Analysis of the nature of Swift’s satire in Gulliver’s Travels - Targets, techniques and effectiveness

Seminar Paper, 2006

11 Pages, Grade: 1,0



I. Introduction

II. Analysis of the nature of Swift’s satire in Gulliver’s Travels - Targets and techniques -

III. Effectiveness of Swift’s satire in Gulliver’s Travels


I. Introduction

In 1726 Jonathan Swift published Gulliver’s Travels, a book which on the surface appeared to be a travel log to chronicle the adventures of Lemuel Gulliver on his voyages to four separate countries, but primarily serves as a satire on different aspects of human society and humankind itself. Swift’s main purpose in using the satirical element in this book, as well as in most of his other works, is to “(…) vex the world rather than divert it (…)” (Swift 264) and thus to appeal to human’s ability to change situations for the better. This believe derived from Swift’s misanthropic worldview, not in the sense that he didn’t have faith in human nature and had given up on any notion of ideals, but he rather, arisen out of disappointment in humankind, believed that man nevertheless was capable of reform. Swift himself laid bare his radically negative view of human beings in a letter to his friend Alexander Pope in 1725: “I have ever hated all Nations professions and Communityes and all my love is towards individualls for instance I hate the tribe of Lawyers, but I love Councellor such a one (…) and the rest principally I hate and detest that animal called man, although I hartily love John, Peter, Thomas and so forth.” (Swift 264/ 265) Accordingly Swift’s focus lies on the individual himself to realize unjust circumstances and to change them by acting. In order to achieve changes in society or even in human beings themselves, Swift makes use of different satirical techniques, which will be closer looked at in each of the four books of Gulliver’s Travels, paying attention to Swifts targets and consequently to the effectiveness of his satire.

II. Analysis of the nature of Swift’s satire in Gulliver’s Travels - Targets and techniques -

Although the contents of the book consist of the fantastic nature of Lemuel Gulliver’s tales, Swift inserts these stories into a contrasting framework by incorporating nautical jargon, a detailed description of Gulliver’s journey at sea in a plain and simple narrative style and thus creates an appearance of realism which makes the reader stand in dubiety in what to believe is true or not.

“Sometimes Gulliver’s Travels is infuriating in its insistence on detail, especially when Gulliver is in between countries and the circumstances of his movement are not very interesting in themselves. (…) We know that the voyage framework is just a convenience rather than a geographical guide – and (…) we no longer care about Gulliver’s authenticity and veracity (…).” (Hunter 223/ 224)

This reliable framework nevertheless is necessary as to offer the reader a trustworthy base for the satire in the story, a base which the reader easily can imagine in his real life in contrast to the exotic countries Gulliver discovers. As Suarez points out, “(…) Swift’s fictions and parodies construct a network of details leading readers to the repeated exercise of their critical judgment.” (Suarez 121) Once Swift had laid the foundation with this credible framework, he could slip in his satirical remarks into the narration of Gulliver’s four voyages.

Much of Gulliver’s first voyage to Lilliput criticizes aspects of 18th century English society, particularly demonstrates court intrigue and the arbitrary inconsistency of court favor as a crucial shortcoming. This is expressed in the peculiar customs of the Lilliputians, whose ministers are appointed dependent on how high they can jump over a rope. Furthermore the nation of Lilliput has been at war with their neighbours from Blefuscu since a quarrel broke out about which end of an egg to break first. To Gulliver this issue might seem ridiculous and an absurd reason for going to war, but to Swift these two nations may symbolize England and France and hence satirizes the needless fighting between the two nations. Swift goes on mocking politics by drawing a parallel between the parties of Lilliput and Blefuscