Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver's Travels Book 4, Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Gulliver addresses the reader, explaining that he has written his travels only worrying about the plain truth and never indulging in entertainment or elaboration, as other travel writers do. Gulliver wishes all travel writers were sworn to the level of truth that he holds himself to because he thinks travel writers have a moral obligation to write for “the public good.” Others’ travel books have in the past delighted him, but he’s realized through his own travels that they were writing lies.
Through Gulliver’s vehement insistence on his own truthfulness, Swift plays with the novel’s verisimilitude. Gulliver equates truthfulness in writing with moral power (goodness), and doesn’t seem to recognize or leave room for the pleasures of fiction and fantasy.
Themes
Moral vs. Physical Power Theme Icon
Truth and Deception Theme Icon
Gulliver confesses that he knows that travel writers “like dictionary-makers” are quickly outshone by new editions and he admits that those who visit the lands he’s visited in the future will surely write their own travels and “justle me out of vogue.” Still, since he is only writing for the public good and not for personal fame. He is sure people will grow more virtuous after reading about the societies he describes.
Gulliver’s confession cleverly sidelines the question of whether his account is true. If there are untruths in his book, he assures the reader, those are only trivial cultural details that will naturally shift and evolve over time. He doesn’t even acknowledge that anyone might doubt the more basic truth of those cultures’ existence.
Themes
Truth and Deception Theme Icon
Gulliver is pleased that his book will “meet with no censurers,” because surely no one will object to a plainly factual account of distant lands where Europe has no economic or political interest. He points out that he also wrote without any emotion or prejudice, wrote purely for the betterment of mankind, and ventures to pronounce himself “an author perfectly blameless.”
Gulliver’s assurance that he wrote without any kind of bias denies the undeniable fact of his own perspective—his claim is plainly false. There is no way to write, see, or speak except through one’s necessarily limited and prejudiced perspective.
Themes
Perspective Theme Icon
Truth and Deception Theme Icon
In response to those who have suggested Gulliver should have laid claim to the lands he discovered for England, he points out that the Lilliputians are not worth conquering and that humans would be no match for the Brobdingnagans, the Laputians’ floating island, or the Houyhnhmns’ hooves and strength. Then he adds that he actually had another reason for not conquering these people for England: it troubles him that shipwrecked pirates so often lay violent claim to the kind, gentle peoples that take them in and initiate a huge bloody effort “to convert and civilize an idolatrous and barbarous people.” Gulliver adds that this description of course does not apply to England, “who may be an example to the whole world for their wisdom, care, and justice in planting colonies.”
Swift positions the reader’s perspective at angles to Gulliver’s. Even though Gulliver claims not to be talking about English society, it is clear to the reader that Gulliver’s criticisms apply very aptly to England. In Swift’s day, England was a fierce imperial nation, conquering and subduing foreign peoples with brutal physical power in order to colonize them for the English throne.
Themes
Perspective Theme Icon
Moral vs. Physical Power Theme Icon
Society and the State Theme Icon
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Gulliver announces that “having thus answered the only objection that can ever be raised against me as a traveller,” he will retire to his private contemplation of the Houyhnhmns and continue to try to improve “the Yahoos of my own family” and to habituate himself to his own image in the mirror. Gulliver adds that, regarding Yahoos, he would have an easier time getting used to them if they were all the open villains that lawyers, thieves, fools, politicians, physicians are—it’s some Yahoos’ pride that he really can’t stand. He points out that pride is a foreign concept to the Houyhnhnms and they “are no more proud of the good qualities they possess” than Gulliver is of possessing arms and legs, “which no man in his wits would boast of, although he must be miserable without them.” He warns any readers who are proud to stay away from him.
Gulliver closes the text by announcing plans to retreat into his Houyhnhmn perspective, loathing human society and trying to make his human family more like Houyhnhmns. His final thought makes a complex point about moral virtue and truthfulness. If humans were truly moral, Gulliver explains, they would not flaunt their pride of it but would instead treat their morality like a natural part of their selves, equivalent to an arms and legs. The Houyhnhnms, who are truly moral, take morality for granted because it is such an essential, natural part of their society.
Themes
Perspective Theme Icon
Moral vs. Physical Power Theme Icon
Society and the State Theme Icon
Truth and Deception Theme Icon