20 Jun 2016 14 Dec 2017
Abstract: this thesis provides a possible insight into Gulliver's Travels by analyzing Jonathan Swift's satires rather than reading it as a children's book. Swiftian satires about humanity in the four books are to the fullest. The whole novel is like a mirror by which human flaws are reflected. It probably would long have been forgotten if the book did not carry critical thinking about humanity.
As the greatest satirist in the English language, Jonathan Swift was both admired and feared in his own time for the power of his writing and hugely influential on writers who followed him. At the age of fourteen, Swift entered Trinity College in Dublin University, where he stayed for seven years. After graduation in 1688, he went to England to work as a secretary and personal assistance for Sir William Temple. In 1694, he was ordained as a priest in the church of Ireland (Anglican Church) and assigned as vicar (parish priest) of Kilroot, a chruch near Belfast (in Northern Ireland). In 1692, Swift received a M.A. from Oxford. He returned to working with Temple in1696.
Meanwhile, he continued working on satires which deal with political and religious corruptions surrounding him. A tale of a Tub and A Battle of the Books are two of them composed during this time. He also wrote lots of political pamphlets for the Whig party. When Temple died in 1699, he returned to Ireland, becoming Chaplain to lord Berkley. In 1702, he received a D.D. (Doctor of Divinity) from Dublin University. After a few conflicts with the Whig party, he joined the more conservative Tory party in 1710. Unfortunately for Swift, the Tory government fell out of power in 1714. Before the fall of Troy government, Swift hoped his services would be rewarded with a church appointment in England. However, the best position he was "rewarded" was the Deanery of St. Partrick's, Dublin. Again, he returned to Ireland. During his stay in Dublin, some memorable works were composed: Proposal for Universal Use of Irish Manufacture (1720), Drapier's Letters (1724), A Modest Proposal (1729). His works earned him status of a patriot.
Also during the same period, he began to write the masterpiece Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, better known as Gulliver's Travels. Much of the material reflects his political experiences of the preceding decade. Fist published in November 1726, it was an immediate sensation. A total of four printings were arranged from Nov. 1726 to early 1727.
Gulliver's Travels is regarded as Swift's masterpiece. It is a novel in four parts recounting Gulliver's four voyages to fictional exotic lands. His travels is first among diminutive people--the Lilliputians, then among enormous giants--people of Brobdingnag, then among idealists and dreamers and finally among horses. Each book has a different theme, but their common trait is to deflate human nature.
Gulliver had a shipwreck and boarded a rowboat with six other crewmen to escape. Soon the rowboat capsized. Gulliver managed to swim on shore. He fell into sleep. When he woke up he found himself bound by numerous tiny threads. Some diminutive people marched on his body. Some other people armed with bows and arrows stand by around him. They are ready to deal Gulliver with violence if he attacks. Overall, they are hospitable. Gulliver eats more than one thousand Lilliputians combine could and they feed him despite the risk of famine. He is presented to the emperor and is satisfied by the attention of the royalty. Eventually, Lilliputians take advantage of Gulliver's strength and hugeness to fight against people of Blefuscu. The two factions oppose each other in that they have difference ways to crack eggs. But things change when Gulliver is convicted of treason for urinating on the palace to save the emperor's wife from a fire. He is condemned to be shot in the eyes and starved to death. Gulliver escapes to Blefuscu, where he finds and repairs a broken boat and sets sail for England.
After staying in England with his family for two months, he sets sail again. The voyage takes him to a land of giants Brobdingnag. A field worker finds him and takes him home. Initially, the field worker treats him as a pet. Eventually, he sells Gulliver to the queen who makes him a courtly diversion and is entertained by his musical talents. Gulliver's life at this point is easier but still is not enjoyable. He is often repulsed by the physicality of the Brobdingnagians, whose ordinary flaws are many times magnified by their huge size. He is disgusted by their skin pores. He is often frightened by the animals that endanger his life. There is once when he wakes up on the bed of the farmer's wife and is attacked by two rats. Even Brobdingnagian insects leave slimy trails on his food that makes eating unpleasant. On a trip to the frontier, the cage Gulliver is in plucked up by an eagle and dropped into the sea. He successfully leaves Brobdingnag.
