Sujet : « Perpective » in Gulliver’s Travels
To be interested in Jonathan Swift’s book, “Gulliver’s Travels”, published in a complete version in 1735, is firstly to focus on a fictional work in which the factors of interpretation are numerous. Indeed, this classic of English literature remains rich to explore, as can be that of Lemuel Gulliver during his many travels.
Indeed, it must be remembered that the book is divided into four parts, representing Gulliver’s four travels around the world. Travels which led him to meet civilizations all the more surprising than the others of which that of Lilliput (in the first part), that of Brobdingnag (in the second part), those more numerous of Laputa, Balnibarbi, Glubbdubdrib, Luggnagg and Japan (in the third part) and finally the Houyhnhnms (in the fourth and last part of the book).
In this sense, even if the literary studies concerning this book are usually focused only on the description of these civilizations as a political satire of 18th century English society, we can nevertheless affirm that the notion of perspective can be an interesting axis to exploit to get closer to the work of the famous Irish writer, as it may be the case with another classic of English literature : “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll.
Thus, it must be remembered that the perspective in literature is an important parameter in the conduct of storytelling. The narrator can openly use it as the master of the information, but he can also restrict this information to the point of view of a character or to that of an anonymous instance located at any point. This restriction is achieved through a linguistic device that allows the representation and appearance of perceptions or thoughts.
In fact, in light of our remarks, to what extent is perspective at work in Jonathan Swift’s book?
To answer this question, we propose to first consider the adaptation of the focal point through travels and then, in a second step, our analysis will focus on the technique of perspective in order to carry out the satire of British society.
I. Focal adaptation through travels :
First of all, it must be remembered at the beginning of the analysis that the author builds Gulliver’s first two trips according to a shift in size ratios when Lemuel Gulliver, ship’s surgeon to the British Crown, arrives in a place, on an unknown island, called Lilliput, which soon appears to be populated by men whose stature is twelve times smaller than that of the English, and Westerners in a more global sense.
On the other hand, during his second trip to Brobdingnag, Gulliver is abandoned on a territory where the situation is reversed: the men, the plants, the animals are only gigantic with regard to the traveler, who appears now as a tiny and strange animal, a kind of anomaly that can only be observed by looking at it more closely. Thus, during this second trip, the notion of perspective makes sense when the character of Gulliver says that :
« Undoubtedly philosophers are in the right when they tell us that nothing is great or little, otherwise than by comparison » (Swift, Paul Turner edition, 1998 : 74-75).
Therefore, there is an implementation of the comparison by the perspective to affirm that a thing can be appreciated as being big or small if one compares this one with another thing, big or small.
Thus, it is by the intervention of a third person, in this case Lemuel Gulliver, in the landscape of Liliput or Brobdingnag that the proportions are revealed. Gulliver thus almost acts as a witness so that we can appreciate this or that people.
II. Perspective at the service of political satire :
In “Gulliver’s Travels”, He is actually a perspective centered on two levels of reality. On the one hand, the fanciful parallel worlds against the likelihood of England from where Gulliver originated. There is therefore a comparative relationship between the homeland of Gulliver and the rest of the island worlds.
In fact, during his hearings with the peoples, Gulliver proposes to describe the social situation of his country. It is this gap, this relation to perspective that allows Jonathan Swift to satire the British kingdom.
Thus, for example, when Gulliver returns to England after his humiliation with the giants of Brobdingnag, he feels like a giant when he compares himself with his congener :
« When I came to my own house, for which I was forced to enquire, one of the servants opening the door, I bent down to go in (like a goose under a gate) for fear of striking my head. My wife ran out to embrace me, but I stooped lower than her knees, thinking she could otherwise never be able to reach my mouth. My daughter kneeled to ask me blessing, but I could not see her till she arose, having been so long used to stand with my head an eyes erect to above sixty foot; and then I went to take her up with one hand, by the waist. I looked down upon the servants and one or two friends who were in the house, as if they had been pygmies, and I a giant » (Swift, Paul Turner edition, 1998 : 98).
In conclusion, we can affirm that Swift’s complex work allows us to crystallize a relation to reality that is organized around the perspective and the relation to a reference to make a comparison. This characteristic allowed the Irish author to construct his story in order to criticize British society.
Thus, we can then draw a parallel with the work of Voltaire entitled “Micromegas” published a few years after Gulliver’s travels, in 1752 and which take up the theme of size and perspective to criticize the French society of the time.