“There are occasions when a moralising novelist can merely wring his hands and leave matters to take their course.” ~H.G. Wells
Gulliver is telling the story of his many adventures on the sea where he encounters peoples never before seen and lands untouched by Europeans.
He narrates in a very matter-of-fact-way, for example, stating that he is “the third of five sons” and proceeds to describe the people of Lilliput and every event that transpires in the same way; it’s as if he has kept a detailed journal.
He learns the language of the Lilliputians and soon learns of their history with the Blesfucians, their unusual political system, and even their overwhelming desire to rule over others.
From his perspective, they are small people (in size) with rather large ambitions, and despite learning a great deal of information about them he does not seem to understand them.
A large part of perception is sight, and Gulliver is clearly a willing observer, however another part of perception is interpretation and what one learns from the knowledge they have gained.
Despite being heavily involved in the Lilliputian affairs – entertaining them, winning their war for them – he does not speak of his thoughts, feelings, or beliefs.
While watching the Lilliputians compete in acrobatics for the privilege of a position in Council, Gulliver doesn’t describe whether he finds the events to be weird, foolish, or genius.
He doesn’t want to show bias to those who will read his travel narrative, and decides to only state the facts.
However, this opens up the question as to why he doesn’t find any of their actions to be irrational.
Why doesn’t he form his own opinions?
He is aware that no one who picks up his book would believe that there are people who are smaller than one’s foot, even if they believe everything else.
For example, the war’s sole purpose being a disagreement as to the proper way to crack open eggs.
This can only mean that the narration is not meant to be taken seriously, and Gulliver’s perspective is not to be trusted by the reader.
The reason this narration is not intended to be trusted is that Jonathan Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels to be a work of satire and a parody of travel narratives of the 1700s.
Travel narratives were intended to give accurate accounts of the lands being colonized by the Europeans, however, they were limited by the perspective of the writers.
These writers were not indigenous to these lands and saw themselves as superior to those who were.
Even if the writers didn’t intend to give dehumanizing descriptions of the natives, they did.
Their perception was limited, as are all humans.
We simply cannot see and understand every event we witness nor learn about, which is why hearing other perspectives is necessary to produce more accurate narratives.
Travel writers often exaggerated their tales to make them more interesting for audiences, such as Gulliver may have.
Travel narratives typically tell more about the writer than the people being observed, after all, writers only had their own experiences to compare to the new ones.
Gulliver tries to present himself as a reliable narrator.
He really tries to give accurate accounts and avoid adding his own interpretations, leaving the reader to decide what is real and what is not.
However, this does not make him reliable.
The very world that he perceives does not fit with the world all of the other Europeans in the story experience.
No one believes him when he leaves Lilliput nor when he leaves any of the other islands in his travels.
He has no proof of his journeys other than his own opinions.
Based on the information available as to the writer, the works being parodied, and the beliefs being satirized it’s safe to say that this story was intended to distort reality to point out the flaws in the real world that we all live in.
Hi there, I just wanted to add that these “Reader’s Notebook” posts are unedited versions of what I submitted to my English professor for my final project.
Honestly, I am pretty hard on myself – especially when it comes to writing – so having a record of what I deemed to “acceptable” work will help me hold myself accountable. In this way, I will be able to truly track my progress as a writer.