In Gulliver's travels, how are parts one, two, and three tied to real life scenarios in history?

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teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Interesting question! Gulliver's Travels satirizes the state of politics in Swift's 18th century England.

In Book 1, Gulliver finds himself among the Lilliputians, who are tiny, six inch tall inhabitants of the country of Lilliput. Gulliver relates the political struggles between the High Heels (the Tramecksan) and the Low Heels (Slamecksan) of Lilliput and how the Emperor will only assign the Low Heels to the most advantageous administrative positions within the government. Swift is satirizing the government of George 1 (first Hanoverian King of Great Britain from 1714-1727), which was predominantly Whig in influence.  In Book 1, the Low Heels are the Whigs who wield great power, at the expense of the Tories. Here, I will mention that the Whigs of King George's government were Liberals who favored a strong Parliament, while the Tories were Conservatives who favored a strong monarchy and insisted on the divine right of kings to rule. In Book 1, Swift (an alleged Tory supporter) is criticizing the substantial Whig influence in the Parliament of his time. 

Interestingly, George 1 could not speak English; instead, he communicated with his ministers in French. As king, he was able to broker an advantageous, anti-Spanish alliance with the French from between 1717-1718. However, he found his domestic alliances fraught with conflict. This perfectly describes the dispute between the Big Endians and the Little Endians in Lilliput. Gulliver tells us that the dispute was so great and

The people so highly resented this law, that our histories tell us, there have been six rebellions raised on that account; wherein one emperor lost his life, and another his crown.  These civil commotions were constantly fomented by the monarchs of Blefuscu; and when they were quelled, the exiles always fled for refuge to that empire.  It is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death, rather than submit to break their eggs at the smaller end. 

As you may have guessed by now, Swift is referencing the decades long conflict between Protestants (Little Endians) and Catholics (Big Endians) in the England of his time. From the Glorious Revolution to the Jacobite Uprisings to the conflict between both religious faiths during the reigns of Henry VIII, 'Bloody Mary' (Mary 1), and Queen Elizabeth, the English has always had a long history of Protestant and Catholic conflict. Loyally Catholic, Bloody Mary persecuted Protestants during her reign, and it is said that her half-sister, Queen Elizabeth, returned the favor in her persecution of Catholics during the later stages of her reign. The Catholics have long looked to France for refuge and succor in their fight to return Catholicism to the ascendancy in England.

In Book II, Gulliver finds himself utterly shocked when the Brogdingnagian king refuses to learn how to make gunpowder from him. Although Gulliver assures the king that this weapon would 'batter down the walls of the strongest town in his dominions in a few hours, or destroy the whole metropolis, if ever it should pretend to dispute his absolute commands' the king is not convinced that he needs to have complete domination over his people. If you recall my mentioning above, Swift was allegedly a Tory in his time, and he definitely supported a strong monarchy.

A strange effect of narrow principles and views! that a prince possessed of every quality which procures veneration, love, and esteem; of strong parts, great wisdom, and profound learning, endowed with admirable talents, and almost adored by his subjects, should, from a nice, unnecessary scruple, whereof in Europe we can have no conception, let slip an opportunity put into his hands that would have made him absolute master of the lives, the liberties, and the fortunes of his people!

The above is another political commentary on the kind of government England should have. The Tories were strong supporters of the Anglican Church, intent upon ensuring the supremacy of both king and Protestant faith. Hence, the 17th Century conflicts between Whig and Tories were essentially battles between the Parliamentarians(Whigs) and Royalists (Tories). Like Swift's Brobdingnagian king, the Parliamentarians wanted a stronger Parliament and eschewed the possibility of living under the complete tyranny of a king.


teachsuccess eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Book III, the Laputians are supposedly so engrossed in their intellectual pursuits that they find it difficult to endure the realities of everyday living. Swift satirizes the Royal Society, at the time accused of being an elitist organization. In fact, it was claimed that Fellows of the Royal Society were often chosen because of their positions of privilege and the persistent lobbying of interested and influential parties.

At the time, many of the so-called inventions of the Royal Society were termed as absurd and impractical. When less privileged members of the scientific community tried to get their inventions noticed by the general public, the Royal Society would give no support to their claims. As an example,

The uneducated George Stephenson resolved the problem of a safety lamp using practical methods, whereas Sir Humphry Davy applied scientific principles. According to the DNB, "In 1816 Davy received a public testimonial of £2000 andStephenson the relatively paltry sum of 100 guineas. (fromPremium Inventions: Patents and Prizes as Incentive Mechanisms in Britain and the United States, 1750-1930)
You can see examples of Swift's satirizing of the Royal Society in Book III.
He had two large rooms full of wonderful curiosities, and fifty men at work.  Some were condensing air into a dry tangible substance, by extracting the nitre, and letting the aqueous or fluid particles percolate; others softening marble, for pillows and pin-cushions; others petrifying the hoofs of a living horse, to preserve them from foundering.
His employment, from his first coming into the academy, was an operation to reduce human excrement to its original food, by separating the several parts, removing the tincture which it receives from the gall, making the odour exhale, and scumming off the saliva.  He had a weekly allowance, from the society, of a vessel filled with human ordure, about the bigness of a Bristol barrel.