Gulliver’s Travels as a political satire
Political satire is a kind of satire that specially concentrates on gaining amusement from political aspects. That device is used with a subversive intent where political discord and discussion are prohibited by an administration, as a way of continuing political arguments where arguments are expressly prohibited. Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels is mainly a political satire, the aim of which is to knock the prevailing vices, corruption, treasons, lusts for power and wealth, etc. of the politicians and monarchs in England. Jonathan Swift severely criticizes the politics in English through a number of symbolic characters whom Gulliver meets throughout his journey. This article aims at dealing with the satirical aspects of Gulliver’s first couple of voyages.
Gulliver’s Travels as a political satire
The hierarchical structure
In part I, A Voyage to Lilliput, Jonathan Swift satirizes the king. He presents the king is taller than other Lilliputian people, which is considered as his natural supremacy. So, naturally, he is superior to others. Here he satirizes the concept of the natural greatness of a king. In England, the belief has been such that the king is naturally greater than others, and the greatness is given to him the God, which is a divine decision. Nobody can challenge him as the position has been given to him by God. It is a hierarchical structure called “The Great Chain of Being” where God is at the top, then comes the king, then humanity, then animals, and then the mean creature like insects. The concept of “The Great Chain of Being” is satirized by Swift. Swift, through Gulliver who said, He is taller by almost the breadth of my nail. This comparison provides the element of mockery. Actually, Swift wants to say that there is no such thing as the natural superiority of the king rather, he is naturally equal to others.
By comparing the lavish lifestyle of the royal family members with a petticoat, Swift exhibits a terrible satire. Royal families do luxury on the production of the subjects. They never get connected with any sort of production. So, indirectly they are a kind of parasite. They live on others shoulders. So, they should not express pride, and that is what Swift is trying to convey here.
Swift ridicules the army of Lilliputians through the description of the army’s parade between Gulliver’s legs. Having military power, a country can boast of its strength. But Swift wants to say that there might be factors on this planet which are way superior to the military power. For instance, in front of disease, natural calamities, etc. the power of the army is nothing. Suppose, if a Tsunami occurs, what will be the use of those nuclear weapons? So, in that picture, when Swift puts Gulliver and the army together in the scene, it can be conceived that there is no reason behind the hubris of Lilliput.
The outlook and administrative ability of the king
Another ridiculous element Swift infuses lies amidst the thinking of Lilliputian king. He thinks that by winning against Blefuscu, he will become the owner of the world. It is a funny matter since the Lilliputian king believes that the world is comprised of only two countries. So he has got a very narrow outlook about the world. With that narrow outlook, he expresses pride, and that is what Swift ridicules. Swift also ridicules the ability of the kings that they see and judge with the eyes of their minister. They do not use their own conscience, which makes them parasite even in the matter of administration as well.
Mr Flimnap and his wife
Mr Flimnap is also ridiculed by the rumour that Gulliver is having an affair with Flimnap’s wife. Another satire the readers can find in the incident of catching fire at the Queen’s palace. Gulliver urinates to extinguish the fire since he does not have any other option left. At that, the Queen becomes acutely annoyed. Here Swift indicates the incident of satirizing Queen Anne in his Tale of a Tub so that she stops the war between Catholic and Protestant. But Queen Anne did not conceive that and got annoyed.
Another satirical example Swift shows through the event of the rope dance. The system to select officials for public office is very different in Lilliput from other community. To get selected, a person must have to take part in “rope dancing” and have to put the best of his caliber, and the best performer secures the position in the higher office: this diversion is only practiced by those persons who are candidates for great employments and high favor at court. Despite not following such an absurd way to select public officials, the nations in Europe in Swift’s time period did not choose public officers in terms of their skills or abilities or potentials, rather on how potentially a candidate could be able to fill the right pockets with cash.
The nature of war
Swift also ridicules the absurd nature of war. He first encounters the war, the subject-matter of which is the method of breaking an egg. One of the former kings snatched the right of private preferences away from his subject through ordering his subjects to break the egg from the lower end, in lieu of breaking it from the middle part. Swift compares this criterion to the conditions where an authoritative authority suppresses his people through setting everything according to his own choice. It also demonstrates the way a ridiculous, simplistic activity can create war. The war sustains generation after generation since the people continued fighting without really understanding the reason behind it. Some of the men tried to thwart, and they were ended up as refugees in Blefuscu, and “for six and thirty moons past” both the sides have been at war. According to Swift, Lilliput is similar to England, and Blefuscu to France. Through that incident of the story, Swift satirizes the worthless dispute and war between both the nations.
