It is unusual when a masterpiece develops out of an assignment, but that is, more or less, what
happened in the case of Gulliver’s Travels. The Martinus Scriblerus Club proposed to satirize the
follies and vices of learned, scientific and modern men. Each of the members was given a topic, and
Swift’s was to satirize the numerous and popular volumes describing voyages to faraway lands. Ten
years passed between the Scriblerus project and the publication of Gulliver’s Travels, but when Swift
finished, he had completed a definitive work in travel literature. Moreover, he had completed what
was to become a children’s classic (in its abridged form) and a satiric masterpiece. Swift’s main
character, Gulliver, is a man who only pays attention to surface meanings and events. Gulliver is also,
as might be expected, “gullible.” Gulliver narrates details leaving the reader to ponder the deeper
meaning. Gulliver’s naive nature permits the reader to perceive the humor and the irony in Gulliver’s
Travels in the reader’s own way, thus, making the novel’s fascination seem inexhaustible.
As the narrator of the Travels, Gulliver never detects the double meanings of events. Gulliver,
a sailor and a surgeon, always notices the details but is not in the habit of contemplating significance.
He gives the same deadpan, pedestrian account of the beginning of his voyages that he does when he
tells of his foreign adventures. Gulliver believes almost everything he is told because he lacks the
imagination to see contradictions. For example, when Gulliver travels to Lilliput, the Emperor
entertains Gulliver with some court diversions. The diversions, however, prove to be quite different
than one might expect; they are not plays nor masques nor musical performances. “I was diverted
with none so mush as that of the rope-dancers, performed upon a slender white thread...this diversion
is only practiced by those persons who are candidates for great employments, and high favor, at
court...whoever jumps the highest without falling, succeeds in the office.” (pgs 53-54) This passage
describes the Lilliputian court custom by which men seeking political office demonstrate their agility
in rope dancing, among other activities. How long and how skillfully a candidate can dance upon a
rope determines his tenure in office. Besides the rope dancing there are other diversions. Noblemen
compete for official favor by crawling under or leaping over a stick. They are then rewarded with
various colored threads. The jumping and crawling games that Gulliver witnesses and describes
sound innocent, like games children might play. To Gulliver the diversions seem as nothing more
than “ shows, wherein they exceed all nations I have known, both for dexterity and
magnificence.” (pg53) Gulliver accepts rope dancing as a valuable accomplishment and even praises
the politicians for their agility. Unlike Gulliver, the reader is able to notice the folly of a system that
advances politicians for rope-dancing; realizing that the significance of these diversions is far from
innocent. The crawlers and jumpers perform for the amusement of the monarch and are rewarded
with either blue, red or green threads. In this passage Jonathan Swift is satirizing politicians.
Politicians, Swift is saying, are always ready to debase themselves by performing humiliating games,
hoping to win the favor of the monarch or obtain ribbons, money, or titles. Similarly, Swift is
satirizing the methods by which politicians are chosen in England in the eighteenth century. It is
evident that the Lilliputian method of competing for office is comical. However, in eighteenth
century England (as well as throughout world history) there have been many political elections which
do not deviate in absurdity from rope-dancing. For example, politicians have often been chosen
through bribery and trickery. Thus, the satire in Gulliver’s Travels is applicable to all time periods.
During Gulliver’s stay in Lilliput he discovers that there is a war between the nation of Lilliput
and Blefuscu. From Reldresal, the Principal Secretary of Private Affairs, Gulliver learns that the
conflict started over a religious question: at which end should the faithful break their eggs? at the big
end? or at the little end? “...the primitive way of breaking eggs before we eat them, was upon the
larger end: but his present Majesty’s grandfather, happened to cut one of his fingers. Whereupon the
Emperor his father published an edict, commanding all his subjects, upon great penalties, to break the
smaller end of their eggs. The people so highly resent this law, that our histories tell us there have
been six rebellions raised on that account: wherein one emperor lost his life, and