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Gulliver’s Travels

Jonathan Swift

Part III, Chapters IV–XI

Summary Part III, Chapters IV–XI

Much of Swift’s inspiration for the scientists in this voyage came from the Royal Society of London for the Improving of Natural Knowledge, a scientific society founded in 1660 that had an important effect on the development of science in Europe. The prominent early scientists Robert Boyle, Robert Hooke, and Isaac Newton were all members of the Royal Society. All of them, but particularly Newton, were influential promoters of scientific theories that were at the heart of the Scientific Revolution. The Royal Society assigned itself the task of using the new techniques of science to improve the crafts, but it was far more successful at discovering natural phenomena than it was at building new, useful technologies. As a result, the Royal Society was open to the parody created by Swift, in which absentminded philosophers ruin a country by forcing its people to follow their novel and wholly useless methods. Interestingly, most of the experiments parodied by Swift had actually been proposed or carried out by British scientists at the time of his writing.

Glubbdubdrib offers the opportunity for Swift to satirize various historical figures, undermining their images as paragons of virtue or learning. Gulliver’s interaction with the dead hearkens back to Dante Alighieri’s fourteenth-century poem Inferno, in which Dante himself travels through the various regions of hell and witnesses sinners being punished. This imaginary tour of hell allowed Dante the author to skewer his political opponents and enemies, just as Swift’s imaginary wanderings allow him to ridicule certain aspects of society. Gulliver’s visit to Glubbdubdrib is part of Swift’s attempt in the third voyage to undercut standards of abstract learning. At the same time, however, Swift does elevate certain people above others. Generally speaking, the ancient Greeks and Romans are held up as truly virtuous, whereas the Europeans who have lived since are held up as somewhat degenerate.

The Struldbrugs of Luggnagg provide an opportunity for Swift to satirize human desires. Many would seek eternal life, and the primary benefit of old age, as Gulliver sees it, is the ability to use one’s accumulated wisdom to help humanity. The reality is much less glorious—instead of growing in wisdom, the immortal Struldbrugs grow only more prejudiced and selfish, eventually becoming a detriment to the whole Luggnaggian society. Furthermore, the Struldbrugs’ immense sadness despite their seeming advantage shows the emptiness of Gulliver’s desire—a desire prominent in Western society—to acquire riches. Swift denounces such self-absorbed goals as the province of small minds unconcerned with the good of society as a whole.