by Jonathan Swift
Most people have at least heard of Gulliver’s Travels and it’s hard not to have a few preconceived notions pop into your head for a book like that. I knew the general idea before I read it, but I was surprised by the specific observations Gulliver shares about each race he visits. A shipwreck strands Gulliver with the Lilliputs and a series of adventures follow.
Originally published as a satire, the book is now read by all ages. He travels all over and meets the strangest people. He makes observations about their ways of life and in doing so often tells more about himself and his prejudices than he means to. Each new group teaches him something about the way he sees the world.
The Lilliputs are a tiny people, so small they can fit in his hand. They have to make 100 meals just to feed him. The very next group he discovers are giants and he is now the tiny figure that can fit in their hand. His observations of both of these groups were not always what you would expect. Sometimes he remarks on the texture of their skin. He even makes some hilarious comments about watching one of the giants nurse and being terrified by her enormous breast. The woman who takes care of him in the giants’ land sews him shirts lets him to use items from her dollhouse.
There’s a lot of humor worked into the stories. At one point he gets in a fight with the queen’s dwarf and is dropped into a giant bowl of cream and then stuck into a marrow bone. There are houseflies that constantly plague him because they're the size of birds. He can see when the flies lay eggs in the giants’ food because they look so large to him. Gulliver also discovers the Houyhnhnms, a race of horses that are superior to all the other races he describes.
The thing I loved about it was that it made you look at your own world a little differently. It makes you notice things that you normally take for granted. The whole book is a fascinating exercise in how our situation and surroundings affect the way we see the world. Swift manages to do this in a humorous way, never taking himself too seriously. It broke my heart a little that Gulliver kept leaving his family to travel and then when he finally returns he never quite gets over leaving the Houyhnhnms.
BOTTOM LINE: At times clever, at others dry, this classic gives the reader a lot to think about when they view their own society. It’s a reminder that so much of what we believe is based on what we already know. The more we learn about other cultures, the more we can understand them and appreciate their strengths.
I love Fanda’s thoughts in her review here.