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Gulliver’s Travels

Jonathan Swift

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained

Quote 4

[T]hey go on Shore to rob and plunder; they see an harmless People, are entertained with Kindness, they give the Country a new Name, they take formal Possession of it for the King, they set up a rotten Plank or a Stone for a Memorial, they murder two or three Dozen of the Natives, bring away a Couple more by Force for a Sample, return home, and get their Pardon. Here commences a New Dominion acquired with a Title by Divine Right . . . the Earth reeking with the Blood of its Inhabitants.

This quotation comes from Part IV, Chapter XII, when Gulliver, having returned home to England after his stay among the Houyhnhnms, tries to apologize for what he sees as the only fault he committed while on his journeys: failing to claim the lands he visited in the name of England. First, he justifies his failure by saying that the countries he visited would not be worth the effort of conquering them. In the section quoted above, however, he goes even further by criticizing the practice of colonization itself. His picture of colonization as a criminal enterprise justified by the state for the purposes of trade and military power is one that looks familiar to modern eyes but was radical for Swift’s time. Others criticized aspects of colonialism, such as the murder or enslavement of indigenous peoples, but few failed to see it as the justifiable expansion of purportedly civilized cultures. Swift employs his standard satirical technique here, as he first describes something without naming it in order to create an image in our minds, then gives it the name of something different, provoking us to rethink old assumptions.