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But what of Gulliver's Travels? It is a fiction; it is written in prose; it is an 'imaginary voyage.' So much one can say, but to say this is to say very little. (Brady 1968:41)
Gulliver's Travels satirizes the monarchy and government of Jonathan Swift's time, for this reason he made use of the persona of Lemuel Gulliver to publish the book at first. Although, it must be noted, that Gulliver is a character different from Swift. Some of their opinions and views may be similar but, Gulliver is not a representation for Swift. Swift not only satirizes the government, certain political figures, human nature and, scientists to name but a few, but also the travel genre. This essay will discuss how Swift makes use and manipulates the travel genre as well as the element of and quest for truth in the novel.
Travel literature was greatly enjoyed in the eighteenth century, for it introduced the reader to different worlds and cultures. Therefore, it is safe to assume that both Swift and his audience were well familiar with the structure of travel accounts. These travel accounts consist of certain common elements, such as, the journey to some unknown or exotic country, be it on purpose or accidental as in Gulliver's Travels. These travel literature authors had to establish their integrity to the reader that the events depicted are done so accurately and honestly, this they accomplished in various ways: the narrator will occasionally "address the reader" (Sherbo 1979:126) directly, specifically point out that what they are telling the reader is the completely true, but that they may be forgetting certain important facts while they are writing(Sherbo 1979:126), and in the beginning of a travel account there will be credible remarks from "The Publisher to the Reader" (Sherbo 1979:114), and lastly, show the author is a "man of learning" (Sherbo 1979:124).
Swift convinces the reader that Gulliver is an actual person by opening the first book with what McKeon calls "naÃ¯ve empiricism" (Bohls 2005:100), wherein, Swift creates a background for Gulliver, giving him a family and a history and conveying to the reader Gulliver's education and profession. In the editions published after "1735" (Chalker &Dixon 1967:374), the book opens with a letter from Gulliver to his cousin, Sympson, complaining about the previous editions published incorrectly, followed by "The Publisher to the Reader" (43), wherein the publisher (Sympson) informs the reader in typical travel writing style that "when anyone affirmed a thing, to say, it was as true as if Mr. Gulliver had spoke it" (43), followed by the contents pages. These structures that Swift uses, shows Gulliver as an actual and true person, which invoke in the reader a sense of trust in Gulliver and his tale, without questioning him. At several occasions Gulliver address the reader directly and even goes as far as,
"I could heartily wish a law were enacted, that every traveller, before he were permitted to publish his voyages, should be obliged to make oath before the Lord High Chancellor that all he intended to print was absolutely true to the best of his knowledge; for then the world would no longer be deceived as it usually is, while some writers, to make their works pass the better upon the public, impose the grossest falsities on the unwary reader." (340)
This is ironic, seeing as the whole book is a fictional piece. Swift, with this quote, both establishes Gulliver's integrity as well as forces the reader to question all other travel literature. He forces the readers to question everything they read, for he shows them just how believable and interesting a fictional journey can be. The reader is now also forced look at literature structures differently and not to blindly accept it as the truth.
Travel writers will also accompany their text with maps, diagrams and examples of strange language (Sherbo 1979:126) to show the authenticity of their adventure. There are five maps of the strange countries Gulliver found in the book, adding integrity to his tales. However, according to Bracher "[t]he longitudes given in Gulliver are sometimes obviously in error and are difficult to interpret" (Bracher 1944:65).This can be because Swift did not fully understand the technicality of the terms, how to properly read a map or did not care much. However, Bracher (1944:70-71) beliefs that the maps were put in by Motte and designed by his brother, Andrew Motte without Swift's consent and that Andrew was either not competent enough or did not consult Swift about the difficulties at all. But, with this arises the difficulty of why did Swift not ask the publishers to take out the incorrect maps or at least fix them. Again, he either did not care or did not notice the problems. Although, it can be argued that Swift specifically gave the inaccurate coordinates to confuse the reader or analyst, as the countries only exist in Gulliver's Travels, forcing the reader again to start questioning the credibility of Gulliver and others like him especially seeing as the maps traced from Molls maps. In book two, Gulliver offer to help Moll correct the mistakes on Moll's maps, this represents Gulliver's pride and arrogance, but, also highlights the quest for truth - that the reader should question the maps of these travellers. It is possible that Swift is only striking fun at the travel writers, who calculate the coordinates of the voyage to precision, in the same sense of how Swift ridicules the technical terms used by them. For instance, the storm in chapter one of book two, Swift copied "almost word for word from Samuel Sturrmy's Mariner's Magazine" (352). Swift will occasionally deliberately use the terms incorrectly, but, in his letter to Samuel he explains this in true Gulliver-Swift style:
I hear some of you sea-Yahoos find fault with my sea-language, as not proper in many parts, nor now in use. I cannot help it. In my first voyages, while I was young, I was instructed by the oldest mariners, and learned to speak as they did. But I have since found that the sea-Yahoos are apt, like the land once, to become new-fangled in their words; which the latter change every year; insomuch, as I remember upon each return to mine own country, their old dialect was so altered, that I could hardly understand the new. (39)
In this extract Gulliver rebukes the people criticising him for his wrongful use of technical terms and insulting them severely by calling them 'Yahoos', Swift also, cleverly, makes an excuse for not knowing the proper terms to use, travel writers used the correct "nautical jargon" (Sherbo 1979:126) both to express their knowledge and to make the tale authentic. But, more importantly Swift is commenting on daily language "changing to quickly" (Donoghue 1971:24) which he does not agree with. Ironically, the original title, Travels Into Several Remote Nations Of The World In Four Parts By Lemuel Gulliver, contains the word 'remote' a popular term used by travel writers (Sherbo 1979:126) to emphasize the strangeness of the places their going to, but in Gulliver's case the counties does not exist in 'the real' world, only in the fantastical, making Swift's countries the only real remote countries, seeing as they are only assessable through Gulliver and his tales. Language used in travel literature is also significant, the authors will use "plain" (Sherbo 1979:126) language that the 'everyday-man' can understand, Michael Foot explains that Swift read "large chunks to his servants" (7) to keep his language simple and clear. Gulliver is a rather intelligent man, for not only is he a doctor and mathematician but also is he fluent in numerous languages, English and Protégées being two, and he learns the languages of the remote places he goes to in a matter of weeks. Gulliver starts out with signs, then, learns how to ask of what he needs, moving on to full competence of the specific language. This demonstrates the power relations that the knowledge of a language or the lack thereof creates. The power of language is shown in Lilliput where Gulliver is to sign a contract - this also shows the trust the Lilliputians place in both the contract and Gulliver - as well as when they accuse him of his crimes, all this is done by using language.
