Free Gulliver's Travels Essays: Hypocrisy in Government Exposed
Length: 2962 words (8.5 double-spaced pages)
Corruption of political systems in one of the primary themes in Gulliver's Travels. This corruption is a result of selfishness as well as the inability to see things from any other perspective rather than one’s own.
The first voyage of Gulliver takes him to the isle of Lilliput. There, he must play to a petty and ineffectual government. Swift uses several devices to highlight the Lilliputian stupidity. First, they are physically agile and graceful in comparison to Gulliver, who is portrayed as cumbersome and brutish.
When I found myself on my Feet, I looked about me, and must confess I never beheld a more entertaining Prospect. The Country round appeared like a continued Garden, and the inclosed Fields, which were generally Forty Foot square, resembled so many Beds of flowers. These Fields were intermingled with Woods of half a Stang, and the tallest Trees, as I could judge, appeared to be seven Foot high. I viewed the Town on my left Hand, which looked like the painted Scene of a City in a Theatre.
This passage is quickly followed by one expressing Gulliver's needs to "disburdenth" himself:
I had been for some Hours extremely pressed by the Necessities of Nature; which was no Wonder, it being almost two Days since I had last disburthened myself. I was under great Difficulties between Urgency and Shame. The best Expedient I could think on, was to creep into my House, which I accordingly did; and shutting the Gate after me, I went as far as the Length of my Chain would suffer, and discharged my Body of that uneasy Load.
By setting up this contrast (it is interesting to point out that this is the only time that Swift makes any reference to Gulliver's "needs") the reader begins to expect the Lilliput to have a higher form of society. When, later in the book (that is the first book of four), the Lilliputians show their true selfish nature it is more of a surprise to the reader because of the great buildup.
The very fact that this book is put into an adventure format is to lull the reader into believing Gulliver... of course, because Gulliver is Gullible this takes the reader straight to insanity at the end. Swift challenges the reader to make their own decision by taking them from right to wrong and asking them to, at some point, begin disagreeing with Gulliver.
Another point that shows hypocrisy in a system of government is the legal system. In the passage, Gulliver shows how mans lack of insight leads to a conflict with political election:
In chusing Persons for all Employments, they have more regard to good Morals than to great Abilities; for, since Government is necessary to Mankind, they believe-that the common Size of Human Understandings is fitted to some Station or other, and that Providence never intended to make the Management of publick Affairs a Mystery, to be comprehended only by a few Persons of sublime Genius, of which there seldom are three born in an Age: but they suppose Truth, Justice, Temperance, and the like, to be in every Man's power; the Practice of which Virtues, assisted by Experience and a good Intention, would qualify any Man for the service of his Country, except where a Course of Study is required.
Here, using an argument later used by Andrew Jackson to defend the spoils system he shows an idea commonly forgotten by European politicians as the go after their own greedy schemes. Also, this attack on Europe politics serves to keep the reader on their toes, for Swift is now satirizing both Gulliver, the Lilliputians, and Europe.
Gulliver blames the dances for the fall of Lilliputian law, but what do they represent? It shows how when an incumbent practice day and night to stay that way (by whatever means), his job goes by the wayside. This stems from a lack of empathy with the people, and personal greed for themselves.
In relating these and the following Laws, I would only be understood to mean the original Institutions, and not the most scandalous Corruptions into which these People are fallen by the degenerate Nature of Man. For as to that infamous Practice of acquiring great Employments by dancing on the Ropes, or Badges of Favour and Distinction by leaping over Sticks and creeping under them, the Reader is to observe, that they were first introduced by the Grand-father of the Emperor now reigning, and grew to the present height by the gradual increase of Party and Faction.
It also shows how one kings pride/ boredom/ absolute power eventually makes him care more about personal entertainment then the kingdom. Remember, in Swifts day these people would not be seen as a different culture (no one was) but would have been held to the same morals and political ideas, so it would not have been hard for Swift to bring them this way and that with a sentence or two.
Making Gulliver seem as normal as possible was very important; the reader should have no problem believing this if the book is to be successful in it goal because Gulliver is supposed to be the readers ride to insanity (the point is the abnormal things happen to the normal man). Swift does this in several ways, he makes Gulliver recount all the details of his trip, from the number and variety of food eaten to the housing. Also, Swift never lets us forget that he is just a normal man, even when doing extra-ordinary things:
While I was thus employed, the Enemy discharged several thousand Arrows, many of which stuck in my Hands and Face; and besides the excessive smart, gave me much disturbance in my Work. My greatest Apprehension was for mine Eyes, which I should have infallibly lost, if I had not suddenly thought of an Expedient. I kept among other little Necessarys a pair of Spectacles in a private Pocket, which, as I observed before, had scaped the Emperor's Searchers.
