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Perceptions of Satire in Gulliver's Travels

In 1726, Jonathan Swift published a book for English readers. On the surface, this book appears to be a tra el log, !ade to chronicle the ad entures of a !an, "e!uel #ulli er, on the four !ost incredible o$ages i!aginable. %ri!aril$, howe er, Gulliver's Travels is a work of satire. &#ulli er is neither a full$ de eloped character nor e en an altogether distinguishable persona' rather, he is a satiric de ice enabling Swift to score satirical points& ()odino 12*+. Indeed, whereas the work begins with !ore specific satire, attacking perhaps one political !achine or ai!ed at one particular custo! in each instance, it finishes with &the !ost sa age onslaught on hu!anit$ e er written,& satiri,ing the whole of the hu!an condition. (-urr$ .+. In order to con e$ this satire, #ulli er is taken on four ad entures, dri en b$ fate, a restless spirit, and the pen of Swift. #ulli er/s first 0ourne$ takes hi! to the "and of "illiput, where he finds hi!self a giant a!ong si1 inch tall beings. 2is ne1t 0ourne$ brings hi! to 3robdingnag, where his situation is re ersed4 now he is the !idget in a land of giants. 2is third 0ourne$ leads hi! to "aputa, the floating island, inhabited b$ strange (although si!ilarl$ si,ed+ beings who deri e their whole culture fro! !usic and !athe!atics. #ulli er/s fourth and final 0ourne$ places hi! in the land of the 2ou$hnhn!, a societ$ of intelligent, reasoning horses. 5s Swift leads #ulli er on these four fantastical 0ourne$s, #ulli er/s perceptions of hi!self and the people and things around hi! change, gi ing Swift a!ple opportunit$ to in0ect into the stor$ both iron$ and satire of the England of his da$ and of the hu!an condition. Swift ties his satire closel$ with #ulli er/s perceptions and ad entures. In #ulli er/s first ad enture, he begins on a ship that runs aground on a sub!erged rock. 2e swi!s to land, and when he awakens, he finds hi!self tied down to the ground, and surrounded b$ tin$ people, the "illiputians. &Iron$ is present fro! the start in the si!ultaneous recreation of #ulli er as giant and prisoner& ()eill$ 167+. #ulli er is surprised &at the intrepidit$ of these di!inuti e !ortals, who dare enture to !ount and walk upon !$ bod$& (I.i.16+, but he ad!ires this 6ualit$ in the!. #ulli er e entuall$ learns their language, and arranges a contract with the! for his freedo!. 2owe er, he is bound b$ this agree!ent to protect "illiput fro! in asion b$ the people of 3lefuscu. 7he "illiputians relate to hi! the following stor$4 In "illiput, $ears ago, people once broke eggs on the big end. 2owe er, the present king/s grandfather once cut hi!self breaking the egg in this !anner, so the 8ing at the ti!e, the father of the present king/s grandfather, issued an edict that all were to break the eggs on the s!all end. So!e of the people resisted, and the$ found refuge in 3lefuscu, and &for si1 and thirt$ !oons past& the two sides ha e been at war (I.i .*9+. Of course, to #ulli er, such an argu!ent would be co!pletel$ ridiculous, for he could hardl$ distinguish the difference in the ends of their eggs. :or Swift, "illiput is analogous to England, and 3lefuscu to :rance. ;ith this e ent of the stor$ Swift satiri,es the needless bickering and fighting between the two nations. 5lso ehicles of Swift/s satire were the peculiar custo!s of the nation of "illiput. 7he !ethods of selecting people for public office in "illiput are er$ different fro! that of an$ other nation, or rather, would appear to be so at first. In order to be chosen, a !an !ust &rope dance& to the best of his abilities' the best rope dancer recei es the higher

