The chief object of satire in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ is Gulliver himself
Frequently, at the time of writing, literature was used as a political tool.It was used to send messages, make people think, and to make subversive criticism of monarchy, political parties, or religious factions.To do this effectively, the author uses much satire and irony throughout the novel.
The whole of Gulliver’s Travels is ironical. The Englishman in the strange land surrounded by miniature beings is no more than an outsider. In the first book, the reader sees themselves as one of these miniature beings.
In the second book Gulliver is overwhelmingly human, with human weakness, distorting the truth, and human strengths, the positive oration. In the last book the situational satire moves beyond our feeling comfortable with it. In this book there is a complete transposition of horse and man. We see a civilisation that is pure and rational. Fraud, deceit, illness, or greet have not influenced it. Jonathan Swift writes of all social injustices and personal discomfort. Often the writing is with biting sarcasm but sometimes with violent explosions of anger, frequently with quiet ridicule.
However he does this, the intention is the same and he urges the reader to really think about the effect of these views. The author intends that even the most far-fetched of his characters is meant to remind the reader of human weaknesses; lust, barbarism, pride and conceit. Often, Swift gives the reader direct comparisons. Two good examples of these are the people in the Court at Lilliput and their antics to procure promotion, and the people in the Academy at Lagado and their time consuming and worthless research.
As the reader travels through each book the humanity becomes more degenerate and despicable and the reader is left to face himself or herself in the Yahoo, whereas the well-bred horse portrays the superior, sensitive, intelligent and virtuous characteristics. In the world of Lilliput we view with some amusement how meaningless the lives at court are. The ceremonies become silly, the awarding of honours meaningless, and the political differences completely comic when we consider such rivalry over which end an egg is eaten from.
The whole ‘seriousness’ of Lilliput is reduced to merely a sideshow where the reader sees the action for what it really is; nonsense. An alternative environment, that is Brobdingnag, suggests a complete contrast. The tiny become giants and we see things from exactly the opposite perspective. The close-up pictures of skin, nipples and food repulse the reader and we are left to question how we judge beauty and elegance. Other people become physically unattractive to Gulliver in Brobdingnag, just as he himself became socially and intellectually unattractive in Lilliput.
In the former, the characters and ridiculed, in the latter it is a society as a whole which is held up to the ridicule. Ironically, now Gulliver is twelve times smaller, it is his people who are ridiculed by the King of Brobdingnag, just as he, Gulliver, has ridiculed the antics of the Lilliputians. Books one and two reverse the perspectives completely. Gulliver is a Brobdingnagian in Lilliput. Here among miniature men he witnesses their spite and envy. Contrary to this, Gulliver is a Lilliputian in Brobdingnag and witnesses, despite his fears, the generosity and benevolence of the giants.
Indeed it is only in this book where Gulliver holds a tender relationship with Glumdalclitch, in an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ kind of way. The use of the sizing up and down by a factor of twelve demonstrates the inconsequence of size and focuses us back to the fact that we are what we believe, not how we eat or live in physical term. Only wisdom, integrity, honesty and loyalty are independent of size. In book three Swift turns his attention to these virtues or lack of them. The focus of Laputa is intellectual and cognitive. In book three the reader needs to consider four main areas of satire.
Swift attacks the false learning and bizarre research by making the projectors eccentric and obsessive. He uses the oppression of Balnibari by Laputa to remind the reader of Anglo-Irish issues. He refers to unrewarded efforts and political corruption and even the desire for eternal life by using the Struldbuggs. In the fourth book the reader is given a contrast, awful in its extremities. The human Yahoo with its bestiality is compared to the horse-like Houhunhnms who display virtues far above those observed in human society.
The satire in this book is aimed at the Yahoos: Swift uses them as a device to explain how awful the human race really is. The comparisons are individual and in political groups. The comparisons are frequently odious, and in some cases indecent. Swift uses all of skills in his power to demonstrate the gross behaviour or the human being. Gulliver himself plays a more prominent part in Books one and two. He is treated ceremoniously and with high regard by the Lilliputians, and with affection by the Brobdingnagians who regard him almost as an interesting pet.
The high regard held by the Lilliputians is not seen in book three where the Laputans quite simply ignore him. The only interaction he has in book three is with the academics of Lagardo, and then only to demonstrate the magical understanding these people seem to have of life and logic. By book four, Gulliver is looked upon suspiciously, almost with disgust as he is regarded as a kind of Yahoo. Gulliver is portrayed as an honest, educated man determined to earn a living as a ship’s surgeon at sea. He is philosophical about the adventures and mishaps he encounters.
