GULLIVER’S TRAVELS: ITS STRUCTURE

Uncertainties and Surprises in the Narrative: The book “Gulliver’s Travels” is a satirical work which embraces many levels of intention and execution. Most accounts of imaginary societies sooner or later give themselves away by allowing their underlying logic to become too apparent, so that when there are no further surprises in store the effect becomes monotonous. In this sense there is nothing obvious about Gulliver’s Travels. The book keeps our interest at every point because we are never able to anticipate what is going to happen, and when something does happen we are not always sure what our response should be. The contradictory details and incongruities in the narrative add to our perplexities. Two Contrasts in the Book: “Gulliver’s Travels” begins like a genuine account by an actual ship’s surgeon, and the reader of 1726 might well have wondered, until he came to Gulliver’s awakening after coming to shore, whether this was not a book of sober fact. Gulliver is perfectly in character – a Cambridge man, scientifically-minded, curious to observe the manners and dispositions of foreign lands, and a competent linguist. The world was full of just such professional sailors who felt that, in publishing accounts of their travels, they were contributing to scientific knowledge. Gulliver’s prose style is of the kind which had the approval of the Royal Society; it is seemingly matter of fact, free of literary colouring, recording observed details with the fullness and precision of some scientific instrument. As an imaginary voyage, “Gulliver’s Travels” is a superb parody, which preserves much of the spirit and the imaginative principle of the real voyages. Furthermore, as the political allegory comes and goes we are left with further questions and further points of reference to keep track of. The tone modulates from that of a harsh accusation of crime and folly to one of good-natured fantasy. It was once assumed that Gulliver and Swift was the same person; but subsequently it was realized that Swift had created a fictional character. To say that Gulliver is not Swift but an imaginary character, merely raises a new set of questions. Who is Gulliver? What is it that happens to him? How have he and his experiences been contrived by this satirist who has succeeded in writing an amusing book, that has never ceased to “Vex” the world. Three Strands in the First Pattern: We can understand the structure of “Gulliver’s Travels” by considering certain patterns that seem to run through the book. Three strands enter into this: the account of actual travels, the imaginary voyage, and a parody of the latter. In other words, we have a basic theme, a variation on the basic theme, and sometimes a variation on the variation. The utopian passages in both Parts I and IV look in two ways at once. The Lilliputians have---or once had---many admirable institutions, but these sometimes overreach themselves in the way that utopian institutions have always done ever since the time of Plato. The nurseries for children of noble and high birth are run on admirable principles, and it is no doubt well that there are provisions which make it impossible for these children to be spoiled by their doting parents, but only a confirmed utopia-maker could have devised one in which the parents can
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see their children only twice a year, with their visits lasting not more than an hour, where they are allowed to kiss the children only at meeting and parting. The Second Pattern, Underlying the Sequence of the Four Voyages: A second pattern is the one underlying the sequence of the four voyages. It seems to be a weakness in the structure that Part III should intervene between Gulliver’s experiences in Brobdingnag and his later experiences in the country of the Houyhnhnms. But what appears to be a fault from the purely logical point of view seems to justify itself from the artistic point of view. In the first voyage, we are not sure for sometime, nor is Gulliver, about the true nature of the Lilliputians and their civilization, and though, eventually, Gulliver has good cause to conclude that these small people are as contemptible morally as they are small in stature, this discovery does not leave him inwardly moved. Part II is more rigorous than this. Not only are the experiences less ambiguous but they bite more deeply into Gulliver’s sensibilities. Part IV really begins psychologically where the second leaves off, for the intensity of Gulliver’s reactions produces in him a state of shock which causes him to lose his self-esteem as one of the human race. The intervention of the third voyage scattered in its effects and only once in the episode of Struldbrugs producing a marked psychic reaction on Gulliver’s part, is almost a functional necessity. This is only one of the several details which is easy enough to make out in this sequential pattern. Gulliver having seen himself in relation to little men in part I and then big men in part II, is finally and suddenly forced into comparison not with men at all but with animals in part IV. This last situation is further complicated in so far as the comparison is not simple but complex, because there are two orders of animals between which poor Gulliver stands dubiously. The Third Pattern: The Ironic Mode. The third pattern might be described as the ironic mode in which much of “Gulliver’s Travels” has been cast. By means of this pattern, control is exercised over the book as a whole and over many of the details. The irony here is of a kind that came naturally to more than one 18th Century writer, Goldsmith, being another who understood its use. The narrative and dramatic literature of the Enlightenment dealt freely with current ideas, but did so in its own way. Theories about man and society appear constantly in the plays and narratives of the period, and frequently assume major importance as a thematic element. These concepts and principles are often brought before us in a perfectly direct and straightforward manner, and are to be understood as generalizations to which everyone subscribes as a matter of course. The comedy of Exploration and Exclusion: Comedy, in Swift, is sometimes the comedy of discontinuity. We strip, we analyze, and we are shocked by the discrepancy which we find between appearance and reality. Again, we have what we come to recognize as comedy in terms of a special situation: a certain state of affairs begins to define itself, becomes increasingly and arrogantly certain of its own identity, and grows, expands, improvises, aggrandizes itself at the expense of everything within reach. When Gulliver, on hearing of the Struldbrugs, assumes that they are universally envied for their immortality he is permitted by his hosts to indulge in eloquent praise of the blessings of long life before being shown the repulsive truth. Ordinarily Gulliver is not deceived in this
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manner by outward appearances only to learn the actual state of affairs in a moment of horrible revelation. Nor has he created any of the situations in which he finds himself. Brobdingnag produces a different kind of reaction. Again there is exploration, and again an element of uncertainty in the earlier stage. The first of the giants whom Gulliver encounters are not, except the nine-year girl who becomes his nurse, particularly admirable people, and his first master almost works him to death out of sheer greed. Are the Brobdingnagian to prove as coarse in sentiment as they are big in size? When Gulliver reaches the court he finds that the aristocracy bears an entirely different character. Yet throughout his entire stay among the giants, the sense of security which he has in the presence of this admirable race is mixed with a feeling of nausea caused by the sights and smells which he must endure. There is , however, nothing ambiguous about the judgment which is eventually passed, not upon Gulliver as an individual but upon Europeans as a people, who are declared to be “ the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.” This is a new experience for Gulliver who for the first time in his life finds himself rejected.

Written & Composed By: Prof. A.R.Somroo M.A. English, M.A. Education Cell: 03339971417

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