Sex, Symbol, and Satire: Day 3

Gulliver’s Travels
Jonathan Swift

Undoubtedly, philosophers are in the right when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison.”


Maya Angelou said “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”  This sounds like common sense but many relationships fail because they were founded on the basis of a diamond in the rough.  Unfortunately, it is not unusual for someone to witness terrible behavior (or lack of virtue) during courtship only to dismiss it with “well, she will grow out of that” or worse “I can change him.”

As Karen Swallow Prior writes in Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me:

Not that there hadn’t been nagging hints from time to time. Randy once told a writer for the school newspaper that what he wanted most for Christmas was a centerfold model, and reassured me after I objected that he was just kidding. When his friend said he’d never date a virgin, everyone standing around laughed approvingly. When another friend said he’d dig having two women at once, all the other guys agreed. I must have been listening because I still remember these things now, but I was foolish enough, naïve enough, to push away my concerns and tell myself boys will be boys. Besides, I actually believed Randy when he declared that it was different—he was different—with me. I didn’t know that history is rife with women and girls who naively believe in the inverse of the fairy tales in which the knight in shining armor saves the damsel in distress—the myth that we can rescue a boy or man from his own wretchedness, foolishly—and pridefuly—thinking  with me it will be different.

What is something important about which your views, values, and beliefs have changed or matured over time?

Psalm 119:105

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift

When Gulliver’s Travels was published in 1726, the author’s name did not appear on the book. The title page read “Travels into several remote Nations of the World, by Lemuel Gulliver …” Many people accepted this as fact. Travel books of the time told many tales that were no more strange than the imaginary adventures of Gulliver. One sea captain even claimed that he knew Captain Gulliver well.

Other readers condemned the book as full of exaggerations.Although it became one of the most famous books for children, it was not written for children. It was savage satire aimed at the human race. The tiny Lilliputians are vain, malicious, and bloodthirsty. The king and the court of Lilliput are a parody of the English king and court. The giants of Brobdingnag are amiable, but commonplace and insensitive. Laputa is full of the foolish philosophers and scientists whom Swift despised. The Houyhnhnms are horses who use degraded men, Yahoos, as men use horses elsewhere. Looking at mankind through the eyes of horses, Swift sees people as vicious, greedy, and ignorant.

From its first appearance Gulliver’s Travels delighted its readers instead of shocking them. In spite of his bitterness, Swift took a dry delight in making his narrative sound real even when it was fantastic. Children could enjoy the marvelous adventures of a traveler among pygmies and giants, on a flying island, and in a country where horses talk. Gulliver’s Travels soon became a children’s classic.

A large part of what Swift wrote is made up of pamphlets on political or ecclesiastical affairs and must be read in the light of history. But A Tale of a Tub, a satire on false religion, and The Battle of the Books, a burlesque of literary controversy (both published in 1704), are still read for their comic ridicule of human folly. Drapier’s Letters (1724), written to expose a minor scandal in the government of Ireland by the English, lifts the issue to something universal—the human rights of men against tyrants. The Journal to Stella is a brilliant picture of a brilliant age.

“Swift, Jonathan,” Compton’s Encyclopedia (Chicago, IL: Compton’s Encyclopedia, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

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