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Is Gulliver's Travels an example of Menippean Satire?

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p-2 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted August 27, 2012 at 8:27 AM via web

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Is Gulliver's Travels an example of Menippean Satire?

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

Posted September 18, 2012 at 8:42 PM (Answer #1)

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A Menippean Satire is a work that uses fictional elements to satirize mental attitudes instead of people or things (Wikipedia). By using the structure of a fictional story, the writer is able to demonstrate satire without preaching or lecturing, instead allowing the reader to understand the satire through fictional events and places. Gulliver's Travels is an excellent example of a Menippean Satire, placing the everyman Gulliver into increasingly strange situations and having him try to explain his own society in a positive light. After hearing stories of England, the king of Brobdingnag comments:

"...I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth."
(Swift, Gulliver's Travels, gutenberg.org)

This reaction to the seemingly-normal explanations given by Gulliver act as the author's commentary through surrogates. Those who speak with Gulliver often think themselves superior, either in society or in manners, and since Gulliver only speaks the simple truth about his society, the reader is at pains to disagree. The social attitudes of each society are strange, but they seem to function far better than the otherwise-normal English society of the book; Swift attacks lazy thinking and irrational, emotional arguments from both sides, leaving the Houyhnhnm society the only one with which Gulliver is entirely enamored.

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