In the second part, A Voyage to Brobdingnag, the readers can find that Swift through the scientists of the Brobdingnag ridicules the scientists of the West. The Brobdingnag scientist, after researching on Gulliver says that Gulliver must be an embryo, but others disagree. At last, they manage to come to an agreement that he is a wimp of nature. Identically, western scientists also provide conclusions which are ridiculous as well, which proves that the scientists are unable to do any remarkable invention.
To conclude, Gulliver’s Travels is rich in both content and meanings. Throughout the four parts, satires are both implicitly and explicitly constructed, and among them, the first couple of parts are discussed in the article. The eminence of this novel does not expressly lodge in Swiftian satire. It is exactly like, Swift provided a mirror through which humans can see their own flaws lie underneath them.
The Use of Satire in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels
Jonathan Swift’s story, Gulliver’s Travels is very complex, with several layers of meaning. He is a master satirist, and Gulliver’s Travels is both humorous and critical. He critiques almost every aspect of life, from the writings of his times to the politics. He also satirizes more encompassing topics that are still relevant today, such as the human condition, and the desire for overcoming inferior instincts. The first satire we see in the story comes from chapter one, where it begins as a typical travel record of the time.
We are provided with a description of Gulliver’s education to establish his position in society, which would have resembled a real travel log at the time. This style is continued throughout the novel, which strengthens the satire. The factual way in which the story is told makes it seem much more realistic than if it was written in a fanciful way. The satire of the story would be ruined if it did not seem truthful or accurate because it would be irrelevant, but the factual style reinforces the satirical elements. Gulliver’s Travels was written at a time of exploration and expansion.
England had a formidable fleet of ships, and people visited many new places, discovering new plants, new animals, new places, and most importantly, new people. Colonization had begun in 1607, and when Swift was writing, it would have just been gaining in popularity, and there would have been a keen interest in the new people found there. The new and radically different people that Gulliver encounters, such as the Lilliputians, are a direct reflection of the cultural differences of the new people being encountered. The entire basis for the satire is the difference in the way that Gulliver sees the world compared to the way the reader sees it.
Gulliver is naive and gullible, obviously why he is named Gulliver in the first place. He is an honest man, and believes what he is told. He also expects others to be honest. Gulliver is the third son of an unimportant man. He is a good man, but unimaginative and unemotional. He was born in Nottinghamshire, a nice, but boring place. He attended Emmanuel College, a respected, but not ivy-league school. Gulliver is depicted as a typical, unextraordinary middle-class man. This was not so Swift’s readers would identify with Gulliver, it is to make him seem more real, and more like everyone else.
We aren’t meant to relate to Gulliver, instead we are meant to view the things he encounters through his eyes, and form our own, contrasting opinions about them. Whatever we read from Gulliver’s point of view is accurate, and we know that Gulliver is not always going to understand the meaning of what he sees. As a result, each scene is written from Gulliver’s point of view. We receive a detailed, exact account of what goes on, devoid of any emotions, because Gulliver is very methodical. This contrasts with the situations as the reader interprets them, and is very often quite humorous.
For example, Gulliver remains captive to the Lilliputians, when
he could easily escape and crush them with a single stomp of his foot. Swift makes the Lilliputians seem pretty ridiculous, having Gulliver compare them to dolls. They are six inches high, but they strut around as if they were full-sized men. They consider themselves to be very important and majestic. Gulliver certainly regards them as being terribly imposing, while the reader sees them as being quite silly. By having Gulliver take these tiny people seriously, Swift paints a satiric image that cannot be missed by the reader.
The Lilliputians turn out to be cruel and manipulative, and unaware of their own insignificance compared to Gulliver. He could easily destroy them all. This is a clear critique of the human desire for power and significance. Swift is making fun of humanity’s belief in its own importance. Jonathan Swift satirizes government and people in general when the Lilliputians take an inventory of Gulliver’s belongings. It is a terribly serious matter of great importance. The Lilliputians very carefully list each of Gulliver’s belongings, and describe them in great detail.
This contrasts with the simplicity of the actual items, making a mockery of the Lilliputians taking the task so seriously. This is a critique of all people who take themselves too seriously, and have delusions about their own importance. Gulliver’s Travels is a satirical masterpiece with many levels of meaning. On one hand, it is realistic and accurate true life story of travel and adventure, and on the other hand it is a purely fictional fairy tale. Beneath this, it is a caustic satire of Europe at the time and humanity in general, which is why it retains a timeless quality that everyone can relate to.
