Gulliver's giant feet walking in the diminuative forest of the lilliputians

Gulliver's Travels

by Jonathan Swift

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Discuss Gulliver's Travels as a political satire.

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Gulliver's Travels contains many elements that make it a political satire. The political parties of Lilliput stand in for political parties in Britain, which were dysfunctionally opposed at the time of Swift's writing. Swift condemns the government's inability to accomplish any of its duties. In Part III, Swift questions the use of science without ethics and higher ideals by examining the society of Laputa. The work is meant to criticize eighteenth-century Europe, and beyond that, human nature.

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One satirical element in Gulliver’s Travels can be found in Part I, in the two rival political parties of the fictional kingdom of Lilliput – the Tramecksan and the Slamecksan. The groups are supposed to symbolize Britain’s High Church Tories and Low Church Whigs, respectively:

...animosities between these parties run so high, that they will neither eat nor drink, nor talk with each other

In depicting the escalating conflict between the Tramecksans and the Slamecksans, Swift does not mean to favor or hail one over the other. He means to convey that the rift between political parties causes members from both camps to lose sight of their own morals and ideals. They put the welfare of the party above all else.

Another satirical element that can be found in Lilliput is the unusual way they elect people into public office – through a “rope dance” contest, in which the best dancer is given the most political power:

The learned among them confess the absurdity of this doctrine, but the practice still continues.

While there was no practice quite this absurd in Britain in Swift’s time, Swift wrote of the dance competition to convey how most elections become pageants or popularity contents. The public tends to judge the candidates according to likeability or popularity rather than skill or aptitude.

In Part III, meanwhile, a prominent satirical element can be found in the portrayal of the fictional island of Laputa. The citizens of Laputa excel greatly in science, technology, and the humanities. However, they do not use their aptitude or skills in service of humanity. The name Laputa, translates directly from Spanish to “the whore”, which signifies how science, revered by the citizens of Laputa as a divine goddess, is actually a mere “whore”.

There are many, many satirical elements to be found in Gulliver’s Travels, as Swift intended for it to be a satire of not only the whole of 1700s Europe but the corrupt nature of humanity.

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Discuss Gulliver's Travels as a satire.  

Satire pokes fun at social problems and human weaknesses, often using exaggeration.

In Gulliver's Travels, Swift pokes fun at the human tendency to equate physical beauty with moral beauty and physical ugliness with being a morally bad person. The tiny, dainty, pretty Lilliputians seem doll-like and good at first but turn out to be petty, nasty, cruel, and vindictive people who focus on trivial things. The huge and therefore ugly people of Brobdingnag are actually more kind and compassionate (though not excessively so). The king, for instance, is quite shocked as the naive Gulliver earnestly describes the way war is waged in Europe with bombs and guns.

Gulliver's trip to the Grand Academy at Lagado, where he witnesses vast resources spent on useless experiments, such as making marble soft so it can be used in pillows and trying to extract sunlight from cucumbers, satirizes the experiments going on in the British Royal Society.

The rational society of the Houyhnhnms, who are horses, and the barbaric, savage society of the human Yahoos that the Houyhnhnms despise satires human pretensions of being civilized and better than other animals. The Houyhnhnms actually behave with much greater rationality than either Yahoos or European humans and are shocked by the behavior Gulliver describes in Europeans. However, Swift also satirizes the extreme rationalism and lack of human emotion in the Houyhnhnms. Finally, Swift pokes fun at Gulliver's behavior in going overboard in his extreme reaction to being back in England, such as his wanting to sleep in a stable and talk to horses.

These are just a few examples of satire in Gulliver's Travels: the work is many layered and satirizes both the broader human condition and specific political events of his time.

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Discuss Gulliver's Travels as a satire.  

Satire is a literary device used to expose the shortcomings of individuals, governments, and societies. Authors may use satire in the form of humor, insults, hyperbole, understatement, and ridicule to reinforce particular points. Swift certainly uses satire in Gulliver's Travels to give vent to his frustrations about volatile human nature, inept governments, and biased scientists. For this question, I will discuss Swift's satire against pointless religious or politically-based conflicts.

In the book, Swift satirizes the political enmity between France and England through his recounting of Gulliver's experiences in Lilliput. There, Gulliver finds that he is the only giant in a land of tiny inhabitants. He is captured by his curious hosts but manages to earn his release after his petitions for liberty are accepted by the Lilliputian government. Part of the terms of his release involves his responsibility of fighting for Lilliput should it be attacked by Blefuscu, Lilliput's sworn enemy.

In this first part of Gulliver's journey, Swift satirizes the long enmity between England and France on the global stage, Tories and Whigs in the English parliament, and Protestants and Catholics within England's social structure. He criticizes the absurd and pointless antagonism between these parties by offering up ridiculous rationales for them. For example, the enmity between Big-Endians and Little-Endians is based on arbitrary differences about the correct way to crack hard-boiled eggs. Because his son cut his hand while breaking his eggs on the big end, the previous emperor of Lilliput stipulated that everyone must crack their eggs on the small end. Many Lilliputians disagreed and rebelled; at least 11,000 rebels were executed, and many sought refuge in Blefuscu.

