Satire in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels

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Satire in Gulliver's Travels

On the surface, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver's Travels appears to be a travel log, made to chronicle the adventures of a man, Lemuel Gulliver, on the four most incredible voyages imaginable. Primarily, however, Gulliver's Travels is a work of satire. "Gulliver is neither a fully developed character nor even an altogether distinguishable persona; rather, he is a satiric device enabling Swift to score satirical points" (Rodino 124). Indeed, whereas the work begins with more specific satire, attacking perhaps one political machine or aimed at one particular custom in each instance, it finishes with "the most savage onslaught on humanity ever written," satirizing the whole of the human condition. (Murry 3). In order to convey this satire, Gulliver is taken on four adventures, driven by fate, a restless spirit, and the pen of Swift. Gulliver's first journey takes him to the Land of Lilliput, where he finds himself a giant among six inch tall beings. His next journey brings him to Brobdingnag, where his situation is reversed: now he is the midget in a land of giants. His third journey leads him to Laputa, the floating island, inhabited by strange (although similarly sized) beings who derive their whole culture from music and mathematics. Gulliver's fourth and final journey places him in the land of the Houyhnhnm, a society of intelligent, reasoning horses. As Swift leads Gulliver on these four fantastical journeys, Gulliver's perceptions of himself and the people and things around him change, giving Swift ample opportunity to inject into the story both irony and satire of the England of his day and of the human condition.

Swift ties his satire closely with Gulliver's perceptions and adventures. In Gulliver's first adventure, he begins on a ship that runs aground on a submerged rock. He swims to land, and when he awakens, he finds himself tied down to the ground, and surrounded by tiny people, the Lilliputians. "Irony is present from the start in the simultaneous recreation of Gulliver as giant and prisoner" (Reilly 167). Gulliver is surprised "at the intrepidity of these diminutive mortals, who dare venture to mount and walk upon my body" (I.i.16), but he admires this quality in them. Gulliver eventually learns their language, and arranges a contract with them for his freedom. However, he is bound by this agreement to protect Lilliput from invasion by the people of Blefuscu.
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