Thursday, October 14, 2010

Gulliver's Travells as an Allegory

Ami C. Jani
Roll no. – 41
Paper no. – 4
Year – 2010-11
Topic: Gulliver’s Travels as an allegory

Submitted to Miss Ruchira Dudharejiya
Department of English,
Bhavnagar University.

Jonathan Swift was born in 17th century and he contributed to the 18th century prose by writing essays. Satire is the powerful weapon of swift and he attacks the social institution of his times directly in his works. Apart from being a man of letters, swift was active in the politics of his time. King George-I those ruled the British empire in those days. There were two powerful parties known as Whigs and Tory. The king George-I favored the Whigs and in the beginning Swift supported the king George-I and also the Whig But later, he became the victim of the king’s indifluence and anger, He then started writing for me Tories. Apart from the politics in religions also, there was the constant conflict between Catholics and Protestants. Swift started thinking negatively about everything and his cynicism could be traced out from his works. His satire is always sharp, sometimes bitter and it real pessimistic vision of swift.

                There is something ill or corrupted or morbid in his satire. Unlike the innocent harmless sunny satire of Addition and Steels, Swifts satire creates adverse effect in our minds. In his pamphlet he recommends with ironic seriousness that every Irish woman should produce children for the Englishman’s fable. Irois is a literary device by which an author uses words or expressions in which he more or less the exact opposite of what he intends to convey. Their very contrariness is intended to shock the reader, while highlight their real meaning. Swift exposed the pathetic state of the Irish peasant whose only solution to poverty would be able to see their children as delicacies for the English nobleman’s fable.

                Swift took the holy orders and was ordained a priest of the Anglian church. He wrote a witty allegory on the religious controversy of the time entitled “A Tale of a Tub”. An allegory is a literary device which consists of the use of symbol to express a deeper meaning. Serious ideas are symbolically conveyed satire through a simple fable or parable.

                Although swift was cynical about women and skeptical of human relationships, a biographical study reveals his deep attachment to two young women, Esther Johnson and Esther Vanhomrigh addressed by him as Stella and Vanessa. This private correspondence with Esther Thomson, published as a journal to Stella reveals the depth of his affection and the warmth and humor of Swift - the man.

                Swift’s greatest literary work is GUlliver’s Travels published in 1728 although Swift professed to hate the species called “man”, he loved individuals GUlliver’s Travels, apart from its great merit as a classic for children, is a satire on human nature though swift posed as a cynic and misanthrope and his satire was harsh and bitter, he was steadfast in his concern for humanity and was honest as a critic. The principle aim of GULLIVER’S TRAVELS instructs and correct through ridicule, irony and sarcasm. The book exposes with great intensity, the ugliness of human nature, the conceit, pride and cruelty but the underlying tone is consistently one of compassion a desire to instruct humanity and put them on the right path of Christianity.

                An allegory is a literary prose or verse which is structured in such a way that its meaning could be read on two levels - a primary or literal level and a secondary and more complex level. An allegory is defined as a narrative in which the characters plot, setting and occasion while making sense in themselves also signify a second layer of meaning where they point at another set of people, events and setting either from me writer’s social thilier or recent historical events. It is a figurative mode of representation where ideas are conveyed through symbolism and metaphor. Swift uses satire to highlight the allegorical elements in his tales and thus the allegory functions as an excellent vehicle of criticism of the English Government and its activities. The allegory and the satire, in a sense, are interwoven in extricably and deftly.

                The books of eighteenth century politics of England see in the book, we can find as it is often studied as political or historical allegory.

                The character and action are based on historical or political personages and events. Allegories work as a critical interpretative frame and in historical and political allegories, characters and actions in the text present people and events in real life. Gulliver’s Travels is political allegory in which the text contains symbolic reference the actual people and events in eighteenth century England. Allegory and satire are closely interwoven one form serving the other. In short allegory means a simple that can be objects, characters, figures or colour used to represent an abstract idea or concepts. Swift uses this novel to criticize the political condition of England at the 18th century.

                Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels is not merely the story of Gulliver’s Travels visits to the four islands but it tells something more. Some critics interpret the work as a political satire and also as an allegory.

                An allegory is a story in which double meanings run parallel through the text and the verbal meaning or the surface meaning is not enough for the full appreciation of the work on hand. The verbelum reading of Gulliver’s Travels suggest that Swift tells one thing and means another thing. The first voyage of the book is regarded as a sustained political allegory.

                The critics like Michael Foot, W.A. Speak, Sir Charles firth and A.E. case inquired into the nature of Gulliver’s Travels. They tried to identify the events and the personalities of the voyage to Lilliput with those in Swift’s England. It was argued by firth that the account of Lilliputian was written in 1714 and partly after 1720. He sought to explain the incident of the Lilliputian queen’s indignation at Gulliver’s Travels effrontery in extinguishing the palace fire with his copious urine with reference to the established fact inapt Queen Anne viewed “A Tale of a Tub” with great anger and never forgave Swift for writing it. Moreover, the character of Fimnap refers to Sir Robert Walpole and his skill on the rope symbolizes Walpole’s desclerity in parliamentary tactics and political intrigues while which the cushion that broke his fall represents the Duchesses of Kendal, one of George-I mistresses. The coloured threads represent the orders of Thistle, Bath and Garter.

                The allegory has been divided into four sections referring to four voyages of the protagonist. First voyage refers many allegories and in this voyage Gulliver’s visit to the island of the word Lilliput suggests very small things. The dimension of size is symbolic and the dwarfishness of Lilliputians’ stands for triviality and shallowness of the English Society of Swift’s time. Swift uses the tern high-heels and law-heels and they refer to Whigs and Tories of his times. To be precised low heels stands for Whigs and high heels stands for Tories. Similarly Big Endians stands For Catholics and little Endian stand for Protestants.