Swift uses the ridiculous arguments about big ends and little ends to satirize the equally absurd enmity between the Protestants and Catholics of his time. Catholic monarchs like Queen Mary 1 ("Bloody Mary") executed Protestants during her reign, and the Protestant Queen Elizabeth, although initially tolerant of Catholics, turned against those very subjects when a faction of devout Catholics challenged her right to the English throne. It seemed that the main point of contention between Protestants and Catholics arose from differences in worship.

The Catholics differed from the Protestants in their beliefs about how communion should be celebrated, whether priests should be intermediaries between God and man, whether church services should be held in Latin or the language of the people, or whether priests should remain celibate or marry. Swift felt that it was absurd for both sides to war against the other based on such inconsequential differences. In the story, he draws attention to the absurdity of religious wars by offering up a spurious theological reason for the schism between Big-Endians and Little-Endians. At the heart of the conflict is a disagreement about the right way to interpret certain religious principles.

During the course of these troubles, the emperors of Blefuscu did frequently expostulate by their ambassadors, accusing us of making a schism in religion, by offending against a fundamental doctrine of our great prophet Lustrog, in the fifty-fourth chapter of the Blundecral (which is their Alcoran). This, however, is thought to be a mere strain upon the text; for the words are these: ‘that all true believers break their eggs at the convenient end.’ 

Likewise, Swift satirizes the enmity between Tories and Whigs by highlighting the ridiculous rationale behind the Tramecksan and Slamecksan hostilities. So, the above examples represent some of Swift's many satires throughout Gulliver's Travels.

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Discuss Gulliver's Travels as a satire.  

There simply isn't enough room here to fully discuss GT as a satire.  That having been said, Gulliver's Travels satirizes many things in English society.  A "satire" makes fun of things by making them seem absurd.

Swift does this with every day life (the Lilliputs who aregue about which end of the egg to break--the big end or the little end), politicians (the Lilliputs who walk tight ropes to get positions, etc.), science (the residents of the flying island who consider themselves so intelligent and scientific that they have to whop each other with nerf bats to get their attention), and basic human behavior (the hyoughnyms...horses... who are much more logical and positive than the yahoos...people).

There are many other issues that are targeted in order to draw attention to them as ridiculous, outrageous, or simply something that should be addressed or improved in society.  Check the link below to find some of the other targets of satire.

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Examine the novel Gulliver's Travels as a satire on humankind in general.

Gulliver's time with the Lilliputians really puts a spotlight on quite a few of humankind's flaws.  For example, the debate between the Big Endians and the Little Endians centers on which side of the egg a person should crack: it's completely ridiculous.  However, this conflict satirizes the wars between Catholics and Protestants in England at this time, making the violence seem both unnecessary and ridiculous.  Why should it affect me if you want to crack your egg on the other side than I do?  It doesn't.  Likewise, why should it affect you if I want to practice Protestantism and you are a Catholic?  It doesn't.  Humans, in general, have a tendency to fight over basic ways of life rather than simply live and let live.  A fair point.

In Brobdingnag, the king's perspective on Gulliver and his countrymen leads to some rather harsh, but fair, criticisms of humankind.  The king, having listened to Gulliver's tales of wars, religious schisms, political parties, etc., observes "how contemptible a Thing was human Grandeur."  He even makes fun of how seriously we take ourselves given how completely ridiculous we are.  He ends up believing that humankind is essentially "quarrelsome" and prone to all manner of sinful and hurtful behavior, and he refers to us as "little odious Vermin" who, frankly, contribute nothing of value to the earth at all.  

In the third book, Gulliver travels to many locations, each one satirizing humankind in a myriad of ways.  His visit to Laputa, for example, shows us to be selfish creatures who are so self-centered that we can get lost inside our heads and forget to even recognize the presence of another person (satirized by their need to have someone strike them in the face when it is their turn to speak, or the ear when they need to be sure to listen).  The experiments performed at the Academy of Lagado seem to satirize the Royal Society of London for encouraging misguided experiments that would amount to no real benefit for humankind, but that we seem to do because we forget that science should have some useful application.  In Luggnugg, he learns of humanity's error in wishing we could live forever when he meets the Struldbrugs, a race of miserable immortals who would rather die than live as they do; implication: we wish for things without considering their consequences.  

In the final book, the similarities between Yahoo and human should be a bit too close for comfort.  These disgusting creatures are the worst: they are so selfish that, even when there is more than enough food to go around, each will try to make off with as much as he or she can out of sheer greed.  They are unreasonably attracted to shiny objects and will kill their peers to obtain such an object of desire.  They are savage, odious animals that are worth little and contribute less.  All in all, a pretty harsh criticism of humanity, but not entirely without merit.

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