Swift’s Satirical Parallels

In Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift satirizes Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative. The satire begins in the first chapter, after Gulliver is shipwrecked onto a strange island. When he makes it to the island’s shore, he falls asleep, but when he awakes, he is bound by ropes. When he tries to break free from the bondage, he is shot with hundreds of tiny arrows and he “fell a groaning with Grief and Pain” (Swift 24). After Gulliver learns that it is best to remain calm and do as he is told, the people of Lilliput feed him “Baskets full of Meat” and drinks that “tasted like small Wine” (Swift 25-26). Because the people of Lilliput are small (around six inches), the amount of food they give to Gulliver is significant. Though he is supposedly their captive, they still feed him well and give him shelter. This resembles Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative because she is taken captive and is physically hurt during the act. However, after she begins to do as the native’s instruct, she is never harmed again and she is also given food. In one particular instance, Rowlandson is offered her peas and such when the native people were suffering from the same sense of starvation as her. The experience Gulliver has with the people of Lilliput reflect’s Rowlandson’s experience with the natives.

Furthermore, when he is explaining everything that occurred in writing, Gulliver integrates words from the Lilliput people. He mentions words such as “Borach Mivola”, “Hekina Degul”, “Peplom Selan”, and “Hurgo”. Though at first, he did not understand the meaning of those words, he eventually began to learn what some of those words meant. Gulliver states, “he cried out three times Langro Dehul san (these Words and the former were afterwards repeated and explained to me) (Swift 25). This reflects Mary Rowlandson’s writing in her captivity narrative because she also includes Native language words and she makes it clear that she learned the meaning of those words. Rowlandson created an unspoken bond with the Natives and despite her efforts to make it seem otherwise, Swift’s writing reflects her experience (in a more comical manner).

Gulliver is taken to meet the leader of the people – the same way that Rowlandson was taken to meet King Philip. Gulliver becomes more amicable with the people of Lilliput even though he is considered to be their captive because they do not exactly mistreat him. Gulliver sees the people as strange because of their physical features and that is parallel to the way that Mary Rowlandson (and white colonists) saw the Natives – as otherworldly. The parallels continue throughout the novel, but in this specific part, there is much similarity between Rowlandson’s writing and Swift’s fictional tale.

-Maria G. Perez

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One thought on “Swift’s Satirical Parallels

  1. Maria,
    From what I’ve gathered the main idea of your post is to draw a direct comparison between Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels– as the grounds of your argument “Gulliver’s Travels is satirizes Rowlandson’s captivity narrative”. You spent a paragraph comparing learning the languages of the native peoples either protagonists are indoctrinated into, but you don’t pull this idea further. I think that this argument is interesting, but you could take this a step further– for instance, consider why Swift would want to satirize Rowlandson? Is it to make a point at the expense of her, her narrative, colonialism, or the natives? Just something to consider.

    MNC

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