Gulliver’s Travels Task

What you have told me, (said my Master) upon the Subject of War, does  indeed discover most admirably the Effects of that Reason you pretend to:  However, it is happy that the Shame is greater than the Danger; and that  Nature has left you utterly uncapable of doing much Mischief. 

For your Mouths lying flat with your Faces, you can hardly bite each other  to any Purpose, unless by Consent. Then as to the Claws upon your Feet  before and behind, they are so short and tender that one of our Yahoos  would drive a Dozen of yours before him. And therefore in recounting the  Numbers of those who have been killed in Battle, I cannot but think that  you have said the Thing which is not. 

I could not forbear shaking my Head and smiling a little at his Ignorance.  And being no Stranger to the Art of War, I gave him a Description of  Cannons, culverins, Muskets, Carabines, Pistols, Bullets, Powder, Swords,  Bayonets, Battles, Sieges, Retreats, Attacks, Undermines, Countermines,  Bombardments, Sea-fights; Ships sunk with a Thousand Men, Twenty  thousand killed on each Side; dying Groans, Limbs flying in the Air,  Smoak, Noise, Confusion, trampling to Death under Horses Feet; Flight,  Pursuit, Victory; Fields strewed with Carcases left for Food to Dogs, and  Wolves, and Birds of Prey; Plundering, Stripping, Ravishing, Burning, and  Destroying. And to set forth the Valour of my own dear Countrymen, I  assured him, that I had seen them blow up a Hundred Enemies at once in a  Siege, and as many in a Ship, and beheld the dead Bodies come down in  pieces from the Clouds, to the great Diversion of the Spectators. 

I was going on to more Particulars, when my Master commanded me  Silence. He said, Whoever understood the Nature of Yahoos might easily  believe it possible for so vile an Animal to be capable of every Action I had  named, if their Strength and Cunning equalled their Malice. But as my  Discourse had increased his Abhorrence of the whole Species, so he found  it gave him a Disturbance in his Mind, to which he was wholly a Stranger  before. He thought his Ears being used to such abominable Words, might  by Degrees admit them with less Detestation. That although he hated the  Yahoos of this Country, yet he no more blamed them for their odious  Qualities, than he did a Gnnayh (a Bird of Prey) for its Cruelty, or a sharp  Stone for cutting his Hoof. But when a Creature pretending to Reason,  could be capable of such Enormities, he dreaded lest the Corruption of that  Faculty might be worse than Brutality itself. He seemed therefore  confident, that instead of Reason, we were only possessed of some Quality  fitted to increase our natural Vices; as the Reflection from a troubled  Stream returns the Image of an ill-shapen Body, not only larger, but more  distorted. 

He added, That he had heard too much upon the Subject of War, both in  this, and some former Discourses.


Compare this passage with the description of warfare from Part 2 of the novel, focussing particularly on differences in language use.

What does it reveal about the way Swift portrays the shift in Gulliver’s attitudes through the novel?

What does it suggest about the attitude of the Houynhmhs towards humans?

The worksheet containing the passge from Part 2 is available here

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5 Responses to Gulliver’s Travels Task

  1. warren deacey says:

    From comparing the two passages from Gulliver’s travels, I have found that in the second passage the way that the weapons and inventions are described to the person is much more aggressive in the way that it is punctuated, swift uses lots of powerful verbs in the ‘ing’ form examples of these are ‘Plundering’, ‘Stripping’, ‘Ravishing’, ‘Burning’, he uses these in a sort of list form and this where the aggressiveness is formed. Whereas in the second the way the weapons and inventions is different from that in the second, the way they are described is more like a recipe/ingredients to make the weapons, such as ‘Balls of Iron’, ‘Powder, into a Heap’, ‘balls of lead’. The way the language is used steers away the viewpoint of the bad side of war onto looking at the genius of how the weapons are made, even though this is how it is said the king still sees the horrific side of what is said.

  2. Charlotte Ryng says:

    1) In part two’s description of warfare, Gulliver went into great detail about such things as gunpowder and cannons and such and his attitude was obviously a proud one as he was proposing to introduce the kingdom to gunpowder. He told of the destruction it causes – ‘sink down Ships, with a Thousand Men in each, to the Bottom of the Sea’ – and the passage goes on. When this is read, it seems to roll off the tongue as though Gulliver didn’t think for a minute about the words he was using. He didn’t realise until he saw the King’s horrified reaction how terrible these things were. He may have used violent words and phrases in the passage but also uses majestic phrases such as ‘kindle the whole…fly up in the Air together’. There are also words and phrases that are a mixture of the two – ‘greater than thunder’.
    The second description he gives is to the Houynhmhs and is much more violent, as he has now realised the fact that weapons and arms are destructive and a terrible thing to have in the world. It is set in a list and is punctuated sharply with commas which, when you read it, sounds more and feels more aggressive. ‘ Sea-fights; Ships sunk with a Thousand Men, Twenty thousand killed on each Side; dying Groans, Limbs flying in the Air,’ and the list goes on and on.

