Jonathan Swift's novel "Gulliver's Travels" takes the resilient Lemuel Gulliver to different lands and wildly varying cultures, all in the name of satire. An allegory disguised as fantasy, "Gulliver" yields some fruitful thesis ideas for essays on literary, political and social topics that Swift argued, and that remain relevant for modern day scholars.
Satirizing National Conflicts
"Who and what is being satirized by the Lilliputians?" is an historical thesis derived from Gulliver's first voyage. University of Valencia commentators believe the conflict between Lilliput and Blesfescu, two countries of 6-inch-tall citizens, mirrors the quarrels between England and France in Swift's time. The Lilliputians demand that Blesfescu open their eggs from the little end, a ridiculous regulation that Lilliput argues is vital. A literary thesis for this section might be "How does Swift use situational irony?" Gulliver, a giant, is imprisoned in Lilliput, while the tiny people wield deadly power over him.
A political thesis from this section might be "What other societies compare to Lilliput?" The Lilliputians are utterly totalitarian, with the too-familiar mantra of "if you are not for us, you are against us." Sociological studies often juxtapose Lilliput with modern totalitarianism, and students might legitimately compare Lilliput to current administrations. Lilliput is also a twin to Oceania in George Orwell's "1984," another state that brooks no dissent. Students could also mirror the tiny monarchy in the dystopian societies of Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" or Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World."
Satirizing Social Extremes
"How do societies tolerate and encourage extreme positions?" is a good thesis for the Brobdingnagian section of the Swift adventure. Brobdingnag, a land of morally strict giants, is dedicated to a work ethic, while their lazy neighbor, Laputa, ignores basic education except for mathematics. Laputa's solution to all problems is to bomb enemies with boulders, an idea that "The Guardian" considers a satire of Newtonian science. However, one can easily see it as satirizing both the militaristic mindset and the mindset of endless industrial development, two extremes embraced in our own society.
"How do the racist attitudes Gulliver encounters still exist today?" is a good capper for the novel. Throughout the book, Gulliver is despised or barely tolerated for his physical appearance. Although he admires the peace-loving horse race of Houyhnhnms -- a name that literally neighs -- they hate him on sight for his pale skin, two-legged gait and inability to form normal horse relationships. It is not difficult to find comparison points between Swift's characters and racist attitudes still in evidence today.
- Gulliver's Travels; Jonathan Swift
- University of Valencia: Perceptions of Satire in Gulliver's Travels
- Sociology.org: The Socjournal: The Last Days of the Lilliputians
- 1984; George Orwell
- The Guardian: Gulliver's Travels in Science and Satire.
- Gulliver as Slave Trader: Reviled by Jonathan Swift; Elaine L. Robinson
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