He faces the new and wonderful people with genuine interest and relays details refreshingly and without malice. It is Gulliver’s attention to detail with gives the reader an insight into the wonderful worlds that Gulliver visits. We see, hear and experience through Gulliver’s senses. It is this which helps us to decide very effectively about Gulliver’s personality, his likes and dislikes, his joys and fears, his morality and political preferences. Gulliver has a sense of honour; he has left his family in order to provide for them. He is reminded of his oath to the Emperor and feels embarrassed when he is publicly displayed.
His respect for royalty is witnessed with his dealings with the princess. Gulliver gently kisses her hand and bends low. This is linked with his sense of patriotism; for Gulliver, England is best. When he explains to the King about England, he tends to ignore the weaknesses of the English system of law and government. We know Gulliver is interested by politics, frequently holding conversations on biased appointments, irrelevant wars and dishonest elections. We also learn he has anti-militaristic views and is especially critical of people who fight simply for money.
Yet despite this view we learn that Gulliver himself must have been trained to use hand sword, staff and pistols because he uses all these effectively on his journeys. Gulliver is above all else a good conversationalist, always ready to ask and answer questions, he has an enquiring mind and is keen to learn. This is evidenced by his learning new languages, his ability to make accurate measurements and his interest in history. Gulliver takes easily to all spheres of society, whether it be Emperor or King, tradesman or servant.
He is always ready to give helpful advice and help with problems where he thinks it will be valued. If the reader has one criticism of Gulliver, it is that he does not seem to have deep affection for his wife and child. The reader is told in book four ‘I left my poor wife big with child’ and when he returns home she kisses him and Gulliver is appalled, ‘having not been used to the touch of that odious animal for many years’. Indeed, he clearly leaves the adventures for a warm relationship with the inhabitants of his stable. About his groom, Gulliver says ‘I feel my spirits revived by the smell he contracts in the stable’.
Gulliver is used as narrator; his view is innocent, unemotional, clearly focused and unambiguous. At the same time as the observations we are allowed an insight into Gulliver’s (or Swift’s) opinions. Gulliver, educated and rational, inspires out confidence from the first. He supplies the reader with detailed observations that add to the verisimilitude of the plot. Generally he portrays the scene in a positive light, and wishes to be perceived in the same way; an example of this is when Gulliver displays his clemency by sparing the ruffians and is commended for his actions at court.
Gulliver has impeccable and genteel manners, made laughable by the differences in size in both Lilliput and Brobdingnag. Swift uses Gulliver as an example of a ‘good’ human being, but throughout the book we are continually asked to question how good human beings really are. Gulliver horrifies the King with the secret of gunpowder yet is horrified that promotions in Lilliput rely on whether the applicant has gymnastic skills. In Book four it is Yahoo skins Gulliver uses for his canoe not the horse skins in common use by his civilisation.
Swift uses Gulliver to deny accusations or to embarrassingly embellish an argument only to give us an even clearer understanding of the human frailties being portrayed. So the ‘innocent’ Gulliver is used as a catalyst to allow the reader a deeper understanding of issues. An example of this is clothing, which is all that distinguishes Gulliver from the Yahoo. Gulliver is used to deliver a technique or verbal irony. In Book one, we are told of the Emperor’s qualities, all of which are the opposite of George’s characteristics. In Book two Gulliver’s praise of his country is overexaggerated, and therefore lacks credibility.
Very often one seemingly credible paragraph is followed by another, which makes us reconsider what we have already read. This is a particular device in Book four which engages the reader to reflect upon what they have read. An example of this is when Gulliver explains what horses are used for in England, and in doing so, shocks the Houyhnhnms. Gulliver is also used to shock and embarrass the reader. Gulliver urinates and moves his bowels all in graphic detail. He describes his being stripped naked and riding upon one of the nipples of a Maid of Honour.
He describes the texture of skin and obscene eating habits in magnified detail and culminates in a graphic portrayal of the yahoos. Swift makes us stop to reflect upon the unspoken natural moments of our lives which link us to animals more than we care to admit. Indeed most readers identify, as Gulliver did, with the Houyhnhnms. This must be the absolute irony, as irony is impossible in the Houyhnhnms’ society because ‘the thing which is not’ is not meant as a deception. In book four the satirical ingredient is sarcasm and the grey ‘master’ frequently uses this. He describes the Yahoo as ‘a sort of animal’.