Gulliver's Travels: Themes

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Themes of Part I & II

      The author of Gulliver's Travels has also worked upon multi themes in the first volume. Let us discuss these in detail. A theme is the central idea around which all the incidents are woven with the support of various major and minor characters. There can be more than one theme in a novel through which the author can contrived to convey his various thoughts, observations and conceptions regarding various issues, philosophies or ideas.

The Importance of Bodily Strength and Bulk

      The author has highlighted the importance of physical strength in both the stories by putting himself in two entirely contrary situations. Gulliver who is seen as an extraordinarily powerful creature in the island of Lilliput and Blefuscu due to the tiny size of its natives, is treated like a pampered plaything in the land of Brobdingnag inhabited by giant-like people. His stories reveal how physical size and strength can put one in a position of either power or servility.

Exploitation of Knowledge

      The author has depicted two extremely different societies which were quite unknown to the rest of the world. Here the author has indicated that knowledge is never perfect as there are numerous mysteries that our earth and the universe have concealed in them. Besides, he has also elaborated by means of several discourses with the king of Brobdingnag that knowledge that does not add to happiness, is futile and sometimes hazardous if it is gained for destruction. The knowledge of making gunpowder is one such knowledge that according to the Brobdingnagian king is a shame to mankind. Instead, he appreciates those inventions that are capable of growing two blades of corn from the same earth that produced one blade of corn.

The Rich and the Powerful

      The author has tried to point towards the misuse of power by those who hold power and authority. The emperor of Lilliput who is governed by his own egocentric approach, is the symbol of corrupt power. His habit of getting influenced by the wicked and crooked ministers and his tyrannical ways of oppressing those who do not agree with his ideas and beliefs, reflect such a tendency. The keeping of children away from their parents indicates at the absolute dominance of the government over the lives of the common people. On the contrary, the king of Brobdingnag is the symbol of power, simplicity, high morality and humanity who is ready to sacrifice his kingdom to keep peace.

Lack of Gratitude

      There are many instances penned down by the author that speaks of ingratitude. Gulliver who had always helped the Lilliputian emperor in his hard times was accused of betraying the nation and challenging the dignity of the queen. The allegations were baseless and were leveled against the author just to gratify the false pride of the foolish emperor and jealousy of the crooked courtiers. Similarly, in Brobdingnag, the dwarf who was spared many a time due to the intervention of the author, was such a thankless follow that he never forsook any opportunity to hurt or annoy Gulliver.

Vanity and Pride

      The author has also focussed on the vanity of the royals and the elite classes. The Lilliputian empress, who should have thanked Gulliver for saving her life, becomes his avowed enemy as she feels offended by the way Gulliver had extinguished the fire in her palace. The Lilliputian emperor takes pride in ordering his troops to march under the legs of Gulliver while he should have felt ashamed to show off his little power against the gigantic size of Gulliver. The Brobdingnagian king is an exception who puts on no false airs of futile pride.

Compatibility with One’s Surroundings

      The author visits bizarre lands during his various travels where he finds himself entirely unfit among the natives. By the end of the story, he always manages to reach England by means of favorable situations. His stay at his native land is also very short and he sets out to sail again to explore more strange lands. This tendency of the author hints at his compatibility with his surrounding societies.


      Satire is a literary technique that is used to reveal various social, political and human follies in an artistically disguised manner. Sometimes, certain follies apparently praised in an exaggerated manner so that they are highlighted while sometimes, these follies are mocked. In Gulliver's Travels, the author ridiculous religious fanaticism, intolerance and royal tyranny when he writes about the conflicts between the low heels and high heels, the obstinacy of big-endians an the brutal execution of the big-endians by the royal army. In the same way the author has used the discourse of Gulliver and the king of Brobdingnag to bring out the follies of parliament, judiciary and the religious leadership of England.

Themes of Part III & IV

Knowledge Versus Welfare

      Gulliver has endeavored to indicate at the uselessness of such knowledge that multiplies the sorrows of mankind. The kingdom of the Laputians is all in ruins due to their overambitious projects undertaken on the pretext of making life more comfortable and prosperous. The scorn of its high intellects for those who want to live a natural and happy life with older ways, reflects the vanity of the class of scholars and scientists. On the other hand, the author has admired the wise and orderly society of Houyhnhnms who lead a simple and natural life with peace of mind and good health. Their society follows the fundamentals that are based on pure wisdom and benevolence. There are no books to read or study or to teach them to be honest, prudent and just, yet there are no disputes and the natives of Houyhnhnmland live in complete harmony with each other and have no conception of evil.


      The novel also deals with the contemporary trend of religious intolerance. The author has severely criticized the European princes for torturing, slaughtering and plundering the innocent idol worshippers for the supposedly holy cause of bringing them under the fold of Christianity, while he has also pointed at the intolerance of Japanese kings by recounting the ceremony of trampling the crucifix. The author has also ridiculed the bloody wars caused merely because of differences of opinion so trivial and ludicrous as whether bread is flesh or flesh be bread.

Freedom Versus Comfort

      The author who himself is blessed with all the worldly comforts in his homeland, does not stay at home for long. Instead, he frequently travels to far-off lands and in spite of facing life-threatening dangers he does not give up planning for his next voyage as soon as he returns to his homeland. Similarly, the women of Laputa do not wish to stay at the island where they have all the luxuries at their disposal They long to go to the earth and enjoy the freedom of exploring various places even if that requires them to live a life full of problems and discomfort.


      It is one of the most important and grave issues that the author has endeavored to bring into the light. Both the stories expose the degeneration of human character and elaborate generously on various kinds of corruption that have creeped into all classes of human society, especially in Europe and particularly in England.

Rich and the Powerful

      The misuse of power by the rich and the powerful is a favorite theme of the author. The undue patronage given by the king of Laputa to the boastful and useless projects at the expense of public interest and welfare shows the tyranny of the ruling class. The author’s disclosure of the strong influence of the deformed, immoral and corrupt nobles on the public policies of England is a significant effort to demonstrate the abuse of power by the rich and the powerful.

Distrust in the Goodness of Mankind

      The author’s visit to Laputa describes the tyranny of the high intellects who despise to adopt natural activities in a natural and spontaneous manner without making them complex and burdensome with the interference of their intelligence, knowledge and reasoning. On the other hand, the Yahoos represent the naturally most savage aspects of mankind. The author could find only one race as perfect and that race is a species of horses. Thus, it can be concluded that the author has lost all faith in the goodness of mankind and does not find it worthy of any praise or pride.


      Jonathan Swift, the author of the novel, is an eminent satirist. Gullivers Travels is a unique example of high-quality satire. The author has very shrewdly exposed the crookedness of the English legal system and breed of lawyers with most amusing examples. The amazing and the boastful projects undertaken by the Laputian professors expose the vanity of the high intellects. The confession of the kings, generals and the other high-ranked officers lay bare the ugliness and degenerated character of the people of quality.

Reasoning Versus Wisdom

      The confused, arrogant and anxious people of Laputa have been portrayed by the author to warn against the hazardous results of giving undue attention to reasoning while the simple-living society of Houyhnhnms demonstrates the importance of basic wisdom and goodness. Through these two contrasting stories, the author has attempted to make his readers realize the catastrophic consequences of over-exercise of intellect and the worth of innate goodness and natural wisdom.

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