Analysis Pages

Satire in Gulliver's Travels

Satire Examples in Gulliver's Travels:


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"some relation between by the mother's side..."   (Introduction)

Here, the publisher means that Gulliver is a cousin by his mother’s side of the family. By having the publisher related to the protagonist (who’s narrating the story), Swift creates a tale that feels less imaginary and more like an actual travel narrative. As Swift sets out to parody a travel narrative, creating such a character helps him better satirize the genre.

"set us both a-sneezing for several times together..."   (Part I - Chapter II)

Swift further satirizes humans for their high-minded and enlightened self-perception by having the inhabitants of the island use elevated legal and scientific jargon when taking inventory of Gulliver’s ordinary possessions. The things he carries are basic, everyday objects, but the officers act as if their job is of extremely high importance.

" It is allowed on all hands that the primitive way of breaking eggs before we eat them was upon the larger end; but his present Majesty's grandfather while he was a boy, going to eat an egg, and breaking it according to the ancient practice, happened to cut one of his fingers..."   (Part I - Chapter IV)

These two nations that could have been allies are instead fighting each other in a continuous war. Swift illustrates the illogical nature of this by describing the hilariously ridiculous subject over which their feud is based upon—eggs. Swift uses satire to highlight the absurdity of war and conflict between nations. In this context, Swift is using Lilliput and Blefuscu as symbols for England and France, whose dispute, from an outsider’s perspective, might seem just as unnecessary.

" I plainly protested that I would never be an instrument of bringing a free and brave people into slavery..."   (Part I - Chapter V)

Swift illustrates Gulliver’s morality here, in that Gulliver refuses to use his strength and stature to enslave populations that are smaller or less powerful. Swift thus satirizes the immorality of the colonial mindset that assumed the cultures that were colonized to be inferior in an attempt to justify their actions.

"treason and other capital crimes..."   (Part I - Chapter VII)

Swift satirizes legal policy by creating a glaring contrast between the pretentious language of Lilliputian officials and their ludicrous accusations. People in power use elevated language to justify outrageous capital punishment unfitting for the crime in question.

" The short time I continued in England I made a considerable profit of my showing cattle to many persons of quality and others; and before I began my second voyage I sold them for six hundred pounds...."   (Part I - Chapter VIII)

Note that Gulliver profits from showing the Lilliputian animals to the British people as souvenirs and spectacles. Recall that Gulliver had even asked to bring some of the people of Lilliput back to England as well, but he was refused. Swift thus satirizes the colonialist mindset that reduces the people, animals, and customs of other cultures to mere spectacles.

"But, the most hateful sight of all was the lice crawling on their clothes..."   (Part II - Chapter IV)

The large size of the citizens means that their features are enormous to Gulliver. Gulliver can thus see all deformities in extreme detail, making the women seem grotesque. Note again, Swift’s emphasis on the flaws of the human body, which follows the theme that human grandiosity is an illusion and thus satirizes popular Enlightenment ideas.

"perfidiousness..."   (Part II - Chapter VI)

“Perfidy” means deceitfulness or untrustworthiness. By using an outsider’s perspective (that of the Brobdingnagian king), Swift can better satirize the irrational, hierarchical, or unjust nature of British cultural and political norms, during his time.

"Their style is clear, masculine, and smooth, but not florid; for they avoid nothing more than multiplying unnecessary words or using various expressions..."   (Part II - Chapter VII)

Swift uses the symbol of language again to satirize the elevated rhetoric in European societies. Flowery language contrasts the Brobdingnagian principles of practicality and efficiency. Knowledge is clear, communicable, and rife with useless convoluted language.

"His Majesty took not the least notice of us, although our entrance was not without sufficient noise, by the concourse of all persons belonging to the court. But he was then deep in a problem, and we attended at least an hour before he could solve it. ..."   (Part III - Chapter II)

The king is so consumed with his work that he takes no notice when someone comes to speak with him, even when it is a matter of great importance. The king’s apathy satirizes European governments that are so distracted by their own endeavors that they ignore the needs of the citizens.