office. ;hile no nation of Europe in Swift/s ti!e followed such an absurd practice, the$ did not choose public officers on skill, but rather on how well the candidate could line the right pockets with !one$. #ulli er also tells of their custo! of bur$ing &their dead with their heads directl$ downwards...7he learned a!ong the! confess the absurdit$ of this doctrine, but the practice still continues& (I. i.6<+. 5t this point in the stor$, #ulli er has not $et reali,ed that b$ seeing the absurdit$ of the "illiputians/ traditions, that he !ight see the absurdit$ in European ones. ;ith this Swift satiri,es the conditions of Europe. 5s Swift/s stor$ of #ulli er unfolds, the satire begins to take a !uch !ore general focus4 hu!anit$ as a whole. #ulli er !anages to escape the land of !iniature, and after a brief sta$ in England, returns to the sea. 5gain, he finds hi!self in a strange land, but this ti!e, he is the s!all one, with e er$thing around hi! !an$ ti!es the nor!al si,e. =nlike the "illiputians, howe er, he is alone in this world. ;hen he encounters the first nati es, he fears for his life, &for as hu!an creatures are obser ed to be !ore sa age in proportion to their bulk& (II.i.>6+. 7his is but one of the !an$ attacks on hu!anit$ that Swift/s satire will perfor!. ;hile in "illiput #ulli er had been treated with respect, largel$ due to his si,e' here in this land of giants, 3robdingnag, he is treated as a curiosit$, forced to perfor! shows for public a!use!ent, until the ro$alt$ of this nation learn of his presence. ?uring the ti!e #ulli er spends at this court, he relates !uch of the situation of Europe to the king, who listens with !uch eagerness. #ulli er tells us4 I would hide the frailties and defor!ities of !$ political !other, and place her irtues and beauties in the !ost ad antageous light. 7his was !$ sincere endea or in those !an$ discourses I had with that !ight$ !onarch, although it unfortunatel$ failed of success (II. ii.1@6+. 2owe er well he tried to speak of England, he did not !anage to tell onl$ &her irtues.& Instead, !uch of what he so faithfull$ speaks to the 8ing is actuall$ the ice and i!!oralit$ to be found in England. 7his is what the 8ing of 3robdingnag learns fro! #ulli er/s stories4 -$ little friend #rildrig, $ou ha e !ade a !ost ad!irable paneg$ric upon $our countr$' $ou ha e clearl$ pro ed that ignorance, idleness ice !a$ so!eti!es be the onl$ ingredients for 6ualif$ing a legislator' that laws are best e1plained, interpreted, and applied b$ those whose interests and abilities lie in per erting the! ... I a! dwell disposed to hope $ou !a$ hitherto ha e escaped !an$ ices of $our countr$. 3ut b$ what I ha e gathered fro! $our own relation ... I cannot but conclude the bulk of $our nati es to be the !ost pernicious race of little odious er!in that e er suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth (II. i.1@.A1@*+. #ulli er e1cuses the 8ing for these re!arks, belie ing that &great allowances should be gi en to a king who li es wholl$ secluded fro! the rest of the world& (II. ii.1@6+. 5lthough the reader !a$ find the king to be correct, #ulli er does not, e en though he should &ad!it that the workings of the parlia!entar$ go ern!ent is itiated b$ the

