Society And The State Theme In Gulliver's Travels

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The way a society runs heavily influences the thoughts and actions of the people who live there and will teach immigrants the differences between cultures. In Gulliver’s Travels, there are vast differences in the societies Gulliver visits, from the varied physical appearances of the inhabitants, to their laws and values. During his time abroad, Gulliver sees just how different societies are that he encounters and how they contrast with his homeland in England. In Gulliver’s Travels, the theme of each society is seen as Gulliver travels to the lands of the Houyhnhnms, Lilliputians, Brobdingnagians, and Laputians. In Gulliver’s Travels, the differences of each society is seen as Gulliver travels to the lands of the Houyhnhnms, Lilliputians, Brobdingnagians, and Laputians.

The land of the Houyhnhnms has the most civilized species, with the creatures resembling horses. The other species present here are the Yahoos, which are beast-like creatures that have the physical appearance of a human. “The ‘case of Yahoo’, -- name of an imaginary race of brutish creatures in Swift's Gulliver's Travels”. Yahoos are human-like creatures that Gulliver encounters when he is traveling in the Country of the Houyhnhnms. These creatures are referred to as animals by Gulliver, although they resemble humans, because of their terrible behavior. Within this society, he views himself to be a part of the more civilized side, so he refuses to be around the Yahoos and chooses to be with the horses instead. “The land of the Houyhnhnms is presented as a utopia with decency, benevolence, and civility ruling every horse’s actions. Here, Gulliver finds no wars and no courts and passes his time in contemplation and light labor.

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However, love of family is also unknown because the Houyhnhnms regard it as unnecessary, though marriage is regarded as rational, necessary purely to maintain the population”. This land he ended up in is seen as a utopia that is ruled properly and in an efficient manner, but this so called utopia leads the inhabitants struggling with facing no struggles as they have no need for courts or wars. However, they are so practical that they view love as unnecessary and all marriages are based on what is best to help their species survive. “In their marriages they are exactly careful to choose such colours as will not make any disagreeable mixture in the breed. Strength is chiefly valued in the male, and comeliness in the female, not upon the account of love, but to preserve the race from degenerating: for where a female happens to excel in strength, a consort is chosen in regard to comeliness.

Courtships, love, presents, jointures, settlements, have no place in their thoughts, or terms whereby to express them in their language”. Marriage within the country of the Houyhnhnms is seen solely for the purpose of maintaining the population, and their partners are determined by what traits they possess. This is quite different from the society that Gulliver comes from, where marriage occurs when the two partners share a mutual love for each other. The horses within this country live within a utopian society, where they have little to no problems, and they do not have issues with marriage or with the other horses. However, the lack of love is somewhat unsettling for Gulliver. The society that Gulliver discovered from arriving at this land is greatly different from his own homeland. It seems strange at first, due to the difference in the appearance of the species, but he comes to understand how this society functions and respects it.

He next arrives in Lilliput and discovers that its inhabitants are merely six inches tall and are humans. He learns that this society has strict regulations, and they keep their inhabitants under control by laws. “Gulliver is shipwrecked off the shore of Lilliput and captured by humans only six inches tall. Practical man that he is, he promises to obey their laws controlling him. He finds Lilliput, not unlike Europe, in a state of perpetual and petty disorder. Low-heelers and High-heelers squabble over politics much as do the Whigs and Tories of Swift’s day. Courtiers compete for distinctions by leaping over sticks and other such ridiculous games”.

Gulliver discovers that their way of life is similar to his in Europe. Swift uses these characters’ actions and their ridiculous actions to critique what he saw in the English government. “Lastly, That upon his solemn oath to observe all the above articles, the said Man-Mountain shall have a daily allowance of meat and drink sufficient for the support of 1728 of our subjects, with free access to our Royal Person, and other marks of favor” (Swift 50). Gulliver is given enough food and drink to support his health, under the condition that he follows the laws they have set for him specifically to restrict what he does and control him. The restrictions placed on him make him have to do many things, such as having to transport messengers, defend them from their enemies in war, assisting workers to lift heavy items, and be careful to not harm anyone or do something to them against their wishes. Under these restrictions he is able to receive his food and drink and live there peacefully. “Everything is kept to this scale except for their senseless warring and hypocrisy, which are out of all proportion to their size and therefore seem the more alarming; one, illogically perhaps, expects decent conduct from tiny people”.

