It was an indictment, and it was most popular among those who were indicted — that is, politicians, scientists, philosophers, and Englishmen in general. Swift was roasting people, and they were eager for the banquet.
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. Gulliver experiences the advantages of physical might both as one who has it, as a giant in Lilliput where he can defeat the Blefuscudian navy by virtue of his immense size, and as one who does not have it, as a miniature visitor to Brobdingnag where he is harassed by the hugeness of everything from insects to household pets.
His first encounter with another society is one of entrapment, when he is physically tied down by the Lilliputians; later, in Brobdingnag, he is enslaved by a farmer.
But alongside the use of physical force, there are also many claims to power based on moral correctness. The whole point of the egg controversy that has set Lilliput against Blefuscu is not merely a cultural difference but, instead, a religious and moral issue related to the proper interpretation of a passage in their holy book.
This difference of opinion seems to justify, in their eyes at least, the warfare it has sparked. Similarly, the use of physical force against the Yahoos is justified for the Houyhnhnms by their sense of moral superiority: But overall, the novel tends to show that claims to rule on the basis of moral righteousness are often just as arbitrary as, and sometimes simply disguises for, simple physical subjugation.
The Laputans keep the lower land of Balnibarbi in check through force because they believe themselves to be more rational, even though we might see them as absurd and unpleasant.
Similarly, the ruling elite of Balnibarbi believes itself to be in the right in driving Lord Munodi from power, although we perceive that Munodi is the rational party. Claims to moral superiority are, in the end, as hard to justify as the random use of physical force to dominate others.
Swift nods to both works in his own narrative, though his attitude toward utopia is much more skeptical, and one of the main aspects he points out about famous historical utopias is the tendency to privilege the collective group over the individual. Swift has the Lilliputians similarly raise their offspring collectively, but its results are not exactly utopian, since Lilliput is torn by conspiracies, jealousies, and backstabbing.
The Houyhnhnms also practice strict family planning, dictating that the parents of two females should exchange a child with a family of two males, so that the male-to-female ratio is perfectly maintained.
Indeed, they come closer to the utopian ideal than the Lilliputians in their wisdom and rational simplicity. Despite minor physical differences, they are all so good and rational that they are more or less interchangeable, without individual identities. In their absolute fusion with their society and lack of individuality, they are in a sense the exact opposite of Gulliver, who has hardly any sense of belonging to his native society and exists only as an individual eternally wandering the seas.
In any case, such a union is impossible for him, since he is not a horse, and all the other societies he visits make him feel alienated as well.
He never speaks fondly or nostalgically about England, and every time he returns home, he is quick to leave again. Gulliver never complains explicitly about feeling lonely, but the embittered and antisocial misanthrope we see at the end of the novel is clearly a profoundly isolated individual.
Swift singles out theoretical knowledge in particular for attack: Practical knowledge is also satirized when it does not produce results, as in the academy of Balnibarbi, where the experiments for extracting sunbeams from cucumbers amount to nothing.
Swift insists that there is a realm of understanding into which humans are simply not supposed to venture.In Gulliver’s Travels, excrement symbolizes the crude reality of human flesh, a fact Gulliver faces most prominently in the filthy, feces-flinging bodies of the Yahoos.
Learn about themes from Gulliver's Travels. This Study Guide consists of approximately 58 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Gulliver's Travels.
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