Gulliver's Travels | Study Guide

Jonathan Swift

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Gulliver's Travels | Part 4, Chapter 12 | Summary

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Summary

Gulliver swears to the truth of his story, saying he would rather present facts than tell "strange improbable tales." He believes a traveler's goal should be to educate readers and make them "wiser and better." He expresses a belief that other travelogues published do not adhere to the truth, and this bothers him.

Technically, Gulliver is supposed to report his discoveries to the government as lands discovered by a British subject belong to the Crown by English law. Gulliver is reluctant to do this because he believes Lilliput not worth the trouble and the Brobdingnagians impossible to defeat. He would rather see the Houyhnhnms colonize Europe. He also opposes the principle of one sovereign nation conquering another, although he concedes that Britain uses "wisdom, care, and justice in planting colonies."

After some time at home, Gulliver is willing to allow his wife to sit near him again, although her Yahoo odor offends him. He is becoming more tolerant of Yahoo society again, although he reserves great disgust for any Yahoo he meets who exhibits pride.

Analysis

Gulliver's comment about strange and improbable tales is dramatically ironic at the end of a novel that has featured tiny humans, giant humans, floating islands, and a civilization of horses. His questioning of the truth in other travel and adventure stories appears to be a dig at the entire genre, catapulted to popularity in the years before the novel was published, starting with Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe in 1719. Swift's distaste for Defoe's novel and those like it is well documented.

Gulliver ends with criticism of colonization in a general sense. His reluctance to take part in one nation's subjugation of another harkens back to his refusal to help the Lilliputian emperor conquer Blefuscu, and he is no more willing to assist his own country in taking over the lands he has explored. The practice of colonization, even though he concedes the British do it well, clashes with Gulliver's principles and ideas about sovereignty. He also seems to believe his culture, as a Yahoo, has little to offer others. He reserves his greatest anger for those Yahoos who exhibit pride when they have nothing to be proud of, either in terms of virtue or vice. Colonization is the ultimate expression of pride, as it rests on the assumption that one nation has more to be proud of than another. Throughout Gulliver's Travels, Swift offers his readers evidence to the contrary: that what one culture considers desirable often seems ludicrous or appalling to another. While Gulliver, from his flawed perspective, idealizes the Houyhnhnms, there is clearly no culture so unquestionably flawless that it deserves dominion over all others.

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