                In second voyage, Gulliver visits the island of Brobdingnag next to Lilliput of this land and in this voyage also we can find many allegories which is used by Swift to show the real life style of people at that time in England.

For Example

In the Brobdingnag, the people are giants and everything is magnify on a large scale and Swift has again used the dimension of size to highlight the imperfections and deficiencies of human beings. Gulliver is disgusted at the sight of a woman feeding her child. There is the long description of the abnormal size of the breast of the woman and man Swift praises the normal size and fair skin of English ladies.

In part-III of the book we come across parody of the royal society that pursues strange scientific experiments. There is a satire upon the projectors who hold schemes and projects connected to different fields. The members of different society carry on the experiments must are Miraculous and unbelieving. Swift attacks on the so called scientific inventions and fears, the damage done to mankind through these experiments. Sometimes Swift becomes most bitter and cynic in his satire. His dislikes and hatred for modern civilization becomes intense in the fourth part.  He also starts hating himself for being a part and parcel of the English Society of his time and he depicts all these things in Gullver’s Travels by using allegory.

There are also several allegorical references like, The main events of the time were the “South sea Babble, the return to the of Walpole, the return from the exile of Bolingbrook,  the removal of Carteret from the English cabinet, the supremacy of Walpole and the struggle over woods patent in Ireland. It was the period of the end of Queen Annie’s reigh and the beginning of the George-I who was a Whig presented as a law heel. The reference of the neighborhood state Blefuscue stands for France and there is always the fear of attack from the enemy kingdom. Gulliver’s Travels is interpreted as a political allegory because many events refer to real political events of Swift’s own time. When Gulliver puts out the fire in the palace of Lilliputian empress by urinate, the empress gets energy with him and decides never again to use the palace. This reference refers to Queen Anne who was disgusted with Swift’s publication of “A Tale of a Tub” and Swift’s political career was at stake. He could not get promotion to me higher office in the church.

Similarly Lord Balgolam was that chief enemy of Gulliver in Part-I and he represents the Earl of Nottingham in real life. It was the earl of Nottingham who stopped swift’s promotion. Bolingbroke was in close contact with Swift through correspondence. Swift identifies Gulliver’s condition in Lilliput with the condition of Bolingbroke who was wrongly accused of Treason and exiled from England. In fact Bolingbroke stopped war between England and France. The character of Flimnap the lord Treasurer of Lilliput refers to Robert Walpole of England who involved in politics intrigues. The silken threads awards to winners in Lilliput refer to English distinction.

The green thread represent the order of the thistle revived Queen Anne and the red thread represent the order of the Bath revived by George-I and the blue thread represents the order of Carter Bestowed on Walpole. The character of Raldresal refers to lord Carter. The king of Brobdingang proves to be Swift’s mouth piece contemporary topics and when Gulliver visits the capital of Boarding and meets the miserable beggar’s allusion refers Dublin beggars.

There are several allegorical referrer to life in the Royal court of George-I in the first section of the novel. The Flippancy and hollowness of court life are satirized through the Lilliputian ministers and their antics. The punishment decreed for Gulliver, name of putting out his eyes and starving him instead of putting him to death at once is curiously reminiscent of the crown’s decree on lord Bolingbrook and the earl of Oxford. They were accused of high misdemeanor instead of high treason and hence escape the death penalty, for the sentence only entailed a loss of their titlesss and estates Lilliput’s hostility toward and the battle with Blefuscu brings to mind the antagonism between England and France at the time.

The lat seventeenth century was also the age of scientific enquiry and religious skepticism. Charles-II was a patron of me arts and science. In 1662 he established the Royal society which carried out scientific experiments and encouraged the growth of other branches of learning In the Grand Academy of lagado and its outlandish experiments, Swift found an avenue for satirizing the Royal society, its experiment and publications. The scholars and philosophers of Laputa were so concerned with theoretical abstraction that the practical aspects of everyday living were completely over looked. Laputu is an allegorical representation of the developments with regard to science in the century. The experiments in the academy of Lagado and those practiced in the lands below such as building a house from its roof downwards and the modern methods of cultivation only leave the general populace miserable and the country ruined. This does not however, stop the scientists from continuing with their experiments.

As a political memory of European civilization, Swift presents the aspects of war and the European propensity for destruction, particularly in the parallels that one can draw between Lilliput’s desire to enslave an already defeated Blefescu and the strained relationship between England and France. He also indirectly criticizes the arrogance of European imperialists who “civilized” through brutally and oppression while masking their chief motive which was greed. Patterns of war and destruction are woven into the allegorical motif here to explicate the existing political situation that swift is satirisin.

Conclusion :

                Swift clarifies the objective of his allegory in Gulliver’s Travels. He says that through satire he aims at correcting the vices of his society. He intends to attack the evil of his society and thereby to wake improvement. He hopes the betterment social life of his time. Thus the category the Gulliver’s Travels has basically a moral purpose. At times Swift becomes very laud while conveying his message but otherwise he is not didactic and he has treated the topic taken up most skillfully and delicately. And the parts have deep implications and cut sharp satire on the corrupted English society of the 18th century.

                Through out the text Swift continues reminding the England of his time. There are differences of opinions among the critics to what extent Swift has used allegory in Gulliver’s Travels. However there are many references that tally with the social political life of the English society of Swift’s time and therefore us to figure out today.


  1. hi ami your paper 4 assinmaent so fine. some gramatic mistec but all are fine.


  3. Ami, you have done a good job. Unnecessary details (biographical)should be avoided. Could have done better with explanation of allegory as a form and its deliberate use in literary works. Keep trying for betterment!