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What Is the Main Theme of "Gulliver's Travels"?


Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels," published in 1726, is satire disguised as a fantastic novel, with each journey of the redoubtable Lemuel Gulliver delivering him to a different country, race and culture. Swift uses each country to satirize some aspect of politics, religion or human nature; the theme in this, the first science-fiction-voyage tale, is that no human is beyond corruption.

Lilliputian Politics

Gulliver visits Lilliput first, where tiny citizens employ him as a war machine against their enemy Blefuscu; when he refuses to enlarge their empire, he is condemned. The political satire is inescapable, as well as the sinister message that "those not for us are against us."

Brobdingnagian Morals, Laputan Sloth

Gulliver's next voyage takes him to Brobdingnag, a land of morally upright giants who are horrified at European depravities; he escapes them only to encounter the flying city of Laputa, whose citizens know -- but ignore -- mathematics, while they bomb enemies with rocks. Swift shows two human extremes, overzealous morality and slothful treachery.

Yahoos and Horses

Gulliver is disgusted by the savage Yahoos he meets on his last voyage, and enchanted by the peaceful horse race, the Houyhnhnms -- whose name neighs -- but the latter hate the human, and Gulliver is rescued by the former. Swift satirizes prejudice and judging by appearances.

Gulliver and Swift, Haters of Humanity

Swift's satire was often one of opposites; in his "Modest Proposal" he cloaked a plea for the poor in a savage essay of cannibalism. Gulliver becomes a surrogate for the author at novel's end; sickened by the depths of human depravity, both ended as virtual hermits.

About the Author

Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.

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