Jonathan Swift's use of satire in his story "Gulliver's Travels" is not only a useful employment of its best purposes but perhaps also the only way to craft this type of critical argument. Critical thought towards society and its class structure has always been art's most powerful trait. Swift's literature is used in this manner in his famous story. The purpose of this essay is to examine Swift's use of satire in his attempts to socially comment on his environment. This essay will give several examples of this approach in the story and relate these instances into the larger theme of the author's style and approach.
Example 1: Gulliver's First Discovery
Swift's 1726 story, Gulliver's Travels was written from the standpoint of a naval shipping surgeon or doctor named Lemuel Gulliver. Gulliver is an eager and open minded middle class English gentlemen married without any children. The story begins as Gulliver takes a job on ship. The ship and crew is lost at sea and Gulliver's adventures begin.
This story explains of four of his journeys into remote and mostly fictional parts of the world. At the time Jonathan Swift wrote this story, the increase in exploration of all parts of the world and their accompanying stories of travels were very popular during this time in history. The travels Swift wrote about were obviously fictional and satirical, but were presented as if they were a factual account written by Gulliver himself.
Gulliver's first adventure begins when he is washed up on sea after his shipwreck. He had slept very well and this deep sleep begins to form Swift's satirical approach. The sleeping Gulliver represents the audience, unaware and asleep to the elites of society and their influence. The good doctor represents those in society who are good hearted people and maybe a little bit too naive.
The strange new environment Gulliver has washed upon is a land inhabited by people who are six inches tall. The name of this land is called Lilliput. The initial reaction of the little people of Lilliput demonstrates the futility of the elite trying to control the great beast, or the masses. This is clearly a satirical approach by Swift to demonstrate the diminished behavior of his targeted enemy.
Swift's description of the manner in which Gulliver is tied down also represents a symbolic and satirical meaning. The words and allusions are specific: "I felt above a hundred arrows discharged on my left hand, which, pricked me like so many needles; and besides, they shot another flight into the air, as we do bombs in Europe, whereof many, I suppose, fell on my body, (though I felt them not), and some on my face, which I immediately covered with my left hand. When this shower of arrows was over, I fell a groaning with grief and pain; and then striving again to get loose, they discharged another volley larger than the first, and some of them attempted with spears to stick me in the sides; but by good luck I had on a buff jerkin, which they could not pierce." The author does not mince words when he is discussing the violent and war-torn status the Europe has been dealing with for most of recorded history.
Lilliput's rival kingdom, Blefuscu are very much at war throughout this story. The warring kingdoms are interchangeable and it is their manners themselves that Gulliver finds so remarkably similar. As Gulliver is noting their society, political and judicial systems, religious arguments and disputes, and violent conflicts of total war, it becomes obvious that European politicians and nobles share much of the irrationality of the Lilliputians.
The time comes when Gulliver is eventually forced to leave this land. When Gulliver is evacuate, it is because of trumped-up charges of treason fabricated by some of his newly found enemies. In response, Gulliver decides to go to the other side and allies himself with those in Lilliput's arch enemy's land Blefuscu. Gulliver transcends his situation by leaving there however as well. Swift uses Gulliver again to demonstrate the power of choice and the silliness of rigid social political structures.
Example 2: Gulliver Goes to Brodingnag
It appears that Swift was not content telling his satirical ideas from only one point-of-view. In order for Gulliver, and hence the readers or target audience, to fully understand the elitist affect on their actions, he needed to switch the perspective. Gulliver will now face the same events but described in a much smaller context.
Gulliver journeys to a land of giant people, much in the same proportion as Gulliver is to the Lilliputians. This giant land is called Brobdingnag. The roles have reversed and now he is experiencing what it feels like to be a Lilliputian. The Brodingnag giants are much larger than him along with all of their society and possessions. Gulliver is attacked by wasps and other forces of nature to help give context to what the depths of society can really feel like. Gulliver's various brushes with death are humorous and the main character appears to take them all in stride. Swift uses these examples to help reinforce the satirical aims of the story.
In this case we again see Swift's use of satire when Gulliver tries to show the Brobdingnagian king the greatness of England in a long and drawn out speech. This move backfires and only reveals the corrupt ways of his motherland. As Swift portrays English civilization as more complex and more technologically advanced than Brobdingnag, he also pointedly reveals that a large portion of the technology and resources England has is devoted to war and destruction. Similarly all of the complexity of law and government does nothing but allow for confusion and corruption to seep into these institutions.. Swift's satire has expanded in this section to cover the entire nation, and other European nations as well.
Example 3: Gulliver and the Houyhnhnms
Gulliver's final voyage is to a land of intelligent horses called Houyhnhnms, and beastly human-like creatures called Yahoos. In this depiction of the Yahoos, and the parallels he draws between their brutish behavior and that of humans, Swift expands his satire to the evils of the entire human race.
The bulk of the satire in the Voyage to the Houyhnhnms is aimed at human nature itself. This trend to more particular targets earlier in the story is continued with slight, but increasingly direct blows to the subjects of war. Swift uses the social icons of valor and patriotism to illustrate his point. Lawyers, who Swift claimed are "social parasites who measure their worth by their excellence at deception and therefore, actually inhibit justice" contribute to this disparity. Money is also a target of this satire, the greed of a few is fed by the labor and poverty of the many, as well as the relative uselessness and corruption of these privileged few. additionally, Swift makes some very forceful observations on imperialism in the concluding chapter which point out the conceit and self deception of European nations when they claim to civilize, through cruelty and oppression, groups of native people who were often mild and harmless. Certainly, as Swift implies, the real goal of imperialism is greed. The most ironic point occurs when the author disclaims that this attack on imperialist countries does not include Britain, which history shows was equally as brutal as its European rivals and, in many cases, even more so, considering its empire became at one time the biggest of any European country.
The perfectly coherent and virtuous Houyhnhnms provided a sharp contrast to the undecipherable Yahoos. This is evident when Swift has Gulliver voice that "the Houyhnhnms have no letters, and consequently their knowledge is all traditional. But there happening few events of any moment among a people so well united,…