Author: Gene Jeremiah
Controversial and Banned Books
Why These Controversial Novels Were Censored and Banned
- M.A., English Literature, California State University – Sacramento
- B.A., English, California State University – Sacramento
Books are banned every day. Do you know some of the most famous examples of books that have been censored? Do you know why they’ve been challenged or banned. This list highlights some of the most famous books that have been been banned, censored or challenged. Take a look!
“Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain
Published in 1884, “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain has been banned on social grounds. Concord Public Library called the book “trash suitable only for the slums,” when it first banned the novel in 1885. The references to and treatment of African Americans in the novel reflect the time about which it was written, but some critics have thought such language inappropriate for study and reading in schools and libraries.
“Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank
“Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl” is an important work from World War II. It chronicles the experiences of a young Jewish girl, Anne Frank, as she lives under Nazi occupation. She hides with her family, but she is eventually discovered and sent to a concentration camp (where she died). This book was banned for passages that were considered “sexually offensive,” as well as for the tragic nature of the book, which some readers felt was a “real downer.”
“The Arabian Nights”
“The Arabian Nights” is a collection of tales, which has been banned by Arab governments. Various editions of “The Arabian Nights” were also banned by the U.S. government under the Comstock Law of 1873.
“The Awakening” by Kate Chopin
Kate Chopin’s novel, “The Awakening” (1899), is the famous tale of Edna Pontellier, who leaves her family, commits adultery, and begins to rediscover her true self — as an artist. Such an awakening is not easy, nor is it socially acceptable (particularly at the time the book was published). The book was criticized for being immoral and scandalous. After this novel was met with such scathing reviews, Chopin never wrote another novel. “The Awakening” is now considered an important work in feminist literature.
“The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath
“The Bell Jar” is the only novel by Sylvia Plath, and it is famous not only because it offers shocking insight into her mind and art, but also because it is a coming-of-age story — told in the first person by Esther Greenwood, who struggles with mental illness. Esther’s suicide attempts made the book a target for book censors. (The book has been repeatedly banned and challenged for its controversial content.)
“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley
Published in 1932, Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” has been banned with complaints about the language used, as well morality issues. “Brave New World” is a satirical novel, with a stringent division of the classes, drugs, and free love. The book was banned in Ireland in 1932, and the book has been banned and challenged in schools and libraries across the United States. One complaint was that the novel “centered around negative activity.”
“The Call of the Wild” by Jack London
Published by American author Jack London in 1903, “The Call of the Wild” tells the story of a dog who reverts to his primordial impulses in the frigid wilds of the Yukon territory. The book is a popular piece for study in American literature classrooms (sometimes read in conjunction with “Walden” and “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”). The novel was banned in Yugoslavia and Italy. In Yugoslavia, the complaint was that the book was “too radical.”
“The Color Purple” by Alice Walker
“The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker, received the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, but the book has been frequently challenged and banned for what has been termed “sexual and social explicitness.” The novel involves sexual assault and abuse. Despite the controversies concerning this title, the book was made into a motion picture.
“Candide” by Voltaire
Published in 1759, Voltaire’s “Candide” was banned by the Catholic Church. Bishop Etienne Antoine wrote: “We prohibit, under canonical law, the printing or sale of these books. “
“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger
First published in 1951, “The Catcher in the Rye” details 48 hours in the life of Holden Caulfield. The novel is the only novel-length work by J.D. Salinger, and its history has been colorful. “The Catcher in the Rye” is famous as the most censored, banned and challenged book between 1966 and 1975 for being “obscene,” with an “excess of vulgar language, sexual scenes, and things concerning moral issues.”
“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” is about book burning and censorship (the title refers to the temperature at which paper burns), but the topic hasn’t saved the novel from its own exposure to controversy and censorship. Several words and phrases (for example, “hell” and “damn”) in the book have been deemed inappropriate and/or objectionable.
“The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck
“The Grapes of Wrath” is a great American epic novel by John Steinbeck. It depicts a family’s journey from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl to California in search for a new life. Because of its vivid portrayal of a family during the Great Depression, the novel is often used in American literature and history classrooms. The book has been banned and challenged for “vulgar” language. Parents have also objected to “inappropriate sexual references.”
“Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift
“Gulliver’s Travels” is a famous satirical novel by Jonathan Swift, but the work has also been banned for the displays of madness, the public urination, and other controversial topics. Here, we are transported to through the dystopian experiences of Lemuel Gulliver, as he sees giants, talking horses, cities in the sky, and much more. The book was originally censored because of the politically sensitive references Swift makes in his novel. “Gulliver’s Travels” was also banned in Ireland for being “wicked and obscene.” William Makepeace Thackeray said of the book that it was “horrible, shameful, blasphemous, filthy in word, filthy in thought.”
