Satire in Gulliver’s Travels Gulliver’s Travels, written by Jonathan Swift in 1725, follows the adventures of an English surgeon named Lemuel Gulliver with a love of travel. Through a series of unfortunate events, Gulliver washes upon the lands of Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa, and Houyhnhnm land.
At these various places, the narrator meets many distinct creatures and examines the flaws of power hunger and greed found in their cultures. Jonathan Swift uses these characters as representatives of the aspects of his government that he disagrees with. Gulliver’s Travels is a novel that utilizes political and social commentary to satirize the corrupted Whig party of the English government and human nature.The Lilliputians are highly satirized politically in regards to the climate of the government in England at the time Jonathan Swift wrote this novel. The Lilliputians are described as six-inch tall humans, but they are very powerful, which is a commentary on the small country of England that was at this time conquering larger countries. (Dag) In the beginning of the novel, Gulliver has just arrived in Lilliput and is discovering the small natives of the land called Lilliput, when he notices their physical appearance. Swift writes, “when bending my eyes downward as much as I could, I perceived it to be a human creature not six inches high, with a bow and arrow in his hands, and a quiver at his back” (Swift 17). By describing the people of Lilliput this way, Jonathan Swift satirizes them, by using the Lilliputians as stand-ins for his own English government.
Swift uses the Lilliputians to represent the Whig party and his views on how they are elected without qualification or good intentions (Dag). In the beginning of Part 1 Chapter 3 of the book, the Emperor of Lilliput is having citizens entertain the court with dancing, in order to be considered for a job in the Lilliputian government. “When a great office is vacant, either by death or disgrace (which often happens,) five or six of those candidates petition the emperor to entertain his majesty and the court with a dance on the rope; and whoever jumps the highest, without falling, succeeds in the office” (Swift 31). This quote mirrors the author’s views on the Whig party’s corruption. It mocks the process of election for the court officials, and is an important example of political satire in Gulliver’s Travels.Another example of satire in this novel are the giants of Brobdingnag. These characters represent the power hunger and greed of the English government and satirize their influence. Swift uses the giants of Brobdingnag to emphasize the government’s desire to be “larger” and more powerful than the people and the corruption that comes along with that power.
In Part 2 Chapter 1 of Swift’s novel, Gulliver has just been abandoned in Brobdingnag and is running through a field of tall grass when he encounters a giant.He appeared as tall as an ordinary spire-steeple, and took about ten yards at every stride, as near as I could guess. I was struck with the utmost fear and astonishment, and ran to hide myself in the corn, whence I saw him at the top of the stile looking back into the next field on the right hand, and heard him calling in a voice many degrees louder than a speaking-trumpet (Swift 75).Swift uses the large people of Brobdingnag to exaggerate human grossness and the power of the government. The giants are a contrast physically to the characters in the first book but show a similar sense of corruption (Marlowe). In this book, Gulliver uses political satire in how he discusses the way that the government officials in England behave and are elected. For example, towards the end of Part 2, the ruler of Brobdingnag is holding Gulliver and stroking him with his hand, while he discusses the English government with him.
My little friend Grildrig, you Gulliver have made a most admirable panegyric upon your country; you have clearly proved, that ignorance, idleness, and vice, are the proper ingredients for qualifying a legislator; that laws are best explained, interpreted, and applied, by those whose interest and abilities lie in perverting, confounding, and eluding them. I observe among you some lines of an institution, which, in its original, might have been tolerable, but these half erased, and the rest wholly blurred and blotted by corruptions (Swift 116).The king is mocking Gulliver’s native country and the corruption of his officials. This shows satire because the king’s own country parallels the English government in the novel, which demonstrates the hypocrisy.In book three of Gulliver’s travels, the people of Laputa were used for Swift to make commentary on the money-hungry scientists and mathematicians of the time. The author is satirizing the scientists and people of high rank in England for their interest only in the amount of money they make rather what could benefit society the most.
In George Orwell’s literary criticism of Gulliver’s Travels, he discusses the satire of the Laputians, especially of the intellectuals of the society.The important thing is his attitude towards Science, and more broadly, towards intellectual curiosity. The famous Academy of Lagado, described in Part III of Gulliver’s Travels, is no doubt a justified satire on most of the so-called scientists of Swift’s own day. Significantly, the people at work in it are described as “projectors”, that is, people who are not engaged in disinterested research but merely on the look-out for gadgets which will save labour and bring in money (Dag).
This excerpt is evidentiary of the satire of the Academy. Swift portrays the scientists as greedy and “sham” intellectuals. This mocks the “scholars” of England and the modern technology being used by them. The people of Laputa, are described as having a different perspective of looking at the world both literally and figuratively. Gulliver has just arrived on the island of Laputa and he is examining the people who inhabit the land. Swift writes,”Their heads were all reclined to the right, or the left; one of their eyes turned inward, and the other directly up to the Zenith” (Swift 141). This mocks the way that the Laputians appear and also satirizes the English intellectuals by using this as a symbol for their crooked look on the world (Dag). In book four of Gulliver’s travels, the Houyhnhnms were created to satirize humans, by showing them as less powerful and important than the half-horse animals.
Humans are being satirized in this part of the novel as less important or powerful than animals. In Part 4 Chapter 7He had heard, indeed, some curious Houyhnhnms observe, that in most herds there was a sort of ruling Yahoo (as among us there is generally some leading or principal stag in a park), who was always more deformed in body, and mischievous in disposition, than any of the rest; that this leader had usually a favourite as like himself as he could get, whose employment was to lick his master’s feet and posteriors, and drive the female Yahoos to his kennel; for which he was now and then rewarded with a piece of ass’s flesh (Swift 230).The Yahoos in this novel symbolize human beings, and they are shown as a lower ranking than the part-animal Houyhnhnms. Swift satirizes human nature by showing the “humans” as more savage and less important. Humans are also satirized in this section of the novel for the inability to recognize their status and see themselves in comparison to others.
In Part 4 Chapter 3 Gulliver is adjusting to his life with the Houyhnhnms and is telling them that he does not enjoy them referring to him as a Yahoo. Swift writes,”I expressed my uneasiness at his giving me so often the appellation of Yahoo, an odious animal, for which I had so utter a hatred and contempt” (Swift 207). The author is using Gulliver to satirize qualities of human beings, and the inability to see themselves from another perspective. He looks down on the Yahoos and treats them as if he is more important, even though it is clear to the reader that the Yahoos reflect humans, such as himself (Marlowe). This shows the satire of the human condition in Gulliver’s Travels. In conclusion, Gulliver’s Travels is a fantastic representation of political and social satire in literature. The author, Jonathan Swift, uses his own views and commentary to mock the English government, who at the time was corrupted with Whig party politicians.
He populates the lands of Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa, and Houyhnhnm land with different types of characters that represent much larger ideas. The Lilliputians are used to show the climate of the small, but mighty, English government, while the giants of Brobdingnag imitate the power hunger of the politicians. The Laputian scholars are made to mock the greedy scientists and mathematicians of the time.
Finally, the people of Houyhnhnm land satirizes the human condition and status, with Jonathan Swift showing them as less than animals in rank. The author uses these important examples to convey political and social satire in the novel, Gulliver’s Travels.