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Study Questions

Study Questions

Study Questions

Study Questions

1. How does Swift use language and style for the purpose of satire? How does his style change as the story progresses?

Scattered among the standard narrative style of most of Gulliver’s travels are legal documents and reports, such as the inventory of Gulliver’s possessions and the list of obligations presented to him by the Lilliputians. There are also brief passages in which Swift, by his style alone, ridicules the linguistic excesses of various specialists. A good example is at the beginning of Part II, Chapter I, where Gulliver uses complicated nautical jargon. The effect is so overdone that, instead of coming off as a demonstration of Gulliver’s in-depth knowledge of sailing, the passage works as a satire of sailing language and, more generally, of any kind of specialist jargon. A similar passage occurs in Part III, Chapter III, where Gulliver’s painstaking description of the geometry of Laputa serves as a satire of philosophical jargon.

Over the course of the novel, there are several changes in Swift’s style. In the first two voyages, the style is constant: it is a relatively lighthearted but still biting satire of European culture and politics, framed as an adventure among dwarves and giants. In the third voyage, the tone shifts. Gulliver becomes less of a personality and more of an abstract observer. His judgments of the societies he encounters become more direct and unmediated, and the overall narrative becomes less of an adventure and more of a scattered satire on abstract thought. In the fourth voyage, the tone becomes, for the most part, much more serious than in the first three adventures. Gulliver too is more serious and more desperate, and his change in personality is reflected in a style that is darker, more somber, and more cynical.

2. Does Gulliver change as the story progresses? Does he learn from his adventures?

Gulliver is somewhat more tranquil and less restless at the end of the story than he is at the beginning. In desiring first to stay with the Houyhnhnms, then to find an island on which he can live in exile, Gulliver shows that his adventures have taught him that a simple life, one without the complexities and weaknesses of human society, may be best. At the same time, his tranquility is superficial—lying not far below the surface is a deep distaste for humanity that is aroused as soon as the crew of Don Pedro de Mendez captures him. From our point of view, after we have looked at the world through Gulliver’s eyes for much of the novel, Gulliver undergoes several interesting transformations: from the naïve Englishman to the experienced but still open-minded world traveler of the first two voyages; then to the jaded island-hopper of the third voyage; and finally to the cynical, disillusioned, and somewhat insane misanthrope of the fourth voyage.

3. Is Gulliver an everyman figure or does he have a distinctive personality of his own?

In many ways, Gulliver’s role as a generic human is more important than any personal opinions or abilities he may have. Fate and circumstance conspire to lead him from place to place, while he never really asserts his own desires. By minimizing the importance of Gulliver as a specific person, Swift puts the focus on the social satire itself. At the same time, Gulliver himself becomes more and more a subject of satire as the story progresses. At the beginning, he is a standard issue European adventurer; by the end, he has become a misanthrope who totally rejects human society. It is in the fourth voyage that Gulliver becomes more than simply a pair of eyes through which we see a series of unusual societies. He is, instead, a jaded adventurer who has seen human follies—particularly that of pride—at their most extreme, and as a result has descended into what looks like, and probably is, a kind of madness.

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