Understanding Gulliver’s Travels

This Web page has been designed to assist students to:

  • Explore 17th and 18th century literature.
  • Develop understanding of the rapid changes in culture during the 18th century.
  • Deepen appreciation for the role of Satire in the Enlightenment.

For ease of study, topics have been divided into 3 categories

  1. Jonathan Swift
  2. Age of Enlightenment
  3. Gulliver’s Travels:
    1. Overview
    2. Themes in focus

Note: Some of these categories will naturally overlap.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

Although many readers may try to isolate Jonathan Swift’s writing to fit only his generation, such a view is short-sighted. Swift’s satire was aimed at the English during the Enlightenment Age, but his biting criticism applies to failings that all generations share.

Jonathan Swift A succinct biography of Jonathan Swift which covers the high points of his life and work. Citation information is listed at the bottom of the document.

Jonathan Swift Biographical information which uses quotes from several of Swift’s books, including Gulliver’s Travels, to provide insight into Swift’s development as a writer. It briefly explores Swift’s political views and his relationship with Stella.

Jonathan Swift Oxford Dictionary National Biography article on the Scriblerus Club. Swift began Gulliver’s Travels while a member.

Jonathan Swift Chronological timeline of Swift’s life, relationships, and writings.

Jonathan Swift Associate Professor David Cody writes a brief explanation of Swift’s religious views. Some insight into how Swift’s views permeated Gulliver’s Travels.

Jonathan Swift Associate Professor David Cody explains Swift’s political views in this short essay. Brief summary of political climate in England and Ireland.

Jonathan Swift Article about Swift and the themes he developed in each of his books. Gulliver’s Travels is broken down by voyages. A useful reading list is at the bottom of the document.

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Age of Enlightenment

Often referred to as “mankind’s coming of age”, the Enlightenment period is a time when the ancient ways of the world gave way to modern thinking. An influential figure in the Enlightenment, Jonathan Swift regularly angered those around him with his criticism of the “ancients” and “moderns”.

Enlightenment Fordham University’s links and essays that delve into different aspects of the Enlightenment. An excellent starting place for those new to Enlightenment ideas.

Enlightenment Highly readable summary about the Enlightenment with links and images of famous people involved with it.

Enlightenment A useful site that has short essays about the Enlightenment and American and French Revolutions.

Gulliver’s Travels Overview

Gulliver’s Travels Northrop Frye, literary critic, uses Gulliver’s Travels as one of his examples to distinguishes the difference between fiction, story, and novel. Useful viewpoint for readers who wish to determine how to catalog Swift’s satire.

Gulliver’s Travels A collection of scholarly essays on the genres of Gulliver’s Travels. Pages 19-21 offer insight from Frederik N. Smith about classifying the work as a travel book. (Google Books).

Gulliver’s Travels An essay by children’s literature researcher M. Sarah Smedman which explores why Gulliver’s Travels is regarded as children’s literature.

Gulliver’s Travels A lesson plan developed by Discovery Education. Answering the discussion questions towards the bottom of the page may help readers reflect on Swift’s intentions with Gulliver’s Travels.

Theme in focus: Satire

Jonathan Swift wrote, “Satire is a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.” Satire is the backbone of Gulliver’s Travels and Swift went to great lengths to provoke readers with it.

Satire A critical essay by English instructor, Shirley Galloway, which explores how Swift is a disillusioned idealist who uses satire in Gulliver’s Travels to show how humankind is not living up to their potential. While the bibliography at the end is not hyperlinked, it is a useful resource.

Satire Adam Howard’s high school essay “Perceptions of Satire in Gulliver’s Travels” is a readable overview of how satire is used throughout Gulliver’s Travels.

Satire A succinct overview of social satire in Gulliver’s Travels.

Theme in Focus: Abuse of Power

Gulliver’s Travels Short summary of how Swift uses his satire to deflate human pride.

Gulliver’s Travels Broken down into short segments, this essay examines several themes in Gulliver’s Travels including “Might versus Right” or the abuse of power.

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