Gulliver's giant feet walking in the diminuative forest of the lilliputians

Gulliver's Travels

by Jonathan Swift

Start Free Trial

How far is it true that body and mind are at war in Swift's writings?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift explores a variety of themes in an elaborate and far-reaching satire, and a conflict between the mind and the body is certainly one of these themes. For example, Gulliver's travelogue is presented as a series of rational observations, with Gulliver reporting everything he experiences more or less truthfully and in a tone that suggests careful, reasoned analysis of the customs and traditions he observes. However, Gulliver's physical body also figures in his adventures; in his first journey, he is larger than the Lilliputians, in the second adventure he is much smaller than the Brobdingnagians, and in his final adventure he resembles the barbaric Yahoos. Thus, Gulliver's observations depend in large part upon his physical perspective of events, and this physical/bodily perspective subtly informs his rational reports. This fact is brought home to us at the end of the story especially, at which point Gulliver is so disgusted by humanity's resemblance to the Yahoos that he prefers the company of horses to that of other people. This is a prime example of one way Gulliver's physical perspective gets in the way of his ability to act rationally. By the end of the story the human body, resembling the repulsive Yahoos, has become so detestable that Gulliver chooses to fraternize with the supposedly rational horses, although these horses are not the wise Houyhnhnms but normal horses, which in turn forces us to evaluate the rationality of Gulliver's decision. This interpretation is only one way of looking at the narrative, but it's an intriguing one, nonetheless.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team