Study Guide

Gulliver's Travels What's Up With the Title?

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What's Up With the Title?

In this day and age, we call this novel Gulliver's Travels, by Jonathan Swift. But back in the day it was called Travels Into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts by Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, then a Captain of Several Ships. And, man, this book was explosive – a clear attack on both the king of England, George I, and on the Whig government (check out "In a Nutshell" and our "Character Analysis" of the Lilliputians for more on that). There was no way Jonathan Swift was going to attach his name to the novel's first edition, even though it became a huge bestseller. After all, he didn't want to be arrested. So, the 1726 edition of Gulliver's Travels is anonymous and claims to be written by its main character, "Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, then a Captain of Several Ships." Now, of course, we just call it Gulliver's Travels for short – with no mention of Lemuel Gulliver's supposed authorship except in the lengthy official title.

The most significant thing about the name of this book is clearly the Travels, which appears in both the short and official titles. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, England was one of the world's centers of sailing, navigation, and exploration. Accounts of distant lands had grown more and more widespread, so much so that this kind of story became a model for arguably the first popular novel in English, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719). Swift adapts the form of these adventure narratives to give his harsh view of both England and human nature. This makes Gulliver's Travels a satire, or an ironic narrative in which human weakness is held up for readers to mock. On top of that, the novel is also a parody, or a piece that imitates and makes fun of another style (in this case, the adventure story).

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