!ethod of selecting peers ... so that ... the original idea of the institution is /blurred and blotted b$ corruptions& (:irth 1<+, and so Swift !ust take hi! on another o$age to shed light upon the !atter for hi!. 3efore e!barking on his third o$age, #ulli er returns ho!e. 2owe er, he is &confounded at the sight of so !an$ p$g!ies, for such I took the! to be,& speaking of the !en who rescued hi!, ha ing for so long been accusto!ed to iewing people !an$ ti!es his own si,e (II. iii.17<+. 7he$ return hi! ho!e' howe er, #ulli er/s restless spirit will not allow hi! to re!ain long. 5gain he left ho!e, and this ti!e he ended up in the real! of "aputa, the floating island. 2is first i!pression of the people is not er$ good' for although the$ are highl$ skilled in !athe!atics, #ulli er has &not seen a !ore clu!s$, awkward, and unhand$ people, nor so slow and perple1ed in their conception of other sub0ects& (III.ii.1>1+. 3$ this point in the stor$, Swifts own iews of hu!anit$ begin to show through #ulli er, as #ulli er relates, &3ut rather I take this 6ualit$ to spring fro! a er$ co!!on infir!it$ of hu!an nature& (III.ii.1>2+. #ulli er doesn/t re!ain long on the island of "aputa. 2e instead goes down to the surface, and in ti!e !akes his wa$ to #lubbdubdrib, the Island of Sorcerers. 7he #o ernor of this island allows #ulli er to listen to nu!erous people fro! histor$, both the distant and near past. In this place, #ulli er co!es faceAtoAface with the negati e aspects of hu!an nature. =p to this point, he began to see these 6ualities' now, he is directl$ confronted with the! as he listens to the great !en of the past. &I was chiefl$ disgusted with !odern histor$,& #ulli er tells, and &2ow low an opinion I had of hu!an wisdo! and integrit$, when I was trul$ infor!ed& (III. iii.2.6+. Swift, b$ &drawing our attention repeatedl$ to this idea of stead$ hu!an degeneration and the natural depra it$ of hu!an nature, Swift see!s to suggest broadl$ that !an !ust reali,e that he is degenerate in order to stri e for !oral regeneration& ("ee 11>+. 5t this point in the stor$, #ulli er, as well as the reader, are plainl$ aware of Swift/s understanding of hu!an nature and his negati e iew of it. It is during #ulli er/s fourth 0ourne$ that Swift/s satire reaches its pinnacle, where &Swift put his !ost biting, hard lines, that speak against not onl$ the go ern!ent, but hu!an nature itself& (#licks!an+. In this 0ourne$, #ulli er co!es to the land of the 2ou$hnhn!s, which are creatures that look like horses but ha e the abilit$ to reason. 5lso in this land are the Bahoos, of which #ulli er could onl$ sa$ that &=pon the whole, I ne er beheld in all !$ tra els so disagreeable an ani!al, nor one against which I naturall$ concei ed so strong an antipath$& (IC.i.26.+. ;ith great iron$, Swift brings #ulli er into contact with a Bahoo once again. &-$ horror and astonish!ent are not to be described, when I obser ed in this abdo!inal ani!al a perfect hu!an figure& (IC.ii.26>A 27<+. Indeed, #ulli er finds that the onl$ difference between hi!self and the Bahoo to be the Bahoo/s lack of cleanliness and clothes' otherwise, a Bahoo would be indistinguishabl$ hu!an. ;ith this line, Swift/s satire achie es its goal, and shows that the flaws of hu!anit$ are o erwhel!ing, and let to continue, result in a total degradation of the hu!an. 7aken on four o$ages, #ulli er/s ulti!ate tra els are to a greater understanding of hu!an nature and its flaws. -atthew "e $ argues that as the & isited societ$& has an effect on #ulli er, &he no longer can be said to function as a constant or i!partial

!easure& ("e $ 2+' howe er, this is the point4 that #ulli er/s perceptions change, and so do his narrations, as a result, and through this Swift can con e$ his satire and social co!!entar$. 5fter the first o$age, his i!age of hu!anit$ is little changed, likewise for the 2nd, although after this point, #ulli er/s i!age steadil$ declines until the fourth o$age, when he !eets the Bahoos. In this wa$, Swift presents his co!!entar$ on the hu!an condition through Gulliver's Travels.

Works Cited
:irth, D.2. &7he %olitical Significance of Gulliver's Travels.& "ondon4 O1ford =ni ersit$ %ress, 1>1>. #licks!an, ?a id. Gulliver's Travels. Internet docu!ent. http4EEwww.csulb.eduEFperceptEcacEsigkidsEgulli!l. 1>>*. "ee, Jae Gu!. Swift and Scatological Satire. 5lbu6uer6ue4 =ni ersit$ of Gew -e1ico %ress, 1>71. "e $, -atthew. &-easure!ent, Iron$, and the #rotest6ue in Gulliver's Travels.& Internet docu!ent. http4EEwww.uta.eduEenglishEdabEbaudEfatalE!!l. 1>>@. -urr$, J. -iddleton. Swift. "ondon4 :. -ildner H Sons, 1>7<. )eill$, %atrick. &7he ?isplaced %erson.& -odern Dritical Interpretations4 Gulliver's Travels. Gew Bork4 Bale =ni ersit$ %ress, 1>96. )odino, )ichard 2. &7he Stud$ of Gulliver's Travels, %ast and %resent.& Dritical 5pproaches to 7eaching Swift. Gew Bork4 5-S %ress, 1>>2. Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver's Travels. -ahwah, GJ4 ;ater!ill %ress, 1>9..