Literary Commentary on Gulliver's Travels

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This extract of Gulliver’s travel novel by Swift appears at the end of the novel part IV chapter 5. The protagonist has already traveled in three different cultures. Here, he is with the Houyhnhnm’s society. He explains to his master the wars that occur in Europe and their motives of it. The author raises the issues of the absurdity of Human nature about the constant quarrels. Especially the reasons that push mankind to kill his neighbor. Why do Gulliver’s fellows kill each other? Gulliver's arguments about humankind are getting into deeper water.

This essay will examine how Swift through Gulliver is depicting the absurd and paradoxical motives to kill and to subjugate others in this extract. The first concern shall be the paradoxical image given by Gulliver then I will discuss that the more we have reasons to subjugate each other more the vice of humankind increases.

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Firstly, Swift is depicted as a quite pejorative image of his fellows through paradoxical motives. Gulliver is presenting his culture to another culture, that never heard of it and don’t understand what pushes men to kill each other. Through the innocent eyes of the Houyhnhnm, it highlights the absurdity of those motives. They are illustrated by events like the Revolution under the Prince of Orange or the war in France. Gulliver exposes the many reasons, mainly it is because of the difference of opinions that “has cost many millions of lives” in line 11, once again the absurdity of those motives is exposed. For a yes or a no, a prince can decide to kill a million of people. Swift uses those examples as a fertilizer for his satire giving the impression of the craziness of the situation occurring in Europe. Therefore, Gulliver has a hyperbolic vocabulary using strong words as “so furious”; “bloody” line 15, once again to highlight the brutal and senseless power used in war.

Furthermore, Gulliver is doing his best, trying to give reliable reasons to make war. Swift is using Gulliver to make a dramatic irony effect, as a puppet master, to make fun of all of his arguments. While his protagonist is trying to give valid motives to make war with tons of examples like “too strong (…) too weak” line 17 or even “the things which we have (…) have things we want” line 18, we understand that within all those reasons there is none which is really valid. Humans are not really searching for reliable motives to make war but only pretexts. For Gulliver, the Houyhnhnm are the perfect kind, and he identifies himself as one of them. But while he is trying to justify those terrible acts as torture, slavery, and killing, he is, in fact, digging himself deeper. Searching for justification for doing the unforgivable is a terrible process of Swift making fun and giving an impression of the absurd.

It leads us to another point through this extract which is, the more justifiable reasons gives to Gulliver the more sinful humankind appears. In fact, humans are compared to yahoos, which are known to be the more horrible creatures of the Houyhnhnm world. In fact since the beginning of the extract Gulliver is comparing his fellows with the “Yahoos”line 5, which is explicitly giving the impression of how dreadful the people of Europe are. Also at the end he compared a human to “a yahoo hired to kill” line 33, which is followed with a murderess comparison. Humankind would kill as many as they can their fellows “in cold blood” line 33, Swift once again is depicting a dreadful image of humankind.

Moreover, There is strong biblical imagery in this extract, which is the religion of the human not the Houyhnhnm. By using religious vocabulary, Swift is increasing the horrible image of humans, those words are only negative. That is to say more the humans are finding justifiable motives to do horrible acts more sinful he appears. In fact, Gulliver is giving many vices as synonyms of man. He gives the attribution of “proud” line 32 as an important vice that is pride which leads men to make war. Also he depicts them as greedy persons who quarrel to “have the things which we want” line 23, like children fighting for a toy. Swift gives an image of childish reasons to make such terrible acts. Also, he uses words as “famine” and “pestilence” line 25 as consequences of human actions. Also to give a barbarous view over human acts Swift uses anaphora in line 12 “ flesh be bread, or bread be flesh” to reinforce this impression on the reader.

Swift through the voice of Gulliver is depicting an atrocious image of men. Humankind is viewed as brutal, cruel and also sinful. Through the extract, the absurdity and paradoxical motives to make war and make odious acts to each other is explicitly shown to strengthen the satire and the acerbic criticism made by Swift about his fellows. Once again Gulliver is the puppet of his creator using him to show the senselessness of war. Even though, Gulliver will have an inglorious faith in the Houyhnhnm’s society because of his nature that is undeserving to stay with them.

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Literary Commentary on Gulliver’s Travels. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 22, 2024, from
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