulliver is impressed by the