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

Gulliver's Travels

by Jonathan Swift

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How does Jonathan Swift incorporate political satire in Gulliver's Travels?

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Political satire can be seen throughout Gulliver's Travels, so much so that Swift, fearing government reprisal, initially published the book anonymously. Indeed, the entire work can be seen as a parody of the travel and exploration narratives popular in the eighteenth century. Swift makes a point of skewering a number of political figures and institutions of his day. Flimnap, the Lilliputian politician, is usually understood to be a satire of Robert Walpole, the Whig politician associated with many of his political opponents (including Swift) with corruption. The conflict between the High and Low Heels in Lilliput is a pointed satire of the Whigs and Tories in eighteenth century England:

...for above seventy moons past there have been two struggling parties in this empire, under the names of Tramecksan and Slamecksan, from the high and low heels of their shoes, by which they distinguish themselves. It is alleged, indeed, that the high heels are most agreeable to our ancient constitution; but, however this be, his Majesty hath determined to make use only of low heels in the administration of the government and all offices in the gift of the crown...

Other satirical elements permeate the work. The gentle Houyhnhnms are intended to be a counterpoint not just to the Yahoos that they view as barbarians, but to England itself. Gulliver's description of English ways of life, particularly the endemic wars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, is met by the Houyhnhnm king with horror:

...although he hated the Yahoos of this country, yet he no more blamed them for their odious qualities than he did a gnnayh (a bird of prey) for its cruelty...But when a creature, pretending to reason, could be capable of such enormities, he dreaded lest the corruption of that faculty might be worse than brutality itself.

In the eyes of this gentle being, the actions of ostensibly reasonable man are absurd and decidedly unreasonable. Swift thus satirizes not only the politicians who wage wars, but the confidence in science and reason itself. This was a sentiment that he satirized throughout Gulliver's Travels, and in many of his other works. These are only two examples of political and intellectual satire in a work that is shot through with both, although many (but not all) of his references may be lost on readers not familiar with eighteenth-century British politics. 

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