Exploring the Land of Satire: Mocking the Common Travel Narrative

(*Author’s Note: The pages and chapters I refer to in this post are contained within the Barnes and Noble Classics edition of the novel as it is the version of the narrative I already owned, and new books cost money – of which I have none)

In chapter , part , on page 37, Gulliver details his living and sleeping situation as such:

“Towards night, I got with some difficulty into my house, where I lay on the ground, and continued to do so about a fortnight; during which time the Emperor gave orders to have a bed prepared for me. Six hundred beds of the common measure were brought in carriages, and worked up in my house; an hundred and fifty of their beds sewn together made up the breadth and length, and these were four double, which however kept me but very indifferently from the hardness of the floor, that was of smooth stone. By the same computation they provided me with sheets, blankets, and coverlets, tolerable enough for one who had been so long enured to hardships as I.”

Aside from the obvious ridiculousness of the description of Gulliver’s living and sleeping conditions, this passage is an excellent satire of classic travel narratives and captivity narratives through Swift’s inclusion of subtle details. Primarily, the detail of our protagonist laying on the floor for a “fortnight” (a.k.a. two weeks) that Swift nonchalantly includes in his absurd description subtly mocks the works of Bacon and Rowlandson by playing up the suffering that Gulliver must have endured: a common tactic used in travel narratives to (hopefully) make the reader empathize with the author.

Moreover, the way this passage ends is both comical and a witty jab at author’s of the travel narratives Swift satirizes: Gulliver’s description of his living conditions concludes with the eponymous explorer relating to the reader that the conditions were horrible, yet her was able to tolerate them due to his familiarity with hardships. This line is especially aimed at works such as Rowlandson’s captivity narrative, in which the author often subtly attempts to convince the reader that they are of strong will – likely in the hopes of gaining a reputation as a brave, hardy explorer.

-Shawn Pintor-Day

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