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou‘s autobiographical novel “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” has been banned on sexual grounds (specifically, the book mentions her rape, when she was a young girl). In Kansas, parents attempted to ban the book, based on the “vulgar language, sexual explicitness, or violent imagery that is gratuitously employed.” “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is a coming-of-age story that’s packed with unforgettable poetic passages.
“James and the Giant Peach” by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl’s noted book “James and the Giant Peach” has been frequently challenged and banned for its content, including the abuse that James experiences. Others have claimed that the book promotes alcohol and drug use, that it contains inappropriate language, and that it encourages disobedience to parents.
“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” by D.H. Lawrence
Published in 1928, D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” has been banned for its sexually explicit nature. Lawrence wrote three versions of the novel.
“A Light in the Attic” by Shel Silverstein
“A Light in the Attic,” by poet and artist Shel Silverstein, is beloved by readers young and old. It has also been banned because of “suggestive illustrations.” One library also claimed that the book “glorified Satan, suicide and cannibalism, and also encouraged children to be disobedient.”
“Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
By the time that William Golding’s novel “Lord of the Flies” was finally published in 1954, it had already been turned down by more than 20 publishers. The book is about a group of schoolboys who create their own civilization. Despite the fact that “Lord of the Flies” was a bestseller, the novel has been banned and challenged — based on the “excessive violence and bad language.” For his body of work, William Golding received the Nobel Prize for literature and he was knighted.
“Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert
Published in 1857, Gustave Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” was banned on sexual grounds. In the trial, Imperial Advocate Ernest Pinard said, “No gauze for him, no veils — he gives us nature in all her nudity and crudity.” Madame Bovary is a woman full of dreams — without any hope of finding a reality that will fulfill them. She marries a provincial doctor, tries to find love in all the wrong places, and eventually brings about her own ruination. In the end, she escapes in the only way she knows how. This novel is an exploration of the life of a woman who dreams too large. Here adultery and other actions have been controversial.
“Moll Flanders” by Daniel Defoe
Published in 1722, Daniel Defoe’s “Moll Flanders” was one of the earliest novels. The book dramatically depicts the life and misadventures of a young girl who becomes a prostitute. The book has been challenged on sexual grounds.
“Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck
Published in 1937, John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” has been frequently banned on social grounds. The book has been called “offensive” and “vulgar” because of the language and characterization. Each of the characters in “Of Mice and Men” is affected by physical, emotional or mental limitations. In the end, the American Dream is not enough. One of the most controversial topics in the book is euthanasia.
“The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Published in 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” was censored on sexual grounds. The book has been challenged under claims that it is “pornographic and obscene.” The story centers around Hester Prynne, a young Puritan woman with an illegitimate child. Hester is ostracized and marked with the scarlet letter “A.” Because of her illicit affair and the resulting child, the book has been controversial.
“Song of Solomon” by Toni Morrison
Published in 1977, “Song of Solomon” is a novel by Toni Morrison, Nobel laureate in literature. The book has been controversial on social and sexual grounds. References to African Americans have been controversial; also a parent in Georgia claimed it was “filthy and inappropriate.” Variously, “Song of Solomon” has been called “filth,” “trash,” and “repulsive.”
“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
“To Kill a Mockingbird” is the only novel by Harper Lee. The book has been frequently banned and challenged on sexual and social grounds. Not only does the novel discuss racial issues in the South, but the book involves a White attorney, Atticus Finch, defending a Black man against rape charges (and all that such a defense entails). The central character is a young girl (Scout Finch) in a coming-of-age story — fraught with social and psychological issues.
“Ulysses” by James Joyce
Published in 1918, James Joyce’s “Ulysses” was banned on sexual grounds. Leopold Bloom sees a woman on the seashore, and his actions during that event have been considered controversial. Also, Bloom thinks about his wife’s affair as he walks through Dublin on a famous day, now known as Bloomsday. In 1922, 500 copies of the book were burned by the United States Postal Service.
“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Published in 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was controversial. When President Lincoln saw Stowe, he purportedly said, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war.” The novel has been been banned for language concerns, as well as on social grounds. The book has been controversial for its portrayal of African Americans.
“A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle
“A Wrinkle in Time,” by Madeleine L’Engle, is a mix of science fiction and fantasy. It’s the first in a series of books, which also includes “A Wind in the Door,” “A Swiftly Tilting Planet,” and “Many Waters.” The award-winning “A Wrinkle in Time” is a bestselling classic, which has also stirred up more than its fair share of controversy. The book is on the Most Challenged Books of 1990-2000 book list — based on claims of offensive language and religiously objectionable content (for references to crystal balls, demons, and witches).