Plausibility of Situation in “Gulliver’s Travels”

Gulliver’s discovery of a society of six-inch-tall men at the beginning of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels was an extraordinary event and certainly not a plausible event. However, through his style of narration and the circumstances surrounding the plot, Swift is able to make this discovery and the subsequent adventure feel plausible.

Swift begins the story with a completely normal and plausible situation: the reader is presented with a normal man. This is Gulliver. He is married. He works on ships as a surgeon. He is normal. During the course of his normal life he undergoes a relatively normal upset: he is involved in a shipwreck. These things happen. With this grounding of normalcy, Swift moves the story along and introduces the strangeness of the adventure Gulliver is about to find himself in the midst of. He goes to sleep in his normal state, as Gulliver the shipwrecked surgeon, but when he wakes up he is bound to the ground by many thin cords. He is not Gulliver the giant in a land of tiny people. The reader has now been presented by this completely abnormal situation but because of the events leading up to it, it seems more plausible.

Once the strange world of Lilliput has been presented to the reader in all of it’s abnormalcy, the tensions arise when Gulliver and the Lilliputians are not able to communicate: “His Imperial Majesty spoke often to me, and I returned answers, but neither of us could understand a syllable. (2500)” This incorporates a note of normalcy back into the situation because at the beginning of Chapter 1 Gulliver talks about his time in the East and West Indies and how he spent his “hours of leisure… in reading the best authors… as well as learning their language; wherein [he] had a great facility by the strength of [his] memory. (2493)” The mirroring of this linguistic divide between Gulliver’s adventures in the Indies, a real place, and Lilliput, a fantastical one, lends a measure of believability to the story.

 

Swift, Jonathan. “Gulliver’s Travels.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th ed. Vol. C. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2012. 2487-633. Print.

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