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OBJECTS OF SWIFT’S SATIRE IN “GULLIVER’S TRAVELS”:

Political Satire in Part I of the Book:

In part I we find Swift satirizing the manner in which political offices were distributed
among the candidates by the English King in Swift’s time. Flimnap, the treasurer, represents
Sir Robert Walpole who was the prime minister of England from 1715 to 1716 and then again
from 1721 to 1742. Dancing on a tight rope symbolizes Walpole’s skill in parliamentary tactics
and political intrigues. Similarly, Reldresal represents Lord Carteret who was appointed by
Walpole to the office of the Lieutenant of Ireland.

The ancient temple in which Gulliver is housed In Lilliput probably refers to Westminster Hall
in which Charles I had been condemned to death. The three fine silk threads which were
awarded as prizes to the winners of various contests refer to the various distinctions which
were conferred by the English King on his favourites.

Satirical References to Queen Anne:

Gulliver’s account of the anger of the Empress of Lilliput at his having extinguished a
fire in her apartment is Swift’s satirical way of describing Queen Anne’s annoyance with him
for having written “A Tale of a Tub” in which Swift had attacked religious abuses but which
had been misinterpreted by the Queen as an attack on religion itself.

Satire on Religious Strife and on Political Factions:

Swift’s satire becomes more amusing when Gulliver speaks of the conflict between the
Big-Endians and the Little-Endians in Lilliput. It is funny that while one party believes that
boiled eggs should be broken at the big end, the other party insists on breaking the eggs at
the smaller end. In this account Swift is ridiculing the conflicts between the Roman Catholics
and the Protestants. He is making fun of hair-splitting theological disputes. Swift also pokes
fun at the political parties in England when he speaks of the two factions in Lilliput.

Satire on the Coarseness of the Human Body:

In part II, the satire becomes general. Here, Gulliver first gives us his reaction to the
coarseness and ugliness of the human body. We meet the people of Brobdingnag who are
giants in stature and who thus present a glaring contrast to the pigmies of Lilliput. If, in the
description of the Lilliputians, Swift was looking at mankind through the wrong end of a
telescope, in his account of the Brobdingnagians he is looking at mankind through the
magnifying glass. We are particularly repelled by the description of the huge, monstrous
breasts of a woman which are revealed when she begins to suckle her child.

Satire on Human Pride and Pretension:

When Gulliver has given to the King an account of the life in his own country, of the
trade, the wars, the conflicts in religion, the political parties, the King has a hearty laugh and
asks Gulliver whether the latter is a Whig or Tory. When the King passed a remark how
contemptible a thing is human grandeur which could be mimicked by such small insects as
Gulliver. In other words, the King mocks at the human race of which Gulliver is a
representative. Swift is here ridiculing human pride and pretensions.

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A Satirical Description of Beggars:

The description of beggars whom Gulliver happens to see in the metropolis of this
country is intended as a satire on the beggars who actually existed in the city of Dublin. The
sight is, indeed, horrible and disgusting. Among the beggars is a woman with a cancer in her
breast, there is a man with a large tumor in his neck; another beggar has wooden leg, each
about twenty feet high. But the most hateful sight is that of the lice crawling on their clothes.
The description reinforces swift’s view of the ugliness and foulness of the human body.

Satire on Theoreticians and Academics in Part III:

The satire in part III is not so bitter as in the closing chapters of part II. The satire in
part III is, indeed, light-hearted. Here Swift amuses us by making fun of the people whose sole
interests are music and geometry and who do not even have time to make love with their
wives. We are also amused by the strange projects at the Academy in Lagado. The projectors
here are busy finding methods to extracts sunbeams out of cucumbers, to convert human
excrement into its original food, to build houses from the roof downwards to the foundation,
to obtain silk from cobwebs. All this was intended as a satire on the kind of work the Royal
Society in England was doing in those days.

Satire on Historians and Critics:

There are two other noteworthy targets of satire in part III. Swift satirizes historians
and literary critics through Gulliver’s interviews with the ghosts of the famous dead. The
point of the satire here is that historians often distort facts and even authors like Homer and
Aristotle.

The Satirical Portrayal of the Yahoos in Part IV:

Part IV of “Gulliver’s Travels” contains some of the most biting and offensive
satire on mankind. In this part the Yahoos are intended to represent human beings.
The very initial description of the Yahoos given to us by Gulliver is repellent. Gulliver
describes them as abominable, and he is both astonished and horrified on seeing the
physical resemblance between them and persons of his own race. By contrast with
the Yahoos, the Houyhnhnms are noble and benevolent animals who are governed by
reason and who lead an orderly life. It is indeed a bitter criticism of the human race
to represent the Houyhnhnms as being superior mentally and morally to the human
beings.

Gulliver’s reaction to what he has seen in the land of the Houyhnhnms fills him with
so much admiration for them and with so much hatred for the human race that he
has no desire even to return to his family. The reaction shows that Gulliver has
become a complete misanthrope and cynic and swift wanted to focus our attention
through Gulliver’s reaction. Gulliver concludes his account with a severe
condemnation of human pride, so that pride may be regarded as yet another target
of Swift’s satire in his book.

Written & Composed BY:

Prof. A.R. Somroo (Cell: 03339971417)

M.A. English, M.A. Education

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