Gulliver's Travels

Travels as a Satire of the Absurd Travel Guide and the More Absurd Culture from whence it Came

In an essay first printed in "The Examiner," Jonathan Swift writes: "In describing the virtues and vices of mankind, it is convenient, upon every article, to have some eminent person in our eye, from whence we copy our description" (Firth 1). One can only guess, however, after reading Gulliver's Travels, that Swift was unable to find an eminent person of virtue; instead, he found an empire of vice. Gulliver's four voyages satirize not only the fictitious and fantastic travel guides of the time, but also the proud, immoral society that fostered such filth.

The travel literature of Swift's time consisted chiefly of "fantastic and monstrous" races thought up by writers who had never traveled beyond the limits of their own cities. Other countries, they wrote, were ruled, not by civilized Europeans, but by "doglike men who bark rather than speak, men with eyes in their shoulders, and cyclopean, hermaphroditic or pygmy races" (Hawes 190). The idea is comical until one considers that these stories existed partially to justify the violent outreaches of European colonialism, and were fueled by the real-life exhibitions of caged midgets and foreign captives (Hawes 192). Swifts...

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