    2) Gulliver gets an insight into the works of mankind and how some things we take for granted and are always there, such as war and weapons, are things that shouldn’t exist and should never have existed. Through the reactions of the King of Brobdingnog to the ways of the world which Gulliver knows – an outsider or an alien view – makes Gulliver realise the terrible nature of some of mankind’s more self-destructive inventions.
    The first time he has described warfare he said it with ease and with conviction in the things he was telling the King. The second time, however, it’s almost painful for us to read the sharp, punctuated list and this mirrors Gulliver’s new opinion.
    The character himself, sees the horror in obvious issues like warfare and the manufacturing of weaponry, but he also sees flaws in the set up of the aristocracy that Swift knew of and that still exists today – The Royal Family – only after ‘the outsider’ asks questions about it and sees how many holes there are in the system and the unfairness present in government, parliament and such. There are, of course some parts of Gulliver’s dialogue which is particularly vicious and we can see the mask start to drop and Swift come out more as himself.

    3) There is a certain amount of ignorance on the part of the Houynhmhs toward humans, as before Gulliver discussed the many ways in which men have found to kill each other, his ‘master’ thought that the humans fighting each other was absurd because they aren’t physically strong enough – ‘For your Mouths lying flat with your Faces, you can hardly bite each other to any Purpose, unless by Consent. Then as to the Claws upon your Feet before and behind, they are so short and tender…’
    After Gulliver’s detailed description, though, he is basically told to stop because of the horrible images that his ‘master’ is finding clouded his previously oblivious mind. He is disgusted with humans and I think that the author is trying to tell us, particularly in this passage, that it’s hatred he feels towards mankind, like the Yahoos. ‘Creature pretending to Reason’ – Swift could have put the Houynhmhs as a totally innocent race of creature but he didn’t. The way they speak to Gulliver, his ‘master’, shows them as thinking themselves higher than the Yahoos and Gulliver himself. Their feelings towards humans presents itself as hatred and the belief that they are and always will be lower than the Houynhmhs. Some certain amount of disgust at the cannons and gunpowder and war that he described would be expected by such a ‘perfect’ and ‘innocent’ race of creature but really what is shown is disgust with mankind as a whole.

  3. Emma says:

    So far:

    In this passage Gulliver seems to talk much more simply about warfare, he lists the weapons Humans use agaisn’t eacother and the damamge they cause without going into great detail about how great and clever it is of Humans to have been able to develop these weapons which he does in the second part. In the second part of the novel he talks in great length about how he could also teach people to use these, as if his methods of violence were a skill, something to be learnt and admired. In this passage he seems to be more talking about the facts of war, what war is, how it works ansd what it causes rathr than his opinions of it, how powerful he thinks war is, which he does previously.

    2. In the first description of warfare in part 2 of the novel Gulliver talks very openly about the damage and power of the methods of war, he says:
    ‘I told him of an Invention discovered between three and four hundred Years ago, to make a certain Powder, into a Heap of which the smallest Spark of Fire falling, would kindle the whole in a Moment, although it were as big as a Mountain, and make it all fly up in the Air together, with a Noise and Agitation greater than Thunder’
    I think that this shows in the way he describes the nature and greatness of gunpowder, at first not mentioning it’s uses, simply it’s brilliance suggesting that Gulliver thinks the invention is not something to be ashamed of.
    However in the this part of the novel Gulliver is more clearly describing both of the conversations, it seems more like Gulliver is telling us of the conversation between him and his master, in which his master says ‘However, it is happy that the Shame is greater than the Danger; and that Nature has left you utterly uncapable of doing much Mischief’ , I think he is saying that Gulliver and his nations intentions to do harm are much greater than their capiblity and Gulliver only argues that they are capable of as much destruction as they intend, not arguing that their intentions are any better than his mater thinks, but becasue their technology has enabled them to be so violent.
    Gulliver in this passage is much more straight to his point. He does not describe the weapons in great detail like his does in the 2nd part of the book. He simply lists them , ‘Cannons, culverins, Muskets,’ then lists what they cause in all their awfullness, ‘Plundering, Stripping, Ravishing, Burning, and Destroying’ maybe to suggest that Gulliver is no longer proud of what his country can do, he is actaully becoming ashamed of it and to show the reader in plain english what it is they do, to make them feel uncomfortable, becasue when put in simple words there is nothing to justify these things, war and the methods they use. Using simple words also gives the impression that Gulliver understands that his master may be horrified by his words and he does not want to seem to be seeing Human’s ways of war a good thing, or to talk too much about it, because he expects his master to not see the same glory in it as Gulliver once did.