The people in Lilliput are having battles with their neighbor Blefuscu over illogical reasons, and attempt to drag Gulliver into it because he is larger and would be able to protect them easily. The attitude these people have is contradicting to their size, because they are very small in comparison to Gulliver, yet act violent and illogically, and Gulliver, who is larger, believes more in peace rather than war and suggests that they try to make a peace treaty with their neighbor rather than war. Again, Swift is criticizing the English government for their petty arguments. Within this land, Gulliver proves to be more civilized and peaceful. As he learns about this society, he realizes how their country is led and the problems with it.

The land of Brobdingnag is very different than the Lilliput. Instead of Gulliver’s appearing to be a giant, he is much smaller than anything in this land. “Gulliver’s next voyage takes him to Brobdingnag, the opposite of Lilliput. Proportions are reversed. People stand as tall as steeples. Gulliver is a caged pet exhibited as a freak”. These people have a proper reason to treat him differently, because they have never seen a creature of his size have perfect anatomy or not be disfigured in any way because of how tiny they are. Gulliver’s presence is a strange experience. “Yet Brobdingnagian society is a utopia, based on useful studies of poetry and history, not on metaphysics, theology, and speculative science, as in Europe. The king rules a prosperous state not torn by strife. In Brobdingnag, a law cannot be written using more than twenty-two words, and to comment on laws is a capital crime”.

Brobdingnag is seen as a utopian society, with practical guidelines in place to prevent arguments and problems. Making it a crime to speak out against the laws prevents people from questioning the laws that are already in existence, so the people show less resistance toward them. “After much debate, they concluded unanimously that I was only relplum scalcath, which is interpreted literally, lusus naturae”. The great scholars within the country had no reasonable excuse for why Gulliver is able to live properly. They view him as a freak of nature since that is the only way he could be described as there was no part of him that was irrational besides his size. Gulliver’s size makes him seem odd to these people, and they cannot understand how he is able to survive. The Brobdingnagians are practical people, so it is even harder for them to understand how Gulliver is able to live.

Gulliver travels to Laputa, a new land which has a floating island above the mainland, and meets new types of people. He comes to realize that they are very focused on the fields of mathematics and music. “Gulliver travels to Laputa and encounters scientists and intellectuals whose work is, for the pragmatic parish priest in Swift, altogether too far removed from real life”. He learns that these people have very short attention spans and tend to mostly focus on mathematics and music. They do not tend to live normally, but focus fully on their studies. The people in this society are rather anti-social and do not see the value in spending time with others. “If any town should engage in rebellion or mutiny, fall into violent factions, or refuse to pay the usual tribute, the King hath two methods of reducing them to obedience.

The first and the mildest course is by keeping the island hovering over such a town, and the lands about it, whereby he can deprive them of the benefit of the sun and the rain, and consequently afflict the inhabitants with dearth and diseases. And if the crime deserves it, they are at the same time pelted from above with great stones, against which they have no defence but by creeping into cellars or caves”. The King possesses two cruel methods of punishing the estates below them if they dare to commit any crime against them. The King appears to be a tyrant to Gulliver because of this, since he attacks the people below him. “His experience in this land makes obvious just how dangerous are his rationalistic, scientific, and progressive views”. When he meets with this group of people, he realizes how impractical having only rationalistic, scientific, and progressive views can be, from seeing how the people on the Island act and treat each other. He understands that having radical versions of these views can turn out to be dangerous and would cause problems throughout society. The society of Laputa is shown to be focused entirely on music and astronomy, and the people of this land do not care for anything besides those two topics. Their population consists of educated elite, which is predominantly male. They are very intelligent but are incapable of using practical knowledge. Gulliver finds their views alarming, and they seem dangerous to the good of humankind.

In Gulliver’s Travels, the theme of society is seen as Gulliver travels to the lands of the Houyhnhnms, Lilliputians, Brobdingnagians, and Laputians. As he travels through these lands, he learns about different types of human qualities from the societies he experiences. Swift compares and contrasts the inhabitants of the lands with the people and government in England. As Gulliver travels to different places, he learns new things about the way people behave, what motivates human beings, and how different societies work.

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Society And The State Theme In Gulliver’s Travels. (2021, August 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 19, 2024, from
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