How are themes of authority addressed in Gulliver's Travels?

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belarafon | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Authority is one of the many topics that Swift satirizes in Gulliver's Travels. Lilliput is a direct parody of Britain during the 18th century, and Gulliver's interactions with the Lilliputian government provides much of the political satire in the book. For example, although Gulliver is seen as a hero after helping to defeat the Blefuscu navy, he is then suddenly tried for treason because he refuses to go ashore and wipe out their army. The Lilliputian royalty abuses their power simply because they can, not because it benefits their people or anyone else. The "kangaroo court" that convicts Gulliver is a classic example of ignoring truth for a desired outcome: 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 kindled in the said apartment...
(Swift, Gulliver's Travels, eNotes eText)

Gulliver, whose full bladder saved the lives of the royal family, is now persecuted under a law which should clearly be ignored in favor of his actions; however, because the court seeks to find him guilty, they ignore the outcome and focus only on the action itself, which violates a very trivial law. Throughout the novel, Gulliver finds himself controlled and captured by various people of authority, all of whom act as if he is an oddity to be displayed or a danger to be destroyed. Each type of authority Gulliver encounters acts in manners harmful to himself and to their own people, and none have the objectivity to think their decisions through before acting. The comparison of the British royalty and government, of which Swift was vocally critical, is both deliberate and sadly accurate.


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