He is also careful to maintain strict observance to the relative size of the various objects and to make sure that they match accordingly.
The careful reader will also note the places where Imperial wording makes things seem better:
The Author by an extraordinary Stratagem prevents an Invasion. A high Title of Honour is conferred upon him. Embassadors arrive from the Emperor of Blefuscu, and sue for Peace. The Empress's Apartment on fire by an Accident; he Author instrumental I saving the rest of the Palace.
(although this isn't quoting the author proper, its better than the longer one I had prepared) Notice the word invasion. We can only assume that these summaries are by Gulliver himself, and that they reflect his views on the following sections. Taking this into account we can see the way he, and the king of Lilliput all use the word "invasion" hastily. There was no particular reason for destroying the enemy ship (other than the mountaineers "because they were there"). Searching through the text one can find no particular reference to an actual invasion anytime soon. They only had Gulliver destroy the fleet because they did not understand their views.
This, the two island separated by trivialities, perhaps mirrors the plight of England and France (two equal countries separated by water, speaking two languages that differ as much as any of Europe) and their inability to understand the others point of view. Swift tells us that the too islands are warring over which end of an egg should be broken first. Because each side is so closed-minded (and stuck in their point of view) they war. Drawing a more recent example; Cold-war U.S. and U.S.S.R relations (remember Ronald Reagan "evil empire?"). These are all examples of government leaders who are unwilling to see things from the others point of view and so are stuck in a never-ending competition.
The most obvious example that Swift brings us of uncompromising views creating conflict is found in the parts concerning the great egg schism:
Whereupon the Emperor his Father published an Edict, commanding all his Subjects, upon great Penaltys, to break the smaller End of their Eggs. The People so highly resented this Law, that our Historys tell us there have been six Rebellions raised on that account; wherein one Emperor lost his Life, and another his Crown...
...Many hundred large Volumes have been published upon this Controversy: But the books of the Big-Endians have been long forbidden, and the whole Party rendered incapable by Law of holding Employments...
...This, however, is thought to be a meer Strain upon the Text: For the Words are these: That all true Believers shall break their Eggs at the convenient End: and which is the convenient End, seems, in my humble Opinion, to be left to every Man's Conscience...
Gulliver is confronted by a society in which minor differences call for immediate war. By showing us the great religious difference are no more than an eggs width, Swift is trying to show how narrow-minded people can be.
Although they seem hospitable at first, Swift makes clear that they are acting only out of selfishness. When they find him on the beach they treat him as well as they can, but this is only to have him serve in their needs. In this section, they talk about compromising his health for their convince:
Sometimes they determined to starve me, or at least to shoot me in the Face and Hands with poisoned Arrows, which would soon dispatch me: But again they considered, that the Stench of so large a Carcass might produce a Plague in the Metropolis, and probably spread through the whole Kingdom.
Again, by setting the reader up with great expectations of the Lilliput, does Swift expose the thus said fall from grace.
Flimnap And Bolgolam are two examples where Swift shows closed views cause a duo's downfall. They view Gulliver with deep mistrust, and the more he does for the kingdom, the more they hate him. They finally cause him to leave and in securing their positions cause the greatest instrument of good for their people to leave. Swift is drawing a parallel between these two, and certain members of the whig party.
In his pride, and closed-mindedness the king of Lilliput wishes to make everyone his subject:
His Majesty desired I would take some other Opportunity of bringing all the rest of his Enemy's Ships into his Ports. And so unmeasurable is the Ambition of Princes, that he seemed to think of nothing less than reducing the whole Empire of Blefuscu into a Province, and governing it by a Vice-Roy; of destroying the Big-Endian Exiles, and compelling that People to break the smaller end of their Eggs, by which he would remain the sole Monarch of the whole World.
This is the ultimate act of pride/closed-mindedness because the king wishes to make everyone subject to his will. This is where Swift ends the ride with Gulliver. Gulliver, our guide, follows the Lilliputians till this point. This is the last point where the reader can say "well... maybe there's a good reason for this". As Swift throws the reader into the pot and slowly brings up the heat, this is the point where Gulliver brings out the stragglers that might have stayed otherwise. The rest of the Book shows the Lilliputians to act cruelly and pridefully and in no kind light either.
