In the book Gulliver's Travels, what satire is tied to a specific place or time in history and what satire is universal?

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lusie0520 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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In Gulliver’s Travels, an example of satire tied to a specific time and place is the story of breaking eggs. The Lilliputian Secretary of Private Affairs is telling Gulliver the story of the reason the Lilliputians changed the way they break their eggs. Prior to this, they had always broken their eggs at the larger end. One day, the present king’s grandfather (a boy at the time) cut his finger while breaking his egg this way. As a result, his father proclaimed that Lilliputians would break their egg at the smaller end. In the way of satire, of course, the real story has nothing to do with breaking eggs. The true story, tied to a specific time and place in history, is the story of England (Lilliput) breaking away from the Catholic Church. England (Lilliput) created its own church, and Blefuscu (France) continued to worship as Catholics. This caused many conflicts between the two countries.

A good example of universal satire is the discussion Gulliver has with the King of Brobdingnag about social and cultural institutions. During this time, Gulliver is showing off his country to the king, but the king is quite disgusted. Gulliver tells him about government, the church, and even war. The king concludes that: “…the bulk of your natives to be the pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the earth.” The satire here is not specific to any one time and place, but it is clear that Jonathan Swift, in having Gulliver describe how the “greatness” of his company, is in fact showing the reader that it is not so great, after all.

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