Swift’s satirical masterpiece Gulliver’s Travels is essentially a product of his complicated psychology and highly imaginative mind. Swift was one of the most controversial personalities of his age who revolted against the adoration of reason and scientific speculations. He bitterly criticised them in his writings, particularly in Gulliver’s Travels which is a wonderful fusion of fact and fantasy.
The world of Gulliver is an imaginary world. The countries and the people he visited, in fact, never existed in reality. However, we never question the reality of their existence, for we are charmed by Swift’s artistic skill. This willing suspension of disbelief is achieved through a wonderful fusion of facts with fantastic elements, which at times almost verge on the absurd. In the very opening, Gulliver introduces himself through a long history of his past life, imparting an element of authenticity in his narratives. It is through his narratives that Swift achieves this blending of fact and fantasy. When we go through the experiences and observations of Gulliver, we find the same human follies and weakness existing in the human society. These political institutions, sense of morality, scientific experiments, abstract thinking etc, have got striking similarity with activities of this real world. Through Gulliver, Swift gives a minute and vivid description of the land and its people and this immediacy of physical appearance greatly contributes to the realism of Gulliver’s Travels. The way of the life of the Lilliputians, the toy house of a Brobdingnagian girl or the adultery of a Laputan wife are exposed before us, enabling us to relate them to our everyday feelings and activities. They seem to be natural that we accept them as real.
The metamorphosis in the character of Gulliver greatly adds to our sense of realism. Gulliver’s character develops and changes in course of time, making his narratives credible. The natural feelings and reactions of Gulliver give us the sense of reality. When the Brobdingnagian king gives his verdict on mankind as ‘the most pernicious race of little odious vermin’, Gulliver feels greatly mollified and tries to defend the human race. Even the absurd projects and impractical researches of the third book are not devoid of realism. These satirical narratives remind us of the real researchers of the same nature in England. In book IV, the impression is that of an absurd impossibility. The unreal figures like Yahoos and Houyhnhnms personify two extremities of human life-extreme reasoning and extreme sensuality. The present, a fantasy world, no doubt, but a thoughtful reading reveals how they symbolize the contemporary degenerate humanity, adding a touch of realism to the fantasy world.
The impression of the final book is one of pessimism, no doubt. This book essentially verges on tragedy reflecting the degeneration and degradation of man. The tragic realization of Gulliver is that Yahoos are his own species constitutes the theme of this book. Gulliver’s final outlook on life as expressed in the concluding chapters further deepens the sense of frustration. But this feeling of frustration should not lead to the idea of the misanthrope. Swift created a fantasy world; nothing is real there. But his realistic presentation deceives us so much that we accept the fantasy as fact and condemn his altitude to man. In his fantasy world, however, Swift has introduced some events of reality as we find in the third book. The fantastic experiments carried out in the Academy, satirically expose the futility of similar scientific experiments in England. A critical analysis of the book reveals that Swift himself wants us to take the incidents as fantasy and not as fact, which Gulliver takes them to be an account of his simplicity and credulity. He has recognized the Yahoos as degenerated man and despises them while he considers the Houyhnhnm as his ideal. His attempt to become a Houyhnhnm marks the climax of Swift’s satire. But we should note that both the Yahoos and the Houyhnhnms are creatures devoid of essential human elements. Man is neither is a Yahoo nor can be a Houyhnhnm. He is a combination of sensuousness and rationality and is capable of self-improvement. Swift’s deliberate portrayal of fantasy distinguished from fact should be taken as a warning not to identify ourselves with the character we came across.
Thus we find that Swift has successfully fused fact and fantasy in Gulliver’s Travels, but his deliberate portrayal of fantasy should not always be taken as fact.