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OTHER ELEMENTS

SETTING

Written in the form of a travel book, Gulliver's Travels has a variety of settings, each of which symbolizes one or more of Swift's themes. Gulliver stands out in relief against these settings; each brings out different parts of his personality. We get to know Gulliver, and Gulliver gets to know himself, through comparison and contract to those around him. Because the settings change, and Gulliver finds himself in contrasting situations, Gulliver's viewpoints (as well as our own) are constantly shifting.

Part I takes place in Lilliput, where the inhabitants are six inches high, and Gulliver seems a giant. Swift makes his question literal: What is it to be small? What are the many forms of smallness? What is the value of doing things on a small scale? The hazards? Over the years many critics have suggested that in Part I Gulliver is looking down the Great Chain of Being at the Lilliputians who are petty, cruel, benighted. In comparison, Gulliver's (man's) place on the chain seems secure somewhere between animals and angels. Yet this is Swift, so things don't remain so simple. The Lilliputians have the refinement (to Gulliver), the physical attractiveness, and ingenuity we normally associate with human beings. Gulliver's bulk renders him more animallike, in that he is a physical problem in Lilliput. Bestial as he seems at times, Gulliver is the humanitarian.


The Lilliputians represent the Whigs for whom Swift has so much contempt. Their political ways correspond to Whig machinations in English government in the early eighteenth century.

Part II takes place in Brobdingnag, the land of giants. What does it mean to be big? What are the forms of bigness? The values of it? The hazards in it? Here Gulliver has been said to be looking up the Great Chain of Being-he may seem physically very refined here, but he's no humanitarian. The Brobdingnagians represent what Swift considers good rulers and politicians.

Part III constitutes a "whirlwind tour" of Enlightenment intellectual and scientific attitudes and practices.

In Part IV, the world is stood on its head-animals rule and people are kept in cages.

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