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“Gulliver's Travels”: A journey through the unconscious

Nasir Jamal Khattak, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Gulliver's Travels has been admired and criticized alike since its appearance in print for its scathing satire. It has mostly been read as an allegory whose prototypes were contemporary events and figures. Critics have found counterparts and analogies for its characters and events in the political and historical scenes of eighteenth-century England. Studying Gulliver's Travels from an allegorical point of view, however, conceals its universality from us. Allegorical readings usually focus on the first and third voyages, and are based on the assumption that Gulliver is a mouthpiece, not a character. The question of the nature of Gulliver's character is still very popular and controversial. Critics are divided into the “Hard” and “Soft” schools of interpretation in their readings of Gulliver and his travels. The former consider Gulliver as an artistic device; the latter as a fully developed character with some psychological flaws. Though “Soft” school critics make a convincing case, they do not fully explain Gulliver's psychological abnormalities. Both the schools focus on the issue of the Swift-Gulliver debate with reference to Gulliver's final voyage alone, and usually overlook the other three parts. Thus both allegorical readings and the “Hard” and “Soft” schools of interpretation create and strengthen the erroneous impression that Gulliver's Travels lacks artistic unity. This study focuses on the universality of Gulliver Travels and argues that Gulliver's four voyages are a journey through the human unconscious. It is the story of Gulliver's encounter with the unexplored and unacknowledged aspects of his personality. The four remote nations and their denizens represent the contents of the unconscious, and symbolize different archetypal qualities, which are common to all members of human race. The worlds that Gulliver visits are all within him but he is unconscious of them due to his lack of self-knowledge. Lemuel Gulliver is a fully developed character who gradually but consistently regresses due to his extreme extraverted-sensation-type personality. Gulliver's excessive dependence on sense perception has widely been documented but rarely explored. This study accentuates the psychological dynamics and social implications of Gulliver's excessive extraversion and lack of self-knowledge, and uses Jungian analytical psychology as a tool to study Gulliver's abnormalities. My strategy involves a close reading of the text to show that a central thread runs through Gulliver's Travels, and that every episode in the four parts of the book contributes to Gulliver's alienation from himself and from humanity.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Khattak, Nasir Jamal, "“Gulliver's Travels”: A journey through the unconscious" (2001). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3012148.