About Gulliver's Travels


It is unusual when a masterpiece develops out of an assignment, but that is, more or less, what happened in the case of Gulliver's Travels. The Martinus Scriblerus Club, made up of such notables as Pope, Arbuthnot, and Gay, proposed to satirize the follies and vices of learned, scientific, and modern men. Each of the members was given a topic, and Swift's was to satirize the numerous and popular volumes describing voyages to faraway lands. Ten years passed between the Scriblerus project and the publication of the Travels, but when Swift finished, he had completed what was to become a children's classic (in its abridged form) and a satiric masterpiece.

Swift kept the form of the voyage book but expanded his target. Instead of simply parodying voyage literature, he decided to attack what he considered were people's most conspicuous vices. He makes the abstract become concrete. Ideas are metamorphosed into grotesque, foreign creatures; absurd customs are represented by absurd objects; and the familiar becomes new and surprising.