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

Gulliver's Travels

by Jonathan Swift

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What is the narrative technique in Swift's Gulliver's Travels?

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Swift presents Gulliver's Travels as a series of first-person travelogue journals. This is done to mimic the style of travelogue books, which were popular during the novel's time of publication. These books often covered the cultures and climates of places that were considered far away and exotic to Swift's European audience.

The narrative style also allows for Swift to present a more acute rendition of his protagonist's psychology. Gulliver initially seems to be an every-man the audience can project themselves onto, but as the story progresses, Gulliver becomes less reliable and more misanthropic, eventually all but worshiping the Houyhnhnms, a horse-like species whose allegedly beneficial rationality condones genocide and mass conformity.

These elements of the narrative style make the satire all the stronger. By making the novel seem like an actual travelogue journal, Swift is emphasizing ridiculous elements of his society and human behavior in general.

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Gulliver is depicted by Swift as writing his own first-person account of his travels to exotic places, satirizing the vogue for travel books about faraway lands. Swift's primary didactic technique is to have created his narrator as a gullible man. In fact, his name, Gulliver, sounds like the word "gullible." Gulliver is in many ways the bean counter, the man who can't, at least right away, see the forest for the trees. He can describe in minute detail what's going on in places he is visiting without understanding the full implications of what he is describing. Likewise, he can describe English practices in all their absurdity without at all grasping their absurdity. Because the reader can interpret what is going on more quickly than Gulliver can, the reader is put in the superior position of feeling wiser than the book's narrator. Swift does this because it is more effective for a reader to figure out a hypocrisy, cruelty, or absurdity for himself than to be told what to think by an all-knowing speaker. Swift hopes that in this way the reader will see for himself or herself the evils and ridiculous practices not only among the peoples Gulliver visits but primarily those in England, for Swift's hope is to reform his own country. Gulliver in his bean-counting naivety is very much like the narrator of "A Modest Proposal," whose inability to get beyond bean counting in his proposal for alleviating suffering is meant to shock people into realizing their own cruelty towards the poor. A chief difference is that Gulliver does have a moral compass, as evidenced in the comic pathos of his insistence on living as a horse when he returns to England, so upset is he by his realization of the barbarity of humans.

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Gulliver's Travels is a satire presented in the first person point of view, as a journal kept during Lemuel Gulliver's various adventures throughout the known and unknown world. Travelogues were quite popular during Swift's time, and so his audience would be familiar with such a style. Because so much of the world remained unexplored by Europeans, Gulliver's reports of the lands (especially their locations) would not seem as obviously fictional as they seem today.

The most significant aspect of Swift's narrative technique is the use of Gulliver as an unreliable narrator. At first, his attention to detail and revelation of embarrassing events leads the reader to trust Gulliver. He is an educated man- a surgeon, in fact- and he approaches each new situation with almost clinical precision. Yet slowly, he begins to reveal himself as humanly fallible. He admits to lying about English history, in order to present his country as more favorable to the Brobdingnagian king. He also appears incredibly naive and a bit dense, as he cannot grasp any society different from that of England (until his last voyage). Essentially, we cannot trust Gulliver's opinions on these lands, which is Swift's intention. Through that questioning of Gulliver as the narrator, the satire of the text is evident.

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Write a note on the narrative technique in Swift's Gulliver's Travels.

Gulliver's Travels is a spoof on what is known as the "Traveler's Tales" genre in literature. The narrator "pretends" to be telling a tale about his travels, but the work is a satire on human nature and politics under the guise of a travel tale. During the time that Swift was writing, travel tales were very popular and read by many, hence he decided to write Gulliver's Travels as a mock travel tale.

Lemuel Gulliver, as the narrator, travels around the world. His travels include four voyages: Lilliput; Brobdingnag; Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnag, Glubbdubdrib, and Japan; and to the Country of the Houyhnhms. Swift's contemporaries would have found these strange places more believable than we do because at the time (the 1700s), travel to Japan, for example, was almost unheard of, so it was considered an exotic place that no one knew too much about. Swift's descriptions, therefore, were probably not too far-fetched to his readers. No matter how strange the voyage or how weird the people (like the Lilliputians), however, Swift always found plenty to satirze about his contemporary world and country using the travel tale as his vehicle.  

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