Gulliver undertakes next voyage after staying at home in England for only ten days. The ship undergone attacks by pirates and Gulliver ends up in Laputa. The floating island is inhabited by theoreticians and academics governing the land below, called Balnibarbi. The scientific research carried out in Laputa and in Balnibarbi seems completely useless and impractical, and its residents too appear totally out of touch with reality. Taking a trip to Glubbdubdrib, Gulliver is able to witness the conjuring up of figures from history, such as Julius Caesar and other military leaders. After visiting the Luggnaggians and the Struldbrugs, the latter of which are senile immortals who prove that age does not bring wisdom, he is able to sail to Japan and from there back to England.
Gulliver stays for five months in England but then leaves his pregnant wife to set sail as a captain. Many of his crewmen die of illness, so he recruit more along the way. His crewmembers mutiny under the influence of the new sailors to become pirates. They lock him in a cabin. After a long confinement, he arrives in an unknown land. The rational-thinking horses, Houyhnhnms and humanlike creatures, Yahoos live in the land. The brutish Yahoos serve the Houyhnhnms. Gulliver again endeavours to learn their language to narrate his adventures to them and explain things in England. He is treated with great courtesy and kindness by the horses and is enlightened by their noble culture and rational thinking. For the first time in his voyages, he does not yearn for leave to come back to humankind. He wants to stay with the Houyhnhnms, but his bared body reveals to the horses that he is very much like a Yahoo. Therefore, he is banished. He is very reluctant to leave but agrees. He builds a canoe and makes his way to a nearby island. He first decides to live there with the barbarians there rather than return to live with English Yahoos. He was hurt by an islander and picked up by a Portuguese ship captain who treats him hospitably. However, Gulliver cannot help deeming him and all human as Yahoolike. After returning home, Gulliver buys two horses and converses with them every day for four hours.
Gulliver's Travels reflects conflicts in British society in the early 18th century. By narrating Gulliver's adventures in Lilliput, Brobdingnag, Laputa, and Houyhnhnm, the novel reveals and criticizes sins and corruption of British ruling class and their cruel exploitation towards people of Britain and neighboring countries in the capital-accumulation period of British history. Gulliver is treated differently in different countries. The author depicts every situation at great length, which makes readers feel like experiencing them personally. The greatness of the work lies in the author's proficient application of bitting and profound satires. Swift makes satirical effects to the fullest by using techniques of irony, contrast, and symbolism. The story is based on then British social reality. He not only satirizes on then British politics and religion, but also, in a deeper facet, on human nature itself. Swift's superb rendering of satires leads Gulliver's Travels to becoming a milestone looked up to by future literary persons in satirical literature.
There are at least three types of satirical technique presented in Gulliver's Travels: verbal irony, situational irony and dramatic irony. First, verbal irony means using words in an opposite way. The real implied meaning is in opposition to the literal meaning of the lines in verbal irony. In other words, it uses positive, laudatory words to describe evidently ugly and obnoxious matters in order to express the author's contempt and aversion. The book carries verbal irony from the beginning to the end of the story. Second, situational irony occurs when there are conflicts between characters and situation, or contradiction between readers' expectation and actual outcomes of an event, or deviation between personal endeavors and objective facts. In Gulliver's Travels, the plot development is often the opposite of what readers expect. Third, dramatic irony is when words and actions possess a significance that the listener or audience understands, but the speaker or character does not.
