Swift's Use of Humor in Term Paper

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Now he is to be punished for his good deed: "...the said Quinbus Flestrin, in open breach of the said law, under colour of extinguishing the fire kindled in the apartment of his Majesty's most dear imperial consort, did maliciously, traitorously, and devilishly, by discharge of his urine, put out the said fire..." Article II stated "That, the said Quinbus Flestrin having brought the imperial fleet of Blefuscu into the royal port and being afterwards commanded by his Imperial Majesty to seize all the other ships...and reduce that empire to a province, to be governed by a vice-roy from hence; and to destroy and put to death not only all the Big-Endian exiles, but likewise all the people of that empire, who would not immediately forsake the Big-Endian heresy: he... like a false traitor against his most auspicious serene, Imperial Majesty, did petition to be excused...: In Article III he is accused of helping Blefuscu's ambassadors to make peace. In Article IV he is accused of planning to aid and abett the Emperor of Blefuscu.

These passages are funny because they mimic legal language so closely and because their purpose is to persecute the innocent Gulliver instead of rewarding him.

This is a ludricrous turn in the story but not outside the realm of possible, even today.

Only today, the politician's enemies get the attention of the media, and the media does the persecuting for them.

On might think from all this that the Lilliputians had great power over Gulliver. However, one must remember they are tiny people (less than 3") and Gulliver is giant size to them, tremendously bigger and physically more powerful. Their power, Swift shows, lies in the fact that Gulliver gives it to them. It could be argued that all power is gained by consent of the governed. The nature of power is such that it depends for its influence on those who accept it. This applies to evil power as well as to benevolent power. Just think, Hitler gained power completely legally -- he was elected by the people. Likewise, Gulliver makes himself docile and obedient to the Lilliputians. And of course, they are not evil. Swift presents Lilliputian government as sensible and ideal in contrast to English rule: "There are some laws and customs in this empire very peculiar; and if they were not so directly contrary to those of my own dear country I should be tempted to say a little in their justification." He goes on to describe improvements that could be made to English law:

All crimes against the State are punished here with the utmost severity, but if the person accused make his innocence plainly to appear upon his trial, the accuser is immediately put to an ignominious death; and out of his goods or lands, the innocent person is quadruply recompensed for the loss of his time, for the danger he underwent, for the hardship of his imprisonment, and for all the charges he hath been at in making his defense. or, if that fund be deficient, it is largely supplied by the Crown. The Emperor doth also confer on him some public mark of his favour; and proclamation is made of his innocence through the whole city (p. 51).

This passage marks the beginning of a long list of legal reforms which include rewards for good citizenship:

Whoever can...bring sufficient proof that he hath strictly observed the laws of his country for seventy-three moons hath a claim to certain privileges, according to his quality and condition of life, with a proportionable sum of money out of a fund appropriated for that use; he likewise acquires the title of Snilpall, or Legal, which is added to his name, but doth not descend to his posterity. And these thought it a prodigious defect of policy among us, when I told them that our laws were enforced only by penalties, without any mention of reward.

Lilliputians chose their government officials for the good morals rather than their abilities. According to Swift, "sublime genius" is not required for good government; in fact, in an ideal government (like Lilliput's) "mistakes committed by ignorance in a virtuous disposition would never be of such fatal consequence to the public weal as the practices of a man whose inclinations led him to be corrupt, and who had great abilities to manage, to multiply and defend his corruptions (p. 52).

One of the funniest chapters in the book occurs in Part III, Chapter V, when Gulliver goes to visit an island inhabited by intellectuals, thinkers, philosophers, scientists, and inventors. These people have one inward eye and one eye straight upward. They are so engaged in thought they need a "flap," a person who walks with them and alerts them to danger and things that need attention. Again, Swift uses hyperbole (plus, incongruity) to achieve the desired hilarity. Gulliver notes that the island where the thinkers live is poorly developed, the people are in rags and ill-nourished, and none of the fields produce crops because everybody is too busy thinking to actually accomplish anything practical. One man, who lives some distance away and does things the old way, apologizes for the beauty, order, and prosperity on his farm. He isn't keeping up with the others who are more inventive and innovative than he. Then, Gulliver is invited to attend the Academy and describes the scientific projects going on: "The first man...had been eight years upon a project for extracting sun-beams out of cucumbers; which were to be put into vials, hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the air in raw inclement summers." This attempt to capture solar energy is made all the more ridiculous when the researcher asks for donations because this was a very expensive season for cucumbers (p. 158).

In another room a "horrible stink" nearly drives Gulliver away. He learns the professor, the oldest and most esteemed inhabitant of the Academy, is engaged in a project "to reduce human excrement to its original food, by separating the several parts, removing the tincture it receives from the gall; making the odor exhale, and scumming off the saliva" (p. 158). The usefulness of this is not explained. Another was busy trying to turn ice into gun powder, and "a most ingenious architect...had contrived a new method for building houses, by beginning at the roof and working downwards to the foundation..." A blind man was mixing colors for painters by feel and smell and was "much encouraged and esteemed by the whole fraternity." All these are Swift's examples of useless and frivolous research, the kind today's Congress, if it found out, would argue over. Some would say it was valuable; others would deem it a waste of the taxpayer's money. Swift admits that some research, if improved upon, could have practical value some day:

was highly pleased with a projector who had found a device of ploughing the ground with hogs, to save the charges of ploughs, cattle, and labour...in an acre of ground you bury...a quantity of acorns, dates, chestnuts, and other masts or vegetables, whereof these animals are fondest; then you drive six hundred or more of them into the field, where in a few days they will root up the whole ground in search of their food, and make it fit for sowing, at the same time manuring it with their dung (p. 159).

Although they don't bury food, organic farmers today often send the pigs in to "root," that is, to turn up the soil and fertilize it before planting.

Swift describes another project to employ spiders instead of worms to make silk. The color of the silk would be determined by what was fed the spiders. This reminds me of a disatrous experiment made in the 19th century in New England when a researcher imported gypsy moth catapillars to mate with silk worms and produce a superior silk. The catepillars escaped from the laboratory, and no one would listen to the alarmed researcher when he predicted the results. With no natural enemies they moved across the country, multiplying into colonies, and eating the leaves off the trees, denuding entire forests. it's a picture Swift himself might have drawn about the human propensity to "try things," to take things to their limit despite the consequences, and the shrugging attitude everyone else took at the time.

In the same chapter Swift goes to great lengths making fun of doctors and medical treatment:

was complaining of a small fit of the colic; upon which my conductor led me into a room where a great physician resided, who was famous for curing that disease..." Gulliver reports. From there, we learn what the doctor wanted to do: "He had a large pair of bellows with a long slender muzzle of ivory: this he conveyed eight inches up the anus, and, drawing in the wind, he affirmed he could make the guts as lank as a dried bladder. But when the disease was…[continue]

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