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Monday, August 8, 2011

Satiric Methods Used by Swift in Gulliver’s Travels

Monday, August 8, 2011 - 3 Comments

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.”

Bacon as a Writer of Essays

Question: “They come home to men’s business and bosoms.” How far is this an apt description of the essays of Bacon? Illustrate your answer.

Question: Account for the great appeal of Bacon’s essays.

Question: Write a general note on Bacon as a writer of essays.

Answer: A glance at the titles of Bacon’s essays shows that, although quite a number of these essays were written for the benefit of kings, rulers courtiers, and statesmen, a fairly large number of them were written on subjects of popular interest. Essays Of Seditions and Troubles, Of Empire, Of the True Greatness of Kingdoms and Estatus, Of Suitors and Of Judicature belong to the former variety. But essays like Of Truth, Of Death, Of Revenge, Of Adversity, Of Parents and Children, Of Marriage and Single Life, Of Travel, and Of Friendship, deal with familiar subjects which make an immediate appeal to the average reader. Essays of this category certainly come home to men’s business and bosoms.
One important reason for the popular appeal of Bacon’s essays is that the ideas which he expresses are by no means deeply philosophical or abstruse. If the ideas were of an abstract or metaphysical nature, the average reader would not respond to them. But these are ideas which might be expressed by any man of ripe wisdom and vast experience of the world.
Secondly, Bacon illustrates and reinforces his ideas and arguments with appropriate similes, metaphors and quotations. These similes, metaphors and quotations naturally add to the popular appeal of the essays. Thirdly, Bacon frequently speaks in his essays as a moralist. Although people do not generally like too much of sermonising and preaching, yet judicious doses of morality are not only willingly accepted by readers but are positively welcome to them. Moral precepts and maxims embodying wisdom give the readers a feeling that they are becoming wise and morally nobler. They may not act upon the ethical principles which Bacon enunciates in his essays, but they derive a certain moral satisfaction by reading them and by appreciating their soundness.
Lastly, Bacon’s essays come home to men’s business and bosoms because of the condensed and pithy state in which he mostly writes. Again and again, the reader comes upon an aphoristic or epigrammatic sentence which startles and arrests him by its neatness and pregnancy. These are many gems of thought clothed in language that is effective because of its compactness and terseness.
Take the essay, Of Truth. It contains several ideas which immediately appeal to the reader because of their obvious truth to human nature. The reader quickly responds to such ideas because he at once recognises their validity. For instance, Bacon here tells us that human beings are generally attracted by lies. Lies told by poets in their poetry please the imagination; lies told by traders bring them financial gain; but why people should tell lies for the sake of lies is not clear. Bacon then goes on to say that truth gives greater pleasure when a lie has been added to it. If a man were to be deprived of his false opinions, false hopes, and false judgments, he would feel miserable.
Having expressed these views, Bacon speaks like a moralist and says that much harm is done by lies which sink into the mind and settle down there. Truth is the supreme good for human beings, he says. He quotes Lucretius who said that the greatest pleasure for a man was the realisation of truth. Continuing this moralising tone, Bacon says that truth is important not only in theological and philosophical fields, but also in the sphere of ordinary daily life. Falsehood, he says, brings nothing but disgrace. Now such ideas are bound to appeal even to a reader who, in his actual dealings, does not give a high place to truth.
Then there is the essay, Of Friendship. Who would not be interested in this subject? Bacon tells us some of the uses of friendship, illustrating his ideas with historical references to Sulla, Julius Caesar; Augustus Caesar, Tiberius Caesar, and Septimius Severus. He utters a psychological truth when he says that a man’s joy is greatly increased when he speaks about it to a friend and that his grief is greatly diminished when he imparts it to a friend. This essay also contains useful advice. For instance, Bacon asks us not to take counsel “by pieces” from all and sundry but to take it only from a friend who has been found to be sincere. An essay on the subject of friendship is bound to come home to men’s bosoms especially because the ideas expressed by Bacon confirm the reader’s own ideas on this subject.
The essay, Of Great Place, does not have the same popular appeal as the two essays mentioned above, Of Great Place appeals chiefly to men in high places. It is very useful for persons of this category. Bacon offers very sound advice to those occupying high positions, and warms them against the chief vices of authority. Here, too, Bacon lends weight to his argument with reference to two Roman emperors—Galba and Vespasian. Bacon gives advice that is practical when he says that a man may take side when he is still struggling to rise but that, having risen to a high position, he should become neutral. This essay, too, throws much light on human nature whereby it greatly adds to our knowledge. Here, again, Bacon appears as a moralist.
The essay, Of Studies, is extremely interesting. Here, again Bacon deals with a subject of popular interest. Bacon not only indicates the principal uses of studies but also tells us why and how we should read. Who can fail to appreciate Bacon’s remark that the wisdom gained from books is not enough but that it should be supplemented with practical experience of life?
Of Marriage and Single Life deals with the advantages and disadvantages of both the married and the single life. Here is an essay which cannot fail to interest either the married man or the single man. Bacon makes some interesting observations about the nature and behaviour of women in this essay. A chaste woman, he rightly says, feels proud of her chastity. A wife is faithful and obedient to her husband if she is impressed with his wisdom. No jealous husband can command his wife’s respect. It would be difficult for any reader to find fault with such observations. Indeed, the ideas expressed in this essay can be understood and appreciated even by the most ordinary reader. Bacon’s analysis of human nature here, as in his other essays, corresponds to well-known facts.
The essay, Of Suitors, pertains chiefly to conditions which prevailed in Bacon’s day. In spite of that, this essay has its value in our time also. It is full of worldly wisdom. It contains useful advice for those who undertake suits, for suitors, and for patrons. Bacon does not preach any ideal morality here. He is concerned only with how to achieve success in the undertaking of suits or in the promoting of suits. However, he does not show a complete disregard of morality. That is the kind of thing most readers want.
Much of the popularity of Bacon’s essays, as has already been indicated above, is due to his compact style. Many are the sentences in his essays that have the character of proverbs because such sentences express wisdom neatly in a pithy manner. A few examples of Bacon’s epigrammatic style will illustrate the great charm which his essays possess because of this particular quality of style.
1. “Certainly it is heaven upon earth to have a man’s mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the roles of truth.” (Of Truth)

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