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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
Gulliver leaves Lagado to explore the nearby islands. Luggnagg is his first stop. Notice Swift's saying that the island is near Japan. The mention of a real country lends reality to the imaginary Lagado. This has an effect and intention similar to Swift's use of maps, charts, and official documents.
After leaving Lagado, Gulliver goes to Glubbdubdrib, the Island of Sorcerers. The governor tells Gulliver he may summon anyone he likes from the dead. Gulliver's initial inclination being toward "pomp and magnificence," he summons Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Caesar, Pompey, and Brutus. Who would you pick? And why? It makes sense that Swift, concerned as he is in this book with politics, would have Gulliver call up political leaders first.
Gulliver is most impressed with Brutus, who to him represents virtue, bravery, and firmness of mind. Gulliver calls up other historical figures-"destroyers of tyrants and usurpers, and the restorers of liberty to oppressed and injured nations." This is reassuring, more like the old Gulliver in Lilliput. But remember, all through Part III Gulliver is a pretty thin cover for Swift.
Gulliver calls up more historical figures from the dead. Homer and Aristotle
head his list and are followed by commentators on these men-Didymus and
Eustathius, ancient Greek writers on Homer; Duns Scotus, a proponent of
Aristotle in the thirteenth century; and Petrus Ramus, a sixteenth-century
French humanist who wrote criticisms of Aristotle's theories. Gulliver
tells us that in the underworld the commentators kept their distance from
the authors about whom they wrote out of "shame and guilt, because
they had so horribly misrepresented the meaning of those authors to posterity."
Many critics take this as Swift's opinion on literary criticism in general. Remember, part of Swift's technique is to take something very specific-Lord Munodi's house, for instance-and use it in such a way that it stands for something much larger.
Again using the example of Lord Munodi's house, think of the things it represents. A conception of beauty that is also practical, the value of tradition and gentility are just a few of the things the Lord's house stands for. What else can you come up with? In this vein, do you think it likely that Swift really intends his readers to consider the merits of the work of individual commentators? It would seem, rather, that these men are meant to represent literary commentators in general. And while we're on the subject, what do you think of literary commentary and criticism? In what ways has it helped your enjoyment and understanding of literary works? In what ways has it hindered? And, as you write on Gulliver's Travels, what will your objectives be? What do you hope to get out of it, what do you hope your readers will get out of your work?
Gulliver also calls up Descartes, whose theory that all motion is circular Swift considered bunk. Swift had some other differences with Descartes, which become clearer in Part IV. (As you begin Part IV and get acquainted with the Houyhnhnms, bear in mind that Descartes thought of man as a "rational animal." Descartes valued above all else the power of rationality. Swift considered man "capable of reason," and didn't have the unmitigated reverence for reason that Descartes did.)
Returning to Glubbdubdrib, Gulliver calls up some figures who died more recently. This only confirms his disgust with modern history. Swift takes this opportunity to rail against "prostitute writers" who have greatly misled the world in the last hundred years. He also attacks politicians of the same period who achieved honors through the power of money rather than through merit. For Swift, the pinnacle of mankind's progress was ancient Greece, and to an even greater extent, ancient Rome.
All in all, says Swift (thinly disguised here as Gulliver), "it gave me melancholy reflections to observe how much the race of human kind was degenerate among us, within these hundred years past."
We're beginning to see into the source of the bitterness in Gulliver's letter to Richard Sympson. Why not try to trace the development of that bitterness throughout all four parts of the Travels?
The low opinion of man expressed by Gulliver put Swift in opposition to many of his contemporaries. Swift was writing during the Enlightenment, a period that valued progress, and considered man to be nearing the zenith of his intellectual and cultural powers.