Monday, June 7, 2010

Jonathan Swift and Gulliver's Travels

It is quite interesting that "Gulliver's Travels" is often found in the children's section of many bookstores. Most of us know this iconic tale as the story of a giant Englishman surrounded by the miniature Lilliputians trying to subdue him. Although Gulliver's Travels (1726) is easy to read without dissecting it, I do not think that Jonathan Swift's (1667-1745) original audience was young English children.

Swift was an Englishman born in Dublin, the son of a father who backed the losing side in the English Civil War. Following his education in Oxford, Swift became a potent essayist and political activist for the conservative Tory party. He railed against the English treatment of the Irish and clashed with the Whig establishment in London. Most of his political diatribes were satirical; for example, he suggested that the English (Whig) solution for the overcrowding of Ireland would be for the Irish to sensibly eat their own children.

Gulliver's Travels was written to mock the exaggerated travel stories that were fashionable during this time of foreign discovery. In addition, Swift also portrays royalty, government officials, and humanity in general, with cutting mockery.

Gulliver describes several different groups of "people" he meets on his travels. These include the race of miniature humanoids 6 inches tall that we are most familiar with. He also reaches shores full of humans 12 times our height, a race of men that do not die, a group that can converse with dead people, a flying island, and finally an island populated by intelligent horses where humans are considered imbeciles and treated as slaves.

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