Similarly, in a discussion between Gulliver and Grey Horse:
For he argued thus; That the use of speech was to make us understand one another, and to receive information, of facts; now if any one said the thing which was not, these ends were defeated; because I cannot properly be said to understand him, and I am so far from receiving information, that he leaves me worse in ignorance, for I am led to believe a thing black when it is white, and short when it is long. And these where all the notions he had concerning that faculty of lying, so perfectly well understood, and so universally practised among human creatures. (286)
In this passage, Swift argues that the truth is in fact, a very simple concept - it either is or it is not. Swift emphasizes the truth in his word choices, demonstrating that there is no grey area where the truth is concerned. With 'long' and 'short', Swift shows how the lie will normally be the longer answer, for people use elaborate language to confuse the person(s) receiving the lie. However, Swift insinuates that the reason for lying falls in the 'grey area' and may be acceptable yet. In a utopian, such as Houyhnhnm, world it would be the norm to never tell a lie, but, in life people will withhold or manipulate the information they give to exercise their power over someone. Ironically, this is what Gulliver is doing to a lesser extent in his accounts, for he withholds information when he sees fit and the reader only see what Gulliver depicts. This shows the importance of the quest for truth both in the novel and in the outside life, where people receive information daily from different sources, especially from those those in power. Swift wants his readers to start examining given information and search for the truth and the actual meaning of messages.
All four books starts with Gulliver setting out to sea, but then there is: a shipwreck in book one, a storm in book two, pirates in book 3 followed by a mutiny in book four. These events show how human nature and Gulliver's opinion of human nature deteriorates in time. With these events Gulliver provides the reader with his pessimistic view of human nature. However, in a similar way Swift provides the reader with hope, every time Gulliver leaves a discovered country he is either rescued as in books one, two and four or with the help of the Japanese Emperor in book three. Except for book 3, the crews and captains treat Gulliver exceptionally well, especially in book four. In regard to these endings Swift provides hope but also explains to the reader that in order to fully judge and understand a text you need to take the whole of it into consideration. Gulliver, nonetheless, does not take the whole adventure of book four into account and in doing so he loses a part of himself and his humanity. Swift juxtaposes Gulliver's deterioration of humanity with Captain Pedro de Mendez's good nature, showing to the reader the possible outcome when the truth is found and the inevitable is accepted.
The travel authors will give complete accounts of their encounters (Sherbo 1979:126). Gulliver goes into a lot of detail describing the new cultures of all the different places he journeys to, for instance, the gymnastic rituals the Lilliputians go through to gain individual political status. Swift strikes fun at the travel writers who emphasize the truth and claim to be telling their readers everything without holding anything back or claiming to give actual accounts, with Gulliver holds back 'inventory' from the Lilliputians when they search his pockets. In travel writing the author will modestly explain to the reader why he is undertaking this journey - apart from his 'natural' need to travel, but for Country or God (Sherbo 1979:126). Gulliver has a family to support and a dream to go on a voyage somewhere one day, but unlike other travel accounts he goes to sea for money and not of Country or God. In this, it is possible that Swift is questioning the true reason why these explorers set out. As known today, many people were killed and cultures destroyed because, "whatever lands are discovered by a subject belongs to the Crown" (342). In this regard, both Swift and Gulliver are protecting the discovered countries in Gulliver's Travels from the Crown. Thus, it is possible that the reader should start to consider what the true reason for these magnificent travels are and what it is that is being done to these places in the name of God and Country.
Swift wrote a satirical book about government, science and human nature by doing this he forces the reader to see and acknowledge certain truths. Truth, as this essay has shown is a very strong element in Gulliver's Travels. Swift makes use of the travel genre, a genre that the people of his time would very easily accept as the truth. Swift uses the same 'true' formula, structure, ideas and even the same words as these travel writers does, but, in a fantastical story, forcing the reader to start questioning not only the truth of travel literature but everything they read and truths in general.