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

Updated March 09, 2017

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.

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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.