Socrates stated, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” From the beginning of a man’s life, he looks for a purpose or a calling that he has been placed on the earth to fulfil or become. Authors throughout the ages, aware of this knowledge, write with the intent helping man search inside his self to examine the purpose of his existence. Swift uses many techniques to spark this analysis.
One technique Swift uses in Guliver’s Travels is juxtaposition. An example of juxtaposition comes when Swift lands Gulliver on an island of giants. The comparison of the giants to Gulliver causes the reader to realize what small importance a single man has in the world. “…showing how diminutive, contemptible, and helpless an animal was man in his own nature…” (141). As Gulliver explains what he reads in an giant book, he explains how man cannot effectively protect himself from his surroundings. “…unable to defend himself from the inclemencies of the air, or the fury of wild beasts…” (152). Gulliver then reads that the author believes that man should have originally been made larger and more robust. Swift explains this to show that one man is a very small fish in a very large pond. Another example of juxtaposition lies when Gulliver and the Houyhnhnms are compared. This comparison illustrates how inhumane and savage mankind can act. Gulliver tries to explain the concept of war to his master. “Millions of Yahoos might have been killed in the whole progress of it, and perhaps a hundred or more cities taken, and thrice as many ships burnt or sunk” (265). The master did not understand this concept and could not believe that man could kill his own kind such as they do. “He asked me what were the usual causes or motives that made one country go to war with another” (265). Swift attacks the ridiculousness of war here. “Difference in opinions hath cost many millions of lives…” (265).
Examples of Gulliver as the ingenuous narrator are numerous. Acting as an ingenous narrator becomes natural for Gulliver, being a naive and innocent person by nature. An example of this lies when Gulliver dances around in front of many people. “I turned about several times to the company, paid my humble respects, said they were welcome, and used some other speeches I had been taught” (111). Gulliver is not aware that these people have made a spectacle out of him, and many people laugh and joke. Swift uses this technique of an ingenuous narrator in stating an underlying truth that the speaker is naive to, while the reader knows all. Swift implies many ideas through Gulliver such as the unimportance of an individual man and the savagery of mankind.
Swift also uses a technique called shock value in Gulliver’s Travels. When Gulliver gazed across the open field at forty foot stalks of corn, he stands amazed. Gulliver runs and hides at his first encounter with one of the giants. This shock factor the reader shares with Gulliver helps to enhance the idea of mans unimportance as an individual. Another shock the reader experiences occurs when Gulliver arrives in the land of the Houyhnhnms. The primary shock consists of the disbelief that horses could ever become civilized or develop their own language. Then, when the reader learns of the lifestyle of the Houyhnhnms, the sense of shock increases. The reader learns of the peaceful and tranquil world they live in and begin to see mankind as savage and inhumane. With this new knowledge of a different, and in many ways better, way of life, the reader begins to ponder if what he or she believes as normal is in fact the correct and/or most efficient/effective way of life.
Swift uses many techniques throughout the book to force man to examine his life. These techniques act a subtle tools in getting across ideas the author wants to express. Juxtaposition, an ingenuous narrator, and shock value stand as only three of the many techniques used by Swift in this book. These, along with many others effectively cause man to analyze his life two main ways: the importance and direction of one’s self, and the efficiency of mankind as he knows it today.