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Gulliver’s Travels

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Gulliver’s Travels

Gulliver’s Travels has set a standard for satirical writing for a long time, and Swift’s imaginative ability and talent can explain a lot of the text’s continued popularity. People can approach Gulliver’s Travels like a children’s book, and not search for deeper meaning. They read the story as a fantasy, and seek only to be entertained. Gulliver’s Travels is valuable and enjoyable for its plot and surface elements alone, but a deeper level of meaning and significance can be achieved if we take note of the satirical elements in the novel. Although to gain a full appreciation of the satire, the reader needs to be somewhat familiar with the events of Swift’s time.

Taking the historical period in which Swift was writing into consideration, one of the major changes that was occurring was the shift to a more scientific, empirically-informed worldview (being advanced by the Royal Society of England and Francis Bacon). However, Swift and others were concerned that if this new scientific outlook could lead to disaster if it continued unchecked. Swift and other “nonconformists” argued that science without context could have widespread harmful consequences, and this position profoundly reveals itself in his satirical treatment of science and knowledge in Gulliver’s Travels. This paper will discuss Swift’s satirical treatment of these subjects in the novel.

Several critics have pointed out that evidence exists that suggests that Swift was not uniformly opposed to all science (Phiddian 52). Therefore, it would seem unfair to read Swift’s satirical approach to science in Gulliver’s Travels as a full rejection of the science of his day-it would be overly simplistic and reductive. Swift was not an anti-Luddite. In fact, Swift was a proponent of science in some ways, but he reacted strongly against what he perceived as its abuse or exploitation. The satirical treatment of science in Gulliver’s Travels is more complex than an all-or-nothing rejection of the scientific mindset that was becoming increasingly popular in Swift’s time.

Instead of objecting to the use of science in general, Swift seems to have had problems with a particular form of scientific research, and it is with this type of science/scientist that Swift is primarily concerned in Gulliver’s Travels. The type of science that Swift attacks is inapplicable science, or “pure...

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...ss of the scientific worldview that was becoming more widespread during his lifetime. Swift himself was not opposed to all scientific endeavors, but Gulliver’s Travels provided a platform for him to explore the potential negative effects/affects of the “new science,” engaging in the exaggeration and absurdity that are essential to satire. Although Swift’s characterization of the Laputan scientists is distorted, it does successfully call into question the ultimate goal of science. Should scientific research be pursued because society has achieved the technology to perform them? My opinion is that Swift, through Gulliver’s Travels, argued that it should not automatically and necessarily be pursued.

Works Cited

Fitzgerald, Robert P. “Science and Politics in Swift’s Voyage to Laputa.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 87: 213-29.

Patey, Douglas Lane. “Swift’s Satire on ‘Science’ and the Structure of Gulliver’s Travels.” ELH 58.4: 809-39.

Phiddian, Robert. “A Hopeless Project: Gulliver inside the Language of Science in Book III.” Eighteenth Century Life 22.1: 50-62.

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver's Travels. Ed. Greenberg, Robert A. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1970.
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