Gulliver’s Travels

by: Jonathan Swift

Society

1

And I have often had four coaches and horses at once on my table full of company, while I sat in my chair leaning my face towards them; and when I was engaged with one set, the coachmen would gently drive the others round my table. I have passed many an afternoon very agreeably in these conversations.

A gentle giant among the little people of Lilliput, Gulliver observes the society of the court. The society he observes closely resembles that of England, where the wealthy often drive in the parks to see and be seen and to gossip with their friends. As in England, the upper classes in Lilliput spend all their time in pursuing pleasure at the expense of others. Gulliver himself eats and drinks the equivalent sustenance of 1,724 Lilliputians and requires hundreds more retainers for his maintenance.

2

The plots in that kingdom are usually the workmanship of those persons who desire to raise their own characters of profound politicians; to restore new vigour to a crazy administration; to stifle or divert general discontents; to fill their coffers with forfeitures; and raise, or sink the opinion of public credit, as either shall best answer their private advantage. It is first agreed and settled among them what suspected persons shall be accused of a plot; then, effectual care is taken to secure all their letters and papers, and put the owners in chains.

Gulliver visits a school of political philosophy in Balnibarbi, where one of the professors works on a plan for discovering plots and conspiracies against the government. Gulliver suggests additions to the professor’s paper based on his own experiences in a country called Tribnia, or Langdon. Gulliver explains the reasons that people plot against the government and suggests that many of the so-called plots are invented, reflecting a rather bitter view of society. He views human society as driven by self-interest and corrupted by power.

3

I had no occasion of bribing, flattering or pimping to procure the favour of any great man or of his minion; I wanted no fence against fraud or oppression: here was neither physician to destroy my body, nor lawyer to ruin my fortune; no informer to watch my words and actions, or forge accusations against me for hire: here were no gibers, censurers, backbiters, pickpockets, highwaymen, housebreakers, attorneys, bawds, buffoons, gamesters, politicians, wits, splenetics, tedious talkers, controvertists, ravishers, murderers, robbers, virtuosos…. no scoundrels raised from the dust upon the merit of their vices, or nobility thrown into it on account of their virtues; no lords, fiddlers, judges or dancing-masters.

Gulliver describes the pinnacle of his happiness—his time living among the noble horses, the Houyhnhnms. After comparing the Houyhnhnms with the horrid subservient species the Yahoos, or humans, Gulliver concludes that all human society is evil and to be avoided. Gulliver’s bitter outlook on human society achieves humor by expanding the list of societal offenses to include every sort of person who has ever done Gulliver wrong or offended his sense of morality. The inference implies that as human society consists of human beings, human society is by definition imperfect.