Because Gulliver is the main satirical element in the second Book, there isn't much to add to our point but for the encounter between Gulliver and the king.
In this book, Swift uses the exact same methods as before, but in reverse: making Gulliver the small one, and magnifying the physical imperfections of the Brobignagians, Swift is able to not only set up a contrast between the two, but capitalize on the trust the readers gave Gulliver in the first Book by making him go off the deep end.
As Gulliver views on government are revealed, he seems more and more closed off from others point of view. In an effort to gain favor with the King, he tells him about the wonder of gunpowder after which the king reacts in, what seem to the reader, a noble and intelligent way:
The King was struck with horror at the description I had given of those terrible engines, and the proposal I had made. He was amazed how so impotent and grovelling an insect as I (these were his expressions) could entertain such inhuman ideas, and in so familiar a manner as to appear wholly unmoved at all the scenes of blood and desolation, which I had painted as the common effects of those destructive machines, whereof he said some evil genius, enemy to mankind, must have been the first contriver.
Here, Swift is not only satirizing the "wisdom" of weapons of war, but of the deep feelings Gulliver has for his country.
As Gullivers attempts to keep his European pride, he begins to look more and more a fool. At the beginning, Gulliver is rightly proud of his home government, why shouldn't he be? as this, the second book, progresses his unwavering pride, and refusal to see things from other points of view become his downfall. He is confronted by a the distillation of a good monarch. When the good king disagrees with him, Gulliver simply chalks it up to closed-mindedness. What he doesn't realize is that it is his own closed-mindedness that prevents him from recognizing the good king opinions;
But great allowances should be given to a King who lives wholly secluded from the rest of the world, and must therefore be altogether unacquainted with the manners and customs that most prevail in other nations; the want of which knowledge will ever produce many prejudices, and a certain narrowness of thinking, from which we and the politer countries of Europe are wholly exempted. And it would be hard indeed, if so remote a prince's notions of virtue and vice were to be offered as a standard for all mankind.
A strange effect of narrow principles and short views that a prince possessed of every quality which procures veneration, love, and esteem; of strong parts, great wisdom, and profound learning, endued with admirable talents for government, and almost adored by his subjects, should from a nice unnecessary scruple, whereof in Europe we can have no conception, let slip an opportunity to put into his hands, that would have made him absolute master of the lives, the liberties, and the fortunes of his people.
In the third book Gulliver is confronted with a society that values abstract ideas above common sense. They need people who's special job it is to keep them on task make sure they are alert in times of need.
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.
Here, the king is inattentive to matters of state, the government suites the people fine though, because they are equally inattentive, perhaps mirroring the European public.
In the fourth book there are also problems. The race of Houyhnhnms, which are an intelligent species of horse have a peculiar form of government: a pure democracy. In presenting the Houyhnhnms as Gullivers role-models Swift invites the reader to fall into the trap of thinking that the Houyhnhnms are the perfect form of being. In this respect one would think that they would have the most open minds, yet that is the sticking block. By providing this one friction point between the reader and the Houyhnhnms, Swift opens the door of Houyhnhnm criticism. Once through this small door of disagreance one can see what pathetically empty lives they lead.
One example of their close-minded government is their treatment of the different breeds. There is no way for a horse of a particular color to advance through the ranks. There is no way for any advancement whatsoever. The head horses will always be just that, and the minor horses, no matter how cunning or wise they may become, because their society has already made up their minds, will always be minor.
The inability to see things from different angels also tainted the Houyhnhnms governmental response:
After a short silence he told me he did not know how I would take what he was going to say; that in the last general assembly, when the affair of the Yahoos was entered upon, the representatives had taken offense at his keeping a Yahoo (meaning myself) in his family more like a Houyhnhnm than a brute animal. That he was known frequently to converse with me, as if he could receive some advantage or pleasure in my company; that such a practice was not agreeable to reason or nature, nor a thing ever heard of before among them.
The Houyhnhnms are unwilling to accept something that is different. The general assembly doesn't even confer with the "yahoo" (for we must always label some thing we do not understand), nor do they offer a chance at redemption. The assembly is a warning against mob rule, but also serves to show how even when Gullivers master is confronted with something he disagrees with, he must still comply even though it effects only him.
Throughout the book, Swift brings us from reasonable to unreasonable and lets us decide where to get off. The whole book can be seen to go from silly and sophomoric in the first book to critical and realistic towards the end. By building up a readers trust and letting them down, Swift accomplishes his goal of satirizing human hypocrisy in government.