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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
In Part III Swift is concerned mainly with attacking extreme devotion to theoretical reasoning at the expense of the practical demands of living. His satire is directed toward what he felt was the dogmatism of the scientific community of his time, and against certain political practices and events he found objectionable. Swift's comments about extreme devotion to one way of thinking and/or to one favored discipline apply not only to his own time and country. As you read Part III think about the value of scientific research, the value of applied science, and when and how they should overlap.
Of the four parts that compromise the Travels, Part III was written last. Perhaps because Swift had used the character of Gulliver to its fullest extent in Parts I, II, and IV, Gulliver is altogether less of a character in this part. In the first two parts, many things happened to him; here he describes ways of life that finally have little effect on him. Swift's satire is presented directly to you the reader.
Gulliver is captured, then abandoned, by pirates. While out walking near the
cave in which he had slept, Gulliver is alarmed by the sudden darkening
of the sky, caused by the appearance in front of the sun of a flying island.
(Flying islands were staples in the science fiction of Swift's time.)
It descends near Gulliver, the inhabitants throw down a pulley-driven
chain, and Gulliver is hauled up. So begins his stay on Laputa.
The Laputans' appearance-one eye turned inward and the other up to the sky-is symbolic of their activities. Wholly devoted to abstract science, mathematics, and music, they have one eye turned in on their mental activity and one eye fixed on the stars. (Astronomy is a favorite of theirs.) Laputans are so oblivious to those around them that they employ "flappers" whose job it is to give them a flap on the mouth and eyes to let them know someone is talking to them. Just by the appearance Swift gives the Laputans, he lets you know he thinks them pretty silly.
Gulliver interprets Laputa as meaning "flying island." This is one of Swift's foils, though. In Spanish, "la puta" means "the whore," which Swift certainly knew and deliberately made use of. Keep this in mind when you consider the odd ways in which Laputans satisfy their physical needs. Husbands generally ignore their wives, and it is common for wives to meet their lovers in the presence of their husbands. Once a Laputan woman leaves the flying island, she rarely returns. Gulliver even recounts the tale of a woman who ran away from her husband to live with a cruel, deformed footman, so odious did she find her spouse and his Laputan ways.
For all the Laputans' expertise in theoretical matters, their mastery of practical tasks leaves much to be desired. They make Gulliver, after many calculations and measurements, a suit of ill-fitting clothes. Because Laputans disdain geometry, practical discipline that it is, their houses are poorly built because they refuse to use the right angles in their construction.
Though they are given to theoretical thinking, the Laputans are curiously irrational. They are superstitious, believing that you can tell fortunes by the stars. They are also plagued with what may well seem to you-and certainly did to Swift-ridiculous fears having mostly to do with the movement of planets and stars. One such is that the earth was nearly burned by the last comet. Swift offers these specific fears as satire of the speculations of certain scientists of his time.