    3. The Houynhmhs I think seem to think that nature determines your violence and brutality as Gulliver says ‘yet he no more blamed them for their odious Qualities, than he did a Gnnayh (a Bird of Prey) for its Cruelty, or a sharp Stone for cutting his Hoof’ as if to suggest that as long as it was in an animals nature to be destuctive it cannot be blamed.
    However the Houynhmh says that ‘it is happy that the Shame is greater than the Danger; and that Nature has left you utterly uncapable of doing much Mischief’ perhaps to suggest that Humans should not be capable of these things, and it should not be in their nature as Humans do no have sharp teeth or claws. The Houynhmhs at the start of this passage thought that humans were harmless at least……..

  4. Kimberley Gibson says:

    Task 1:
    The two passages on the description of warfare are very different. This is because firstly in this passage it describes warfare as an art whereas in part 2 of the novel warfare is described as a cruel and vicious act. In part 2 of the novel Gulliver describes gunpowder however the way he describes it is in the form of a list of the components needed to create the item instead of just telling the king exactly what the item is. The language used in part two is one in which Gulliver is not describing the item fully. This is because the language used in part 2 describes the item in a technical way which suggests that Gulliver doesn’t want the king to know and understand the full extent of damage the gunpowder can cause. This may because he thinks that the king will not allow him to create and use the gunpowder because it is a vicious item.
    Another reason is that Gulliver is speaking to a man of importance therefore he changed his language to suit the audience. Moreover another reason is that in Brobdingnag, there is no such item as gunpowder. Therefore Gulliver has to try and explain what this item is because the king will have never seen this item before. Also it makes the reader thing about the item gunpowder. This is because in our society we take this item for what it is because we are used to hearing about it because it is in our culture. However because of the way Gulliver has described this item the audience thinks about the item gunpowder in a different light because we can’t conceive that we have taken such a destructive item as part of our society.
    Whereas in part 4 the description of warfare is different because it appears to be very aggressive. This is because of the way the passage is punctuated. The items used in warfare are in a list so the items are reeled off of a list very quick for example; ‘cannons, culverins, Muskets, Carabines, Pistols, Bullets, Powder, Swords’. The way the list is punctuated makes it hard for the reader to take in the list. This is because the list is read in a quick punchy manner which bombards the reader and it is hard for them to digest. This also links into the description of war being like ‘art’, this is because it shows there are many different components to warfare and all of these have to fit together strategically. Moreover the way the list is said it is very punchy and you get the feel as if you are actually in the battle because there appears to be an exchange of shots. The words make the reader feel as if they are experiencing war and they now understand what would happen because it happens really fats and there is no time for a rest as there is a continuous battle.
    Also this is portrayed by the actions of the different people Gulliver is speaking to. This is because in part 2 the king tells Gulliver that the gunpowder can not be used as the king perceives the gunpowder as an evil thing to be used. Whereas in part 4 the person Gulliver is talking to is more inclined to listen and seems very interested in what Gulliver has to say. This may be because the way Gulliver was talking was with emphasis and he seemed to be talking about a topic he liked to talk about. The audience can see this because he is really enthusiastic he doesn’t have breaks in his speech he continues the list of items he spoke about. However another reason could be that he has never seen or heard about these items and so is willing to listen to what Gulliver has to say about these items.
    To conclude both passages are very similar as they are both describing items used in warfare. However the language used in the two passages is very different because in part 4 Gulliver is very direct in the way of explaining his point of view about the parts of warfare whereas in part 2 Gulliver appears to be stringing out his speech he appears to be taking care and precision in describing the physical composition of the item. In part 2 Gulliver is speaking to a person of importance as he is the king therefore he uses more complex language because he is talking to an important figure in their society. Therefore throughout these two texts the language differs although Gulliver is explaining similar parts to warfare his language changes throughout the two passages of text.

  5. Laurie says:

    The first thing to be identified is that the intention of Gulliver is different in the two passages. In the first he supposes that explaining gunpowder will put him in the Kings favour as he would want to make use of the invention hence making it plain that he sees gunpowder as a good thing, whereas in the second passage his intention is merely to inform and I think the effect of the passage is that Gulliver no longer feels pride in the inventions of his fellow human beings but perhaps feels ashamed. The way in which gunpowder is described in the first passage, the length of the clauses and the language used is not dissimilar to when Gulliver has described for example the setting, and the trivial details that are often included in the novel, whereas in the second passage the lists make him seem to describe war in a more agitated and involved manner as opposed to his previous pedantic manner. It is not that in the first passage Gulliver does not talk about the slaughter that takes place in war, but it seems that he talks about it in a strategic, dispassionate manner, the effect on the reader being that they could easily be reading a description about flowers, whereas the pounding of the lists in the second passage really echoes the violence of war. I think the satirical effect of the two passages is that when, perhaps only after reading the second passage the reader will note the absence of a change in tone when Gulliver is describing trivia and then when describing the slaughter of humans in the first passage, and consequently be forced to analyse their own views on war as well as those of the authorities.

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