"zenith..."   (Part III - Chapter II)

“Zenith” refers to the highest point in the sky directly above the viewer. Since the people on the floating island have one eye looking “inward” and one eye on Zenith, their eyes satirize scientific advancements like the microscope and the telescope. These people are always focused on the skies above or experiments, rather than on one another or what is in front of them.

"very little regarded...."   (Part III - Chapter IV)

The Laputans ignore Gulliver not out of malice, but because he does not have the specific kinds of knowledge that they value. Their intellectual curiosity only extends to a few studies that they deem worthy of exploration, illustrating their narrow-minded thinking. Swift satirizes the Enlightenment scholars of his time who were only “enlightened” in a narrow sense of the word.

"Six hours a day the young students were employed in this labor..."   (Part III - Chapter V)

It might seem utopian to devote so much time to furthering knowledge, but in their endless search for knowledge, this society alienates people and forces them to live in filth. Swift uses satire to illustrate that inventing things without using them to better lives is ridiculous.

"it was proposed that the members should raffle for employments, every man first taking an oath, and giving security that he would vote for the court, whether he won or no; after which the losers had, in their turn, the liberty of raffling upon the next vacancy..."   (Part III - Chapter VI)

The idea of choosing senators by raffle, and that conspirators can be located by examining their excrement, is absurd. Swift uses a hilariously extreme example to liken the reliability of English political appointments to a random raffle and to emphasize that the English government accuses citizens of treason based on outlandish claims.

"Ickpling gloffthrobb squut serumm blhiop mlashnalt zwin tnodbalkuffh slhiophad gurdlubh asht...."   (Part III - Chapter IX)

Gulliver has often said that he does not want to bore the reader with trivial details, but this seems like it might. Swift satirizes travel narratives by including an exceedingly long excerpt written in a fictional language that no reader would understand.

"Otherwise, as avarice is the necessary consequent of old age, those immortals would in time become proprietors of the whole nation, and engross the civil power, which, for want of abilities to manage, must end in the ruin of the public...."   (Part III - Chapter X)

Swift points out that we all like to imagine that if we were granted immortality, we would use it to benefit others. However, the immortals become selfish and only end up hurting their community in their quest for more and more. Swift uses the Struldbruggs as a symbol to satirize European society. The ruling class attempts to make their legacies immortal, and this can have harmful repercussions.

"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. ..."   (Part IV - Chapter V)

Here, Swift satirizes the Enlightenment perspective that advances in weaponry demonstrate human progress and intelligence. The Houyhnhnm leader questions whether European humans are actually capable of “reason” if they choose to go to war with one another over trivial matters and to create weapons capable of such destruction.

"if it be in things indifferent...."   (Part IV - Chapter V)

Swift satirizes European warfare by illustrating how extremely trivial matters lead to enormous bloodshed. By having Gulliver explain these matters to someone unfamiliar with Europe, the European readers at the time were able to view their own society somewhat from an outsider’s perspective. This not only showed how seem silly and unnecessary war is, but it also helps the Europeans see themselves from another point of view.

"Temperance, industry, exercise, and cleanliness are the lessons equally enjoined to the young ones of both sexes: and my master thought it monstrous in us to give the females a different kind of education from the males..."   (Part IV - Chapter VIII)

The Houyhnhnm society seems utopian in many ways, especially compared to the European society that Gulliver describes. Their government is democratic, egalitarian, and their education is accessible and equal for all genders. By showing the logic behind this utopian society, Swift satirizes European governments, whose values are skewed and only work to the benefit of the few rather than the many.

"I am not a little pleased that this work of mine can possibly meet with no censurers, for what objections can be made against a writer, who relates only plain facts that happened in such distant countries, where we have not the least interest with respect either to trade or negotiations?..."   (Part IV - Chapter XII)

Swift has explored the theme that truth and reality are subjective throughout most of the novel. Gulliver’s ardent insistence here that his book holds no bias whatsoever, and therefore is not subject to censure or fact-checking, is satirical. Gulliver may have attempted to write a narrative that is objective, but Swift again satirizes the assumption that writing can be completely objective. No writer can completely remove themselves from the limits of their own perspective.

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