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Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver's Travels

by Jonathan Swift

Literature and Writing Theme

Obviously, Gulliver is a linguist. He spends a lot of time laboriously documenting all kinds of (completely made up) words, presumably to give himself some authority as a man who has actually visited the countries he describes. At the same time, Gulliver's Travels includes a lot of suspicion of the written word: the Houyhnhnms have no written language. And Gulliver's experiences on the island of Glubbdubdrib teach him that most written history is a pack of self-serving, vicious lies. And the Brobdingnagians specifically restrict the number of words that can be used to write a law to 20, so that lawmakers can't fall into jargon or confusing language. How weird is that, that a written book has all of these messages against writing?

Questions About Literature and Writing

  1. Why does Gulliver see written language as a threat to the truth? And why does he write, if written words can get in the way of real, honest communication?
  2. Why does Gulliver spend so much time talking about lies and deceitfulness in human language in the middle of a satire, which expresses criticism through the most roundabout and indirect ways? Does the novel support Gulliver's disillusionment with the written word?
  3. How do the parodies of different kinds of technical language contrast with Gulliver's own writing style?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Gulliver implies that, because Houyhnhnm histories are collective, they avoid profit seeking and factionalism that skew histories by "prostitute [human] writers."

Despite all of Gulliver's protests about the truth of his tale, by including parodies of other writing styles in Gulliver's own narration, Swift reminds us that Gulliver is a fictional character created for the purpose of satire.

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