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Gulliver's Travels | Study Guide

Jonathan Swift

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Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe explains the motifs in Jonathan Swift's novel Gulliver's Travels.

Gulliver's Travels | Motifs



Variations in physical form are used to illustrate larger differences in cultural philosophy between the different nations Gulliver visits. Bodily functions and sickness, and how different cultures deal with these issues, also provide a telling glimpse at their ways of thinking.


Gulliver has a great facility with languages, which serves him well as he visits new lands. The language barrier allows Gulliver and his hosts to discover one another more slowly and drives conflict, but the learning of languages also bridges the divides between cultures.


Reversals of the normal order of things drive the changes in perspective that allow Gulliver to learn from his travel experiences and experience growth. Reversals are driven by differences in physical size, as in the lands of Lilliput and Brobdingnag, and by intellectual differences, as seen in Laputa and Balnibarbi. Gulliver's time with the Houyhnhnm reverses the established order between man (Yahoo) and horse (Houyhnhnm).

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