Gulliver's Travels-Satire

Jhova

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In 1726, Jonathan Swift published a book for English readers. Primarily, however, Gulliver’s Travels is a work of satire. “Gulliver is neither a fully developed character nor even an altogether distinguishable persona; rather, he is a satiric device enabling Swift to score satirical points” (Rodino 124). Indeed, whereas the work begins with more specific satire, attacking perhaps one political machine or aimed at one particular custom in each instance, it finishes with “the most savage onslaught on humanity ever written” (Murry 3) satirizing the whole human condition. In order to convey this satire, Gulliver is taken on four adventures, driven by fate, a restless spirit, and the pen of Swift. Gulliver’s first journey takes him to the Land of Lilliput, where he finds himself a giant among six-inch tall beings. His next journey brings him to Brobdingnag, where his situation is reversed: now he is the midget in a land of giants. His third journey leads him to Laputa, the floating island, inhabited by strange (although similarly sized) beings who derive their whole culture from music and mathematics. Gulliver’s fourth and final journey places him in the land of the Houyhnhnms, a society of intelligent, reasoning horses. As Swift leads Gulliver on these four fantastical journeys, Gulliver’s perceptions of himself and the people and things around him change, giving Swift ample opportunity to inject into the story both irony and satire of the England of his day and of the human condition. On the surface, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels seems to be a travel log of one man, Lemuel Gulliver, on four fantastic journeys. But on a deeper look, it is a biting work of satire aimed at the vast majority of humanity.

Swift ties his satire closely with Gulliver’s perceptions and adventures. In Gulliver’s first adventure, he begins on a ship that runs aground on a submerged rock. He swims to land, and when he awakens, he finds himself tied down to the ground, and surrounded by tiny people, the

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Lilliputians. “Irony is present from the start in the simultaneous recreation of Gulliver as giant and prisoner” (Reilly 167). Gulliver is surprised “at the intrepidity of these diminutive mortals, who dare venture to mount and walk upon my body” (Swift 16), but he admires this quality in them. Gulliver eventually learns their language, and arranges a contract with them for his freedom. However, he is bound by this agreement to protect Lilliput from invasion by the people of Blefuscu. The Lilliputians relate to him the following story: In Lilliput, years ago, people once broke eggs on the big end. However, the present king’s grandfather once cut himself breaking the egg in this manner, so the King at the time, the father of the present king’s grandfather, issued an edict that all were to break the eggs on the small end. Some of the people resisted, and they found refuge in Blefuscu, and “for six and thirty moons past” ( Swift 48), the two sides have been at war. Of course, to Gulliver, such an argument would be completely ridiculous, for he could hardly distinguish the difference in the ends of their eggs. For Swift, Lilliput is analogous to England, and Blefuscu to France. With this event of the story swift satirizes the needless bickering and fighting between the two nations.

Also vehicles of Swift’s satire were the peculiar customs of the nation of Liliput. The methods of selecting people for public office in Lilliput are very different from those of any other nation, or rather, would appear to be so at first. In order to be chosen, a man must “ rope dance” to the best of his abilities; the best rope-dancer receives the higher office. While no nation of Europe in Swift’s time followed such an absurd practice, they did not choose public officers on skill, but rather on how well the candidate could line the right pockets with money. Gulliver also tells of their custom of burying “their dead with their heads directly downwards... The learned among them confess the absurdity of this doctrine, but the practice still continues” (Swift 60). At

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this point in the story, Gulliver has not yet realized that by seeing the absurdity of the Lilliputians’ traditions, that he might see the absurdity in European ones.