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Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver's Travels

by Jonathan Swift

Gulliver's Travels Questions

Bring on the tough stuff - there’s not just one right answer.

  1. Satire depends a lot on the historical conditions of the writer. Obviously, Swift is working through some intense rage at George I, Robert Walpole, and pretty much everyone else in the world. But Gulliver's Travels has never gone out of print since its first edition in 1726. How have Swift's specific concerns stayed fresh for so long?
  2. The third part of Gulliver's Travels is the only one that deals with more than one island: Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan all make their appearances. Does the broader focus change the tone of this part, compared to the other three? Do you find the third part as effective as the others in communicating a central satire?
  3. Are there any characters in Gulliver's Travels that have psychological depth? Does Gulliver seem like a believable character to you? Is the overall flatness of characters in Gulliver's Travels a function of the genre, satire, or the result of Swift's specific tone?
  4. Critic Louis A. Landa reports that nineteenth century readers of Gulliver's Travels found the tone of the fourth part of the novel so anti-human and misanthropic that they felt it showed signs of Swift's later madness (source: Louis A. Landa. "Jonathan Swift." In Gulliver's Travels: An Annotated Text With Critical Essays. Edited by Robert Greenberg. New York: Norton, 1961, 274). Do you think there is any change of tone between the fourth and the previous parts? Beyond Swift's craziness, what reasons might there be for Swift to take a darker tone later in the book?
  5. It is the place of satire to expose human weakness, not necessarily to propose ways of fixing it. But the islands of Brobdingnag and Houyhnhnm Land both seem to suggest models of better living. How can we tell the positive models of one island from the ridiculous satire of another? What kind of language does Swift use to describe, say, Lilliput, and how does it differ from Brobdingnag? Are there any lessons that we can carry away from Gulliver's Travels for living better lives or having better governments? What are they?

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