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What social issues in Gulliver's Travels mirror our own?

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evargas0 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) Honors

Posted October 30, 2011 at 9:34 PM via web

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What social issues in Gulliver's Travels mirror our own?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 22, 2012 at 2:45 PM (Answer #1)

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One of the biggest social issues that this text considers is whether we should allow social life to be driven by power or morality. Let us remember that Gulliver experiences a variety of states in his travels, and interestingly in Lilliput he experiences the advantages of being massively strong and powerful to the point where is able to single-handedly defeat the Blefuscudian navy. At the same time, however, he is also shown to be tiny miniature human in the world of Brobdingnag where the sheer size of everything else means that even insects prove to be a significant challenge for him.

However, alongside the use of physical force in the worlds that he visits, there are also plenty of references to morality being used as a governing power. For example, the way in which the Houyhnhnms use physical force to repress and keep the Yahoos down is justified by their belief that they are morally superior: they, after all, are far more rational and know how to behave and look after themselves.

We can easily link such approaches to troubling and problematic modern day questions of beliefs in cultural superiority. It is often assumed, for example, that Western society is more liberating and freer than Islamic society, especially for women. This assumption however becomes incredibly problematic when we act on such beliefs by responding with physical force. In the same way, the novel shows that claims of a higher system of morals often are used to mask the power of strength. For example, the Laputans keep control of the lower land of Balnibarbi through their military might because they think they are more rational. In the same way, it was a moral imperative in part that led to the widespread colonisation of many parts of the world. The novel forces us to consider that in our relations with others, claiming to possess a higher system of morals is just as problematic as outright physical might.


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