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Literary Devices in Gulliver's Travels

Satire: Through exaggeration, wit, and humor, satire seeks to point out—and often ridicule—societal or individual flaws with the goal of spurring improvement. Throughout Gulliver’s Travels, various individuals and general human tendencies are made fun of, as are specific political or cultural situations of Swift’s time.

Literary Devices Examples in Gulliver's Travels:



"together with the minute descriptions of the management of the ship in storms, in the style of sailors: likewise the account of longitudes and latitudes..."   (Introduction)

This is Swift’s way of poking fun at popular travel narratives of the time, which were often lengthy in their descriptions of arguably “minute” details. It also attempts to assure the reader that there is a rational explanation for all events that occur in the tale. The publisher suggests that if an explanation has been omitted, it is simply a way to prevent the reader’s boredom—rather than an indication of the story’s fabrication.

"There is an air of truth apparent through the whole..."   (Introduction)

Swift uses the publisher to emphasize that the events in the novel are true and to characterize Gulliver as a reliable narrator. The publisher states that even Gulliver’s neighbors can vouch for his “veracity,” which further leads the reader to feel that the following story will be “true,” no matter how far-fetched it may seem.

"the monster..."   (Part II - Chapter I)

As above, this misdirection ensures that readers will not realize right away that Gulliver has encountered a race of giant humans.

"a huge creature..."   (Part II - Chapter I)

A clever bit of misdirection by Gulliver—the reader must assume the "creature" is something other than human. A few sentences further along, Swift refers to the creature as a "monster," convincing his readers that these things are truly not human. Readers' surprise will be all the greater when they learn these are not monsters, but huge humans.

" as to the ignominy of being carried about for a monster, I considered myself to be a perfect stranger in the country, and that such a misfortune could never be charged upon me as a reproach if ever I should return to England, since the King of Great Britain himself, in my condition, must have undergone the same distress...."   (Part II - Chapter II)

Note that Swift uses the same word to describe Gulliver as Gulliver initially used to describe the giant inhabitants. Consider that the Lilliputians saw Gulliver as a kind of monster as well before getting to know him. Swift’s use of repetition thus highlights the illogical nature of our tendency to view those who seem different from us as frightening or threatening.

"and upon the 17th of August, 1703..."   (Part II - Chapter II)

This is an example of verisimilitude, where Swift attempts to add realism to the narrative by specifying a date. In this case, verisimilitude is an important technique because the setting of each of Gulliver's voyages is so unreal.

"There was a woman with a cancer in her breast..."   (Part II - Chapter IV)

A constant aspect of Swift's focus in Gulliver's Travels is the grotesque—Gulliver observes and comments in minute detail the physical deformities and bodily functions of those he encounters.  

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