The setting of the passage to be analyzed here is that of Gulliver’s voyage to a land of giants. The speaker’s context here is the basic comic devices of reversal and exaggeration. When the dimensions of things are reversed there is a comic effect. When clowns at the circus ride around in a tiny car the effect is hilarious. In a famous Gary Larsen cartoon a gigantic monster is seen peering into a man’s car through the wing mirror which reads: “Things reflected in this mirror may appear to be larger than they are.
” The comic context employed by the speaker in the following passage, then, is that of a man suddenly turned tiny by circumstances beyond his control. There are, of course, classical antecedents for this type of size reversal. Odysseus in the cave of Cyclops would provide the best example. There are, no doubt, many who would argue that this incident in the Odyssey is not meant as humor.
May we not at least wonder, however, if some of Homer’s audiences didn’t chuckle when they heard about how the “subtle” Odysseus outwitted the giant?
It will be argued in the following that Swift’s intention throughout Part II as a whole is comic irony, and that the passage to be analyzed typifies the situation in which Gulliver finds himself when surrounded by giants. Starting off, a simple exaggeration introduces the passage: “The King’s palace is… about seven miles round… ” suggesting the colossal size of the castle, the rooms within are “two hundred and forty Foot high. ” Gulliver who is, as we have learned earlier, a proud and dignified man is reduced by his comparatively tiny dimensions to the role of a doll.
All of his proud bearing and gentlemanly dignity disappears in a puff of smoke when his Mistress Glumdalclitch holds Gulliver up in her hand to give him a better view of the surroundings. Swift’s choice of words at the beginning of this passage also provides an ironic effect. Gulliver who is, in fact, a freak in this society reports that when Glumdalclitch is taken out to see the town, “… I was always of the party, carried in my Box…
” To be “of the party” suggests social (and physical) equality, but when Swift follows this dignified phrase with the description “… in my box” the effect is humorous, since Gulliver is revealed as the curiosity and freak that he is by the fact that he travels in a “box” like a doll. Swift’s imagery in this passage allowed allows the reader to see other human-like creature from the perspective of a very tiny person. It also demonstrates to the reader once again that Swift loves to engage in the humor of the disgusting and the impolite.
When a group of Brobdingnagian beggars presses up against the carriage to view the strange little creature that is our speaker, Gulliver is able to observes the cancer on the breast of a beggar woman “… full of holes, in two or three of which I could have easily crept… ” and body lice “… and their snouts with which they rooted like Swine. ” There is a misogynist quality to this joke. The breast of a woman is presented as disgusting rather than as an inspiration to art and poetry.
The idea of crawling into a cancerous lesion on a woman’s breast is an ugly parody of what men usually think about when they see the naked female breast which is to adore, kiss, or suck it. This type of humor is based on a simple reversal of the usual emotions inspired by an image. The equivalent would be, for example, to provide an image of the Queen of England sitting on a chamber pot rather than her throne. The imagery in the rest of this passage is also unforgettable, especially the wooden legs of a beggar which were “…
each about twenty Foot high. ” Immediately following these alarming and disgusting images is another liar’s trick based on the category of emphasis. This is offered in Gulliver’s careful description of his “Box. ” Before analyzing this part of the passage in detail a general comment on Swift’s project in Gulliver’s Travels is required. The speaker mentions many times throughout the tale the phenomenon of “travelers tails” or “books of voyages. ” These were supposedly factual accounts of what travelers from Europe had seen on the other side of the world.
They were, of course, full of lies and Swift’s project throughout much of the book is to satirize the lying authors of these books. One well known liar’s trick is to emphasize the details of some fictional object. This is what Gulliver does with the description of his “Box. ” Its’ origin is carefully described: “… the Queen ordered a smaller one to be made for me… ” Its design and dimensions are carefully recorded: “… This traveling Closet was an exact Square with a Window in the Middle of three of the Squares… “, etc.
The important detail of the box’s construction which will eventually allow for Gulliver’s salvation by sailors is also carefully noted: “… On the fourth side, which had no windows, two strong staples were fixed… “, and so on. There is a dual purpose to what we might call the “liar’s emphasis” lavished on this passage. The first is to satirize the books of travelers tales so popular in Swift’s days in which exact descriptions of fantastic creatures were given to fool the credulous. The second is to prepare the reader for Gulliver’s eventual escape.
This happens in his traveling box which is then conveniently destroyed by the sailors who rescue him so that no substantial evidence of his adventure remains, and the gullible can easily believe the whole story of Gulliver among the Brobdingnags. The comic irony is an effective device in satirizing human folly. The absurdity in the relationship between these two elements is essentially targeted at England (Gulliver), the Wigs, specifically, whereby Swift is attacking his opposition. In the spirit of Swift’s famous word play about “… his good Master Bates”, we can rename his fable “Gullible’s Travels. “