How did Gulliver's Travels impact society?

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Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) wrote Gulliver’s Travels as a satirical allegory about an Englishman who is cast ashore in strange lands after four separate voyages. At the conclusion of his various adventures in these exotic places, the protagonist eventually reassesses his life, his beliefs, and his personal values.

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Jonathan Swift (1667–1745) wrote Gulliver’s Travels as a satirical allegory about an Englishman who is cast ashore in strange lands after four separate voyages. At the conclusion of his various adventures in these exotic places, the protagonist eventually reassesses his life, his beliefs, and his personal values.

The main character of the novel is Lemuel Gulliver, who is initially portrayed as an honest middle-class family man and very tolerant of cultural differences in society. However, as his name suggests, he is somewhat “gullible” and naïve. At the outset of the book, Gulliver is a patriot committed to Western values. However, through his experiences on his voyages, he develops a hatred not only for European civilization, but also for humankind.

During his travels, the protagonist observes characteristics such as hypocrisy, jealousy, ambition, and vengeance in Lilliput, greed and insensitivity in Brobdingnag, and ruthlessness in Laputa. These are all qualities Swift introduces to the Western world through the novel, which satirically brings to light the negative qualities existent in everyday European life without logic or reason:

They bury their dead with their heads directly downward, because they hold an opinion, that in eleven thousand moons they are all to rise again; in which period the earth (which they conceive to be flat) will turn upside down, and by this means they shall, at their resurrection, be found ready standing on their feet. The learned among them confess the absurdity of this doctrine; but the practice still continues ...

In Gulliver’s Travels, Swift demonstrates to his readers the negative faults of human beings adhering to European customs and traditions. He identifies vanity, pride, and corruption in English society. The book is the author’s method of persuading citizens to eliminate the destructive forces of corruption in Western civilization. He believes that his society is degenerating and urges a return to an era of common sense and reason.

For example, on Gulliver’s voyage to Houyhnhnmland, a society purported to be a utopia, he discovers that the rigid, narrow-minded, unimaginative rules observed create a society that achieves less than political and social perfection. Swift satirically informs the English citizenry through his work that even governments built on reason and common sense can become so extreme as to be absurd, defeating the very purpose of the government itself:

Do these miserable animals presume to think, that I am so degenerated as to defend my veracity? Yahoo as I am, it is well known through all Houyhnhnmland, that, by the instructions and example of my illustrious master, I was able in the compass of two years (although I confess with the utmost difficulty) to remove that infernal habit of lying, shuffling, deceiving, and equivocating, so deeply rooted in the very souls of all my species; especially the Europeans.

When Gulliver eventually returns to England, his metamorphosis is complete. He rejects the customary beliefs he accepted before his journeys. He reconsiders his own values and concludes that contemporary European traditions are actually corrupt. He transforms himself into a hater of humankind and negatively impacts English society with similar feelings toward their government.

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