Swift also uses contrast as a rhetorical device to construct satirical effects. In order to reach the purpose of satire, he puts contradictory subjects together to describe and compare. There are at least three evident pairs of contrasting subjects. First is Gulliver and Lilliputians. They differ hugely in figures and in characters. The height of Gulliver's body exceeds Lilliputians' in the proportion of twelve to one. As to character differences, Gulliver is kind-hearted and grateful with a sense of justice, whereas Lilliputians are more cunning. They want to make full use of Gulliver in the war fought with its conflicting country: Blefuscu. He helps them against invasion from it but refuses to serve for them in their invasive territory expansion. Second, in Part II, figures of the citizens and Gulliver's again form a stark contrast. In Brobdingnag, he is put in a carriage and carried to the marketplace to perform his "tricks". He tries to please those giants by showing them his little coins and perform "tricks" with his sword. He comes into conflict with the Queen's favorite dwarf and they scheme against each other. On the other hand, the erudite King of Brobdingnag governs his country with reason, common sense, justice and mercy. The political system in Brobdingnag is very ideal and orderly, in which law guarantees freedom and welfare of the nationals. Gulliver introduces to the King England's society and political system and embellishes the truth. He describes how great England is, how judicious the politics is and how just the law is. However, he could barely defend himself facing the King's question. Besides, the comparison between the King's liberal governance and rule under England's bourgeois class reveals corruption of its politics. Third, the ruling class of the country of the Houyhnhnms are horse-like beings of reason, justice and honesty, whereas the ruled class (yahoos) are heinous, greedy and pugnacious creatures. The contrast between the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos is extreme. The horses are clean and sweet-smelling; their diet is temperate and vegetarian. Their habits constitute the temperance that the eighteenth century thought characterized reasonable man. The Yahoos, on the other hand, are human in form and feature. They are filthy and they stink. They are omnivorous but seem to prefer meat and garbage.
Satire refers to a genre of literature which is often used by literary persons as a witty weapon to hold up vices, follies and shortcomings in a society to ridicule, usually with the intent of mocking individuals or society into improvement. Samuel Johnson (1709-84) defined satire as 'a poem in which wickedness or folly is censured'. Besides the fact that few, if any, would nowadays confine satire to poetry, the rest of the definition works well enough. Satire condemns, either overtly or covertly, what it believes to be wrong, generally with a view to achieving reform. It works best when there is general agreement among its readers about what is right or normal. It may be directed against an individual, a group or humanity in general.
Irony, ridicule, parody, sarcasm, exaggeration are common satirical techniques, in which the first is the most common employed one. As a major technique of satire, irony involves a difference or contrast between appearance and reality - that is a discrepancy between what appears to be true and what really is true. Three kinds of irony have been recognized since antiquity. First, dramatic irony derives from classical Greek literature and from theatre. It refers to a situation in which the audience has knowledge denied to one or more of the characters on stage. In other words, dramatic irony occurs when a character states something that they believe to be true but that the reader knows is not true. The key to dramatic irony is the reader's foreknowledge of coming events. Second or more reading of stories often increases dramatic irony because of knowledge that was not present in the first reading. For example, in Twelfth Night composed by Shakespeare, Malvolio's hopes of a bright future derive from a letter which the audience knows to be faked. Second, verbal irony, sometimes known as linguistic irony, occurs when people say the opposite of what they really mean. Therefore, it often carries two meanings: the explicit meaning and a often mocking meaning running counter to the first. This is probably the most common type of irony. Third, Socratic irony takes its name from the ancient Greek writer Socrates, who often in his philosophic dialogues asks apparently foolish questions which actually move the debate in the direction he wants. Nowadays, two further conceptions have been added: structural irony and romantic irony. The first one is built into texts in such a way that both the surface meaning and deeper implications are present more or less throughout. One of the most common ways of achieving structural irony is through the use of a narrator, whose simple and straightforward comments are at variance with the reader's interpretation. Swift applies this technique in Gulliver's Travel by setting Gulliver as the narrator of the stories. In Romantic irony, writers conspire with readers to share the double vision of what is happening in the plot of a novel, film, etc.. In this form of writing, the writer sets up the world of his text, and then deliberately undermines it by reminding the reader that it is only a form of illusion.
Swift's satirical attacks on humanity are relatively mild in Book 1. Disgust for human in this book is not yet detectable and apparent. A series of amusing and ridiculous happenings in this part provide readers a relaxed atmosphere. For example, the part describing how Gulliver saves the palace and the emperor's wife is hilarious.
I had the evening before drunk plentifully of a most delicious wine, called glimigrim (the Blefuscudians call it flunec, but ours is esteemed the better sort) which is very diuretic. By the luckiest chance in the world, I had not discharged myself of any part of it. The heat I had contracted by coming very near the flames, and by labouring to quench them, made the white wine begin to operate by urine; which I voided in such a quantity, and applied so well to the proper places, that in three minutes the fire was wholly extinguished, and the rest of that noble pile, which had cost so many ages in erecting, preserved from destruction. (Swift 2007: 25)
Many descriptions in Part I employs the technique of verbal irony. For instance, in Chapter III, Swift ridicules the Lilliputians' arrogance and ignorance by describing how mathematicians in Lilliput measure Gulliver's height by the help of a quadrant. They "having taken the height of my body by the help of a quadrant, and finding it to exceed theirs in the proportion of twelve to one, they concluded from the similarity of their bodies, that mine must contain at least 1728 of theirs, and consequently would require as much food as was necessary to support that number of Lilliputians." Swift ridicules, "by which the reader may conceive an idea of the ingenuity of that people, as well as the prudent and exact economy of so great a prince." He makes good use of the technique of verbal irony in this this laughable, thought-provoking and seemingly ordinary ironic narration to achieve satirical effects. In Chapter V, despite the fact that the conflict between Lilliput and Blefuscu is blatantly ridiculous, Gulliver depicts it with total seriousness. The tone with which Gulliver tells the story is serious. However, the more serious he is the more ridiculous and laughable the conflict is. This again is the employment of verbal irony. Swift expects us to understand that the history Gulliver relates parallels European history. The High-Heels and the Low-Heels correspond to the Whigs and Tories of English politics. Lilliput and Blefuscu represent England and France. The conflict between Big-Endians and Little-Endians represents the Protestant Reformation and the centuries of warfare between Catholics and Protestants. Through these representations, the author implies that the differences between Protestants and Catholics, between Whigs and Tories, and between France and England are as silly and meaningless as how a person chooses to crack an egg. The egg controversy is ridiculous because there cannot be any right or wrong way to crack an egg. Therefore, it is unreasonable to legislate how people must do it. Similarly, we may conclude that there is no right or wrong way to worship God—at least, there is no way to prove that one way is right and another way is wrong. The Big-Endians and Little-Endians both share the same religious text, but they disagree on how to interpret a passage that can be interpreted in two ways. By mentioning this incident, Swift is suggesting that the Christian Bible can be interpreted in more than one way and that it is ludicrous for people to fight over how to interpret it when no one can really be certain that one interpretation is right and the others are wrong.
In these chapters, Gulliver experiences Lilliputian culture, and the great difference in size between him and the Lilliputians is emphasized by a few examples through which the author's satires of British government are explicitly expressed. For instance, government officials in Liliput are chosen by their skill at rope-dancing, which Gulliver regards as arbitrary and ludicrous. Clearly, Swift intends for us to understand this episode as a satire of England's system of political appointment and to infer that England's system is similarly arbitrary.
The difference in size between Gulliver and the Lilliputians reflects the importance of physical power, a theme that recurs throughout the novel. Gulliver begins to gain the trust of Lilliputians over time, but it is unnecessary: Gulliver could crush them simply by walking carelessly. Despite the evidence in front of them, they never recognize their own insignificance. This is clearly the use of dramatic irony in which the reader knows the truth but the characters in the stories deny it. They keep Gulliver tied up, thinking that he is under control, while in fact he could destroy them effortlessly. In this way, Swift satirizes humanity's pretensions to power and significance.
Compared with Book I, Swift's satire is more clearly implied in the second book and attacks on political issues and humanity are more apparent. It is evident that Swift begins to express his discontent over Europe as the world's dominant power and its practice of colonialism in this section if the historical context is considered. Swift wrote Gulliver's Travels at a time when Europe was the world's dominant power and when England was rising in power with its formidable fleet. The English founded their first colony Virginia in America in 1585 due to competition with the Spanish. Then they continued the process of colonization and expansion throughout the world.
In this section, Gulliver's initial adventure in Brobdingnag is not so desirable. At first, the farmer almost tramples on him. The family virtually enslaves him, making him to perform tricks to paying visitors. "This enslavement emphasizes the fundamental humanity of the Brobdingnagians-just like Europeans, they are happy to make a quick buck when the opportunity arises--and also makes concrete Gulliver's lowly status." Swift also "plays with language in a way that both emphasizes his main satirical points about politics, ethics, and culture and makes fun of language itself." (SparkNotes Editors, 2003). In the beginning of this adventure, Gulliver uses naval jargons ("sprit-sail", "fore-sail", "mizen", "fore-sheet", "downhaul") to depict the various attempts his ship makes to deal with the great storm at sea. The description is complicated and full of obscurities. One probably cannot help wondering why Swift bothered writing these difficult-to-understand words since they seems with the least importance to the whole story. However, it is not a waste of effort. The words are meant to be incomprehensible--"the point is to satirize the jargon used by writers of travel books and sailing accounts, which in Swift's view was often overblown and ridiculous." (SparkNotes Editors, 2003) By making Gulliver use jargon to such an extreme, Swift mocks those who would try to "demonstrate their expertise through convoluted language". Mockeries like this one repeats elsewhere in the novel. Swift's main purpose is to "criticize the validity of various kinds of expert knowledge that are more showy than helpful, whether legal, naval, or, as in the third voyage, scientific."(SparkNotes Editors, 2003).
Swift's satires in the third book shift focus from ethic and political aspects to academic field, since most part of this section contributes to description of impractical scientific experiments and workings of certain things. For instance, descriptions Gulliver makes about the technique used to move the island are convoluted. Also, "The method of assigning letters to parts of a mechanism and then describing the movement of these parts from one point to another resembles the mechanistic philosophical and scientific descriptions of Swift's time." (SparkNotes Editors, 2003). From these, Swift again successfully satirizes specialized language in academic field.
Laputa is more complex than Lilliput or Brobdingnag because its strangeness is not based on differences of size but instead on the primacy of abstract theoretical concerns over concrete practical concerns in Laputan culture. However, physical power is still an important factor in Laputa. Here, power is exercised not through physical size but through technology. The government floats over the rest of the kingdom, using technology to control its subjects. The floating island represents the distance between the government and the people it governs. The king is oblivious to the real concerns of the people below. He has never even been there. The noble men and scientists of the island are also far removed from the people and their concerns. Abstract theory dominates all aspects of Laputan life, from language to architecture to geography.
Swift continues his mockery of academics by describing the projects carried out in the cities below Laputa. The academy serves to create entirely useless projects while the people stare outside its walls. Each project described, such as the extraction of sunbeams from a cucumber, is not only false but also purposeless. Even if its scientific foundation were correct, it would still serve no real purpose for the people meant to gain from it. The result is a society in which science is promoted for no real reason and time is wasted as a matter of course. This again is the use of dramatic irony where the reader knows certainly that those scientific projects are a waste of time while the scientists in the story are striving for success of the experiments.
In the fourth part, disgust for human is expressed to such an extreme that readers often feel uncomfortable reading this section. Swift deflates humankind very straightforwardly by portraying the Yahoos humanlike and associating humankind with Yahoos. Gulliver tells the horse that in his country, the Yahoos are the governing creatures. Moreover, after he introduces Europe to his horse-like master, he admits that Gulliver's humans have different systems of learning, law, government, and art but says that their natures are not different from those of the Yahoos.
Situational irony occurs when there are conflicts between characters and situation, or contradiction between readers' expectation and actual outcomes of an event, or deviation between personal endeavors and objective facts. The plot development in Gulliver's Travels is often the opposite of what readers expect. For example, in this part, Gulliver's crewmembers mutiny when they are near Leeward Islands and he is abandoned in an unknown land--the country of the Houyhnhnms. The Houyhnhnms are horse-like, physically strong and virtuous beings. Gulliver is regarded as likable as a yahoo by them. He tries to prove to the Houyhnhnms that he is not a Yahoo in nature although he looks like one. He talks at length about wars fought for "religious reasons", England's legal system, and his great love of his native country. However, the more he tries to cover up human flaws, the more they are known when he is questioned by the Houyhnhnms. The readers' expectation may be Gulliver's stay in the country of the Houyhnhnms for his feverish passion for the Houyhnhnms. However, at last, they conclude that Gulliver is a yahoo in disguise because he has all traits a yahoo possesses and refuse his request to live there.
Gulliver undergoes a stage of transform in book four, where he develops a love for the Houyhnhnms to the point that he does not want to return to humankind. He has an identity crisis although he is not aware of it. He thinks of his friends and family as Yahoolike, but forgets that he comes from "English Yahoos". The Houyhnhnms think that Gulliver is some kind of Yahoo, though superior to the rest of his species. He asks them to stop using that word to refer to him, and they consent. This once again expresses disgust for human.
1. Stress the sense of absurdity
Throughout much of Part I, Swift satirizes European practices by implicitly comparing them to outrageous Lilliputian customs. In these chapters, Swift also plays with language in a way that pokes fun at humanity's belief in its own importance. When the Lilliputians draw up an inventory of Gulliver's possessions, the whole endeavor is treated as if it were a serious matter of state. The contrast between the tone of the inventory, which is given in the Lilliputians' own words, and the utter triviality of the possessions that are being inventoried, serves as a mockery of people who take themselves too seriously. Similarly, the articles that Gulliver is forced to sign in order to gain his freedom are couched in formal, self-important language. But the document is nothing but a meaningless and self-contradictory piece of paper: each article emphasizes the fact that Gulliver is so powerful that, if he desires, he could violate all of the articles without much concern for his own safety.
2. reveal the snobbish nature of human culture
In Gulliver's adventure in Brobdingnag, many of the same issues that are brought up in the Lilliputian adventure are now brought up again, but this time Gulliver is in the exact opposite situation. Many of the jokes from Gulliver's adventure in Lilliput are played in reverse: instead of worrying about trampling on the Lilliputians, Gulliver is now at risk of being trampled upon; instead of being feared and admired for his huge size, he is treated as an insignificant curiosity; instead of displaying miniature livestock in England to make money, he is put on display for money by the farmer. As a whole, the second voyage serves to emphasize the importance of size and the relativity of human culture.
In the last part, Swift shifts attacks to defects in human nature represented by yahoos. His description about the country of the Houyhnhnms reveals corruption of human society and states a view that only those who live in a natural state are pure and noble. Just like Gulliver puts it, "I must freely confess that the many virtues of those excellent quadrupeds placed in opposite view to human corruptions, had so far opened my eyes and enlarged my understanding, that I began to view the actions and passions of man in a very different light, and to think the honour of my own kind not worth managing."
3. make fun of expert languge
Gulliver's initial experiences with the Brobdingnagians are not positive. First they almost trample him, then the farmer virtually enslaves him, forcing him to perform tricks for paying spectators. Whereas in Lilliput, his size gives him almost godlike powers, allowing him to become a hero to the Lilliputian people, in Brobdingnag his different size has exactly the opposite effect. Even his small acts of heroism, like his battle against the rats, are seen by the Brobdingnagians as, at best, "tricks." Swift continues to play with language in a way that both emphasizes his main satirical points about politics, ethics, and culture and makes fun of language itself. While Gulliver is still at sea, he describes in complicated naval jargon the various attempts his ship makes to deal with an oncoming storm. The rush of words is nearly incomprehensible, and it is meant to be so—the point is to satirize the jargon used by writers of travel books and sailing accounts, which in Swift's view was often overblown and ridiculous. By taking the tendency to use jargon to an extreme and putting it in the mouth of the gullible and straightforward Gulliver, Swift makes a mockery of those who would try to demonstrate their expertise through convoluted language. Attacks like this one, which are repeated elsewhere in the novel, are part of Swift's larger mission: to criticize the validity of various kinds of expert knowledge that are more showy than helpful, whether legal, naval, or, as in the third voyage, scientific.
4. criticize excessive rationalism
Gulliver's third voyage is more scattered than the others, involving stops at Laputa, Balnibarbi, Glubbdubdrib, Luggnagg, and Japan. Swift completed the account of this voyage after that of the fourth voyage was already written, and there are hints that it was assembled from notes that Swift had made for an earlier satire of abstract knowledge. Nonetheless, it plays a crucial role in the novel as a whole. Whereas the first two voyages are mostly satires of politics and ethics, the third voyage extends Swift's attack to science, learning, and abstract thought, offering a critique of excessive rationalism, or reliance on theory, during the Enlightenment.
Gulliver's Travels is not only rich in content, but also deep in meaning. His satires about humanity in the four books are to the fullest. Satires are both implicitly and explicitly constructed throughout the four books. Disgust for human steadily increases as the narrative proceeds. The greatness of this novel does not plainly lie in Swifitian satire. The whole novel is like a mirror by which human flaws are reflected. It probably would long have been forgotten if the book did not carry carry critical thinking about humanity.
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