Gulliver's Travels

by

Jonathan Swift

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Themes and Colors
Perspective Theme Icon
Moral vs. Physical Power Theme Icon
Society and the State Theme Icon
Knowledge Theme Icon
Truth and Deception Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Gulliver's Travels, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Perspective

Above all, Gulliver’s Travels is a novel about perspective. While the story is abundant with potential morals, the strongest and most consistent message is a lesson in relativism: one’s point of view is contingent upon one’s own physical and social circumstances and looking at people’s circumstances explains a lot about their respective viewpoints. Gulliver explicitly lectures the reader on relativism, explaining how England’s ideas of beauty, goodness, and fairness are radically different from notions of…

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Moral vs. Physical Power

By placing Gulliver amongst people of extremely different physical circumstances than his own, Gulliver’s adventures dramatize the distinction between moral and physical power. In Lilliput, Gulliver’s huge size advantage over the Lilliputians would make it easy for him to treat them like inhuman vermin and to assert himself against them by physical force (he even imagines squashing them by the handfuls during their initial encounter on the beach). But Gulliver’s willingness to empathize, reason with…

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Society and the State

As Gulliver travels from society to society, he observes each one’s organization in detail and compares and contrasts it with the English state. Though all of the societies visited are flawed, several possess some admirable qualities and almost all of them play out the consequences of a particular utopian ideal. Their admirable qualities include the peaceful Brobdingnagian king’s disgust at the thought of gunpowder and rule by violent force; the Lilliputian king’s initial…

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Knowledge

Gulliver’s Travels also considers the value of knowledge and its best applications in life. The novel surveys many different kinds of knowledge and examines the effect they have on the people possessing them. Gulliver’s worldly knowledge about other societies and lifestyles makes him tolerant and open-minded person, able to see both sides of most stories while many of the minds around him are more rigid. Still, it’s unclear if this knowledge actually serves Gulliver…

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Truth and Deception

Much of the novel’s plot action is driven by deceptions, and Gulliver takes note of the inhabitants’ feelings about truth and lying in every country he visits. Deceptions that drive plot action include the Lilliputians’ secret plot to starve Gulliver to death and Gulliver’s subsequent deceits to escape Lilliput. Then, in Brobdingnag, Gulliver deliberately conceals as many of his mishaps he can from Glumdalclitch in order to try to maintain his dignity and freedom…

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