Monday, August 8, 2011

Satiric Methods Used by Swift in Gulliver’s Travels

Question: Analyse and criticize the satiric methods used by Swift in Gulliver’s Travels.


Swift, in Gulliver’s Travels, adopt different methods and devices of satire, which includes both comic satire as well as corrosive satire. The most distinguished and outstanding satirists were the Romans, Horace and Juvenal. They represent two different modes of satire. Horace used to write comic satires, while Juvenal distinguished himself by writing sever and lashing satire. The comic satire always creates laughter, while in the other one, laughter is at the minimum, or it may be completely absent. Swift employs the corrosive type of satire, and makes use of the comic ones in order to refresh his readers.
We find several examples of comic satire in Gulliver’s Travels. In the first part of the book, the passage dealing with High-Heel and the Low-Heels, while describing the political conflict between the two political parties of England and the Big-endians and the Small-endians problem between the two religious fations are the best examples of a comic satire. In the same part, we read about Gulliver, who has deserved the highest gratitude from the Lilliputians, commits capital offence, when he urinates in the precincts of the royal palace in order to extinguish a fire, which breaks out in the place. Similarly “for refusing to seize all the ships of Blefuscu and put to death all the Big-endian exiles” is another example of corrosive satire in the first part of the book. Though the entire event creates laughter, but the court’s debate on how to dispose of Gulliver, basically belongs to the category of corrosive satire. This episode is the longest passage which deals with the climax of the first voyage, the attack is very bitter. In this passage, Swift exposes the hypocrisy, ingratitude and cruelty of the Lilliputian court, who gave a cruel verdict to blind Gulliver and to let him starve to death. That is why, the satire is extraordinarily bitter and corrosive. We also enjoy the scandal between Gulliver and the Lilliputian lady who is hardly six inches high and in his long defence Gulliver never mentions the difference in his own size with that of the Lilliputian lady.

In the second part of the book which deals with the Brobdingnag, we find quite interesting and mirthful descriptions, which increase the comic episodes and the corrosive satire carries far more weight than in part-I of the book. Because in this part, the comic effect is achieved, where people were like giants about sixty feet height, which is Lilliput in reverse. Everything was humiliating for Gulliver in this land. He was put in charge of a nine year old girl who grew very found of him. The girl was very good-natured. Her height was forty feet and she was considered to be undersized for her age. Gulliver, who is no bigger than a mouse in this land becomes famous throughout the country. In this way Gulliver is made a comic butt in several other episodes. The corrosive effect is achieved when the king of Brobdingnag discusses the mankind with Gulliver. The King describes the bulk of mankind as “the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that Nature has ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.” This is, without any doubt is a corrosive criticism, which the king of Brobdingnag ahs made against the mankind. It is definitely not comic. Gulliver positively expresses his great surprise and embarrassment, when he listens all this against his beloved country so abdly described. Even listening to these disgraceful remarks, Gulliver still suggests that the king may be given great allowance because he lives a scheduled life from the rest of the world. This comment further worsens the status of mankind. Swift does not stop with this much taunt and lashes another attack when Gulliver divulges the secret of gunpowder to the king who is completely horrified with its fatal results. He forbids Gullivers not to mention it again. Gulliver passes his most astonishing remarks that the king possesses short views and narrow principles.

When we turn over the pages of the book to its third part we find Gulliver in another strange country called Laputa. This is the funniest part of the book, especially when we come across “flappers” or servant who carry a blown bladder in their hands fastened to a short stick. It is done basically to attract the attention of their master who are intensely busy in their inventions and mathematical calculations. They can neither speak nor listen to others unless they are aroused by these flappers. This is all very comic and amusing. On the dinner table, there are different dishes, in which the mutton is cut into an equilateral triangle, pudding in geometrical shapes. What to speak of these descriptions, we are amused when the beauty of a woman is describe in geometrical terms such as circles and parallegrams. We are further surprised when their women indulge in extra-marital activities with the strangers in the presence of their husbands because they are so busy that they do not find time to make love to their wives. It is a social hit and at the same time a more corrosive than comic satire. We are further amused when we read about various projects being experimented at the academy in Lagado where research work is carried out how to extract sunbeams out of cucumber and silk out of cobwebs. Similarly, how to build houses from the roof downwards. This is a satire on the kind of work which the Royal Society in England was engaged in extremely stupid as well as useless projects in those days. Another corrosive satire is made by Swift when he tells us how a visitor wanting to meet the king had to creep on the floor and lick it when approaching the King. All this, in short is a satire on the human desire for immorality. It is passively a bitter satire.
The fourth part of the book is replete with corrosive satire deep and merciless. In his part, Swift divides the human nature in two parts. He shows Houyhnhnms (the horses) possessing reason and benevolence and on its contrary the Yahoos (the deformed human beings) as extraordinarily brutes. The satire would have been much less effective it the Houyhnhnms had been shown as a superior human race. The reader would not have felt himself inferior to Houyhnhnms.
Swift is realist in his approach, because there is more of the Yahoos in mankind than there is of benevolence and reason. Thus his attack becomes more forceful, when he knows and describes that there is much to be hated in the animal called man, but he never forgets that here are many loveable individuals among human beings. Gulliver’s physical sense of proportion was upset by his voyage to Lilliput and Brobdingnag, in the lands of midgets and giants, so in the land of Houyhnhnms and Yahoos, his intellectual sense of proportion is miserable overbalanced “The limited, simplified Houyhnhnms point of view is obviously better to him than the Yahoo state; and he clings to it. Swift can keep clear the double physical scale of Gulliver and giant; not so Gulliver. Similarly, Swift himself is convinced that he is a Yahoo.”

“A satire of Swift’s is… exhibited situation, or series of such situations… With a recognition of the situation as such comes a perception of the functional character of Swift’s favourite devices, which serve both in the creation of the situation and in the generation of the kinetic energy by which it is sustained. There at least five devices that strike us forcibly; drama by way of created characters; parody or at any rate the imitation of a specific literary genre; allegory the “myth”, and “discoveries, projects and machines.”


  1. More description this told me nothing about satire but was simply paraphrasing the book.

  2. A lot more is missing !