Gulliver’s Travels- a Political Satire Essay Example

Gulliver’s Travels- a Political Satire Essay

Gulliver’s Travels- a Political Satire

‘I’ll publish, right or wrong: Fools are my theme, let satire be my song,’ said Lord Byron. Although whimsical in words, a satire is that genre in literature that strikes the hidden blatant chords and enlightens the readers with the truth. One such satire characterized by irony, sarcasm and wit is Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Written in first person’s point of view, it is a parody of colonial era of England. Set in the early part of the eighteen century, it clearly makes a mockery of England’s then political system. Highlighting the hypocrisy of the statesmen, the novel evidently proves Swift’s contempt towards the political parties and the religious groups. A Juvenalian satire, Gulliver’s Travels presents moral indignation and truly is a work of art. Creatively written using hyperbole, Swift indignantly emphasizes on the flawed human society and ideals and leaves the readers to interpret the hidden irony without any direct indication to any particular country or cult of people. Thus a situational irony, Gulliver’s Travels is a treat to healthy minds and thoroughly demonstrates that the pen is indeed mightier than swords as it brings out various ridiculous attitudes of people and the very human society itself.

A constant contrast between the real and the unreal world, Gulliver’s Travels genuinely presents Swift’s protagonist Lemuel Gulliver in the simplest sense, in his four voyages. Establishing a sense of connection with the readers, the story begins with Gulliver’s background as a doctor on the ship called Antelope. Written in the form of a true travelogue, Swift opens his satirical vision by mocking at the various travelogues (which was at its height during the early eighteen century) as he brings fantasy into the picture. His meeting with the Lilliputians due to his ship wreck refers to the discovery of new nations and the absurd attitude of the Lilliputians capturing him and keeping him tied, refers to England’s domination on its colonized nations. The act of taking Gulliver’s weapons for their personal safety is mocked by Swift and he compares the situation with England’s ridiculous assumption of it being powerful and significant. He thus proves that subordination is only a state of the mind. Learning to converse in the new language, Swift states that “the first words I learnt, were to express my desire that he would please give me my liberty; which I every day repeated on my knees”, which can be compared to the colonized nations begging for their freedom from England and “His answer, as I could comprehend it, was, that this must be a work of time, not to be thought on without the advice of his council, and that first I must lumos kelmin pesso desmar lon emposo; that is, swear a peace with him and his kingdom”, only brings about Swift’s bitterness towards the colonial rule of England. In addition to this, the system of choosing officials, the pretense of English power and writing the articles of freedom using a formal language- all depict the ridiculous practices of England. After gaining his liberty from the Emperor, keeping in mind the stipulated conditions of loyalty and support, Gulliver is appraised about the two rebel forces threatening the kingdom by an official called Reldresal. Reldresal, giving more information about the rebel forces states that, “As flourishing a condition as we may appear to be in to foreigners, we labour under two mighty evils: a violent faction at home and the danger of an invasion, by a most potent enemy, from abroad”. With his detailed input about these forces- the high heels, the low heels, Tramecksan and Slamecksan, Blefuscu, Big Endians and Blundecral, Swift brings about a great parody and one can connect these terms immediately. The High-heels represent the Whigs and the low heels represent the Tories- the two political parties of England, Liliput represents England and Blefuscu represents France, the Big-Endians represent the rival Protestant and Catholic forces in the then England and finally Blundecral represents the holy Bible on which these religious forces differed on. Representing various European practices and the comfort level of people with their norms and by emphasizing the eruption of violence upon the discussion of alternatives like breaking of the egg using the high end or the low end, Swift presents a great amount of satire and his bitter tone reaches its threshold, when he is convicted of treason. In spite of saving the life of the Empress and liberty being promised to him in the form of written articles he is convicted of treason. Swift here makes a mockery of the formal language and articles used by the English and uses Gulliver’s words,

“Once I was strongly bent upon resistance, for, while I had liberty the whole strength of that empire could hardly subdue me, and I might easily with stones pelt the metropolis to pieces; but I soon rejected that project with horror, by remembering the oath I had made to the emperor, the favours I received from him, and the high title of nardac he conferred upon me”

This in turn helps us understand the pretense and fake attitude of England’s political system and the subordinate attitude of the colonized nations.

Gulliver’s second voyage begins with his visit to another mystical land Brobdingnag inhabited by the giants after his escape from the Lilliputians. Swift’s satire in this voyage is critically focused on the language especially the jargons used in the travel books. The continuous rush of words keeps the readers at awe and the incomprehensive nature only adds to Swift’s mockery of various travelogues written during his time. For instance,

“When the storm was over, we set fore-sail and main-sail, and brought the ship to.  Then we set the mizen, main-top-sail, and the fore-top-sail.  Our course was east-north-east, the wind was at south-west.  We got the starboard tacks aboard, we cast off our weather-braces and lifts; we set in the lee-braces, and hauled forward by the weather-bowlings, and hauled them tight, and belayed them, and hauled over the mizen tack to windward, and kept her full and by as near as she would lie”, proves this.

Gulliver’s lack of power due to his diminished size in front of the giants (this is in contrast with his giant-like physical form represented by Swift in the first voyage), due to which he is treated like a doll and is carried away by a monkey. Using these metaphors, Swift further enhances his contemptuous view of Europe’s culture and Gulliver’s strife with the dwarf only points out the fact that regardless the physical size, maliciousness is prevalent among the big and the small and people who are not bestowed upon physical strength can use their meager minds to be vengeful in politics as well. Gulliver’s experience with  the beautiful ladies in the court, only emphasizes Swift’s satire further as he stresses on their immense pores and hairs on the skin which is visible only on microscopic inspection which otherwise is thoroughly ignored as the skin from far looks smooth and beautiful. This according to Swift is an ideal situational irony of England’s political system which appeared all smooth and perfect on the outside. Through Gulliver’s discussion with the king, Swift has tried to justify the actions of England and by constantly arguing for England, Swift has tried to bring forth the irony of Gulliver’s situation. Gulliver state can thus be compared to the false attitude of the Lilliputians in supporting their flaws and trying to prove his significance. “My little friend Grildrig, you have made a most admirable panegyric upon your country; I cannot but conclude the Bulk of your Natives, to be the most pernicious Race of little odious Vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the Surface of the Earth”, by stating this Swift has expressed Gulliver own irony in pointing out the negative aspects about his country whilst he intended to be arguing in favor of his country with the King. It clearly expresses Swift’s satire not only towards England but on Gulliver’s thinking as well. Swift clearly points out that Gulliver’s subconscious acceptance of the vices of his country are similar to common man’s state of mind that has unconsciously accepted the corruption and injustice in the society. The trading and expression of gun powder is another aspect pointed out by Swift which when rejected by the King shocked Gulliver emphasizes two aspects- the impudence of violence in Gulliver’s mind and the Brobdingnagians noble values.

            Gulliver’s escape from the Brobdingnagians and his journey again to the sea, takes the readers to his third voyage which begins with his ship being attacked by the pirates and his banishment to the sea with only four days worth of food due to his resentment towards Christianity. As he encounters with odd people floating on the islands called Laputa, Gulliver’s Travels takes a different satirical turn towards the rigid mentality of mankind. His travels to various other cities such as Balnibarbi, Glubbdubdrib, Luggnagg, and Japan, only provide a thematic depth to his usage of visionary satire all throughout his novel. Swift’s thorough description of Laputa only adds to England’s abstract political system that was inhuman and robotic.  The distancing of the King from his people, the remoteness of nobility and thinkers from the common people all focus on the same point. The description of flappers by Swift,

“This flapper is likewise employed diligently to attend his master in his walks, and upon occasion to give him a soft flap on his eyes; because he is always so wrapped up in cogitation, that he is in manifest danger of falling down every precipice, and bouncing his head against every post; and in the streets, of justling others, or being justled himself into the kennel,” further emphasizes the robotic nature of the people.

Using a language which is too technical and incomprehensive Swift tries to mock at the extreme technical language used by the experts in various fields. Swift’s mockery of the academy of Lagado that propounded various theories and projects on science and mathematics, in turn mock at the Royal Society of London. Expressing his disgust, he mocks at the practices in the academy, “I was at the mathematical school, where the master taught his pupils after a method scarce imaginable to us in Europe.  The proposition, and demonstration, were fairly written on a thin wafer, with ink composed of a cephalic tincture” and states that, “The success has not hitherto been answerable, partly by some error in the quantum or composition, and partly by the perverseness of lads, to whom this bolus is so nauseous, that they generally steal aside, and discharge it upwards”, which was no different than the forceful practices in scientific laboratories. Gulliver’s meeting with historical figures at Glubbdubdrib further support Swift’s satire and his meeting with the Luggnaggians makes a mockery out of human desires after which he travels to Japan.

            Gulliver’s tryst with voyage does not cease even after he reaches England from Japan. His last voyage to an unknown place is his meeting with the ‘Yahoos’ and ‘Houyhnhnm’. Swift deliberately uses his wit to confuse the readers and expresses shock through the eyes of Gulliver by stating that the Yahoos are humans and the Houyhnhnm which are horses in whose company Gulliver enjoys are in turn intelligent. Gulliver’s denial of accepting himself as a Yahoo is further depicted by Bullitt as a “example a character acting in ignorance of his condition” and “a terrifying insight into evil (which) is accompanied by all the bitterness of a profound disillusionment” (61, 65).The desire that Gulliver expresses to stay with the horses by denouncing the human race is in turn a sarcastic representation of the unmanageable nature of humans by Swift.

            In the end, Gulliver stating, “My reconcilement to the Yahoo kind in general might not be so difficult, if they would be content with those vices and follies only which nature has entitled them to”, gives great credit to Swift’s satirical view by confirming that society in general would be ideal to live in if people learnt to manage themselves, be content and strive towards reaching the ultimate truth. All in all the four voyages in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels clearly portray his mockery on the legal and religious systems, ethical and mathematical theories which in no way would feed a starving man, the technical language and last but not the least the inhuman and robotic nature of man. Comparing the lives of people in England with mythical creatures, Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels is a classical satire and touches various political, social and cultural aspects of human beings.

Works Cited

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. Project Gutenberg. 2009. Web. 10 August 2010

Bullitt, John M. Jonathan Swift and the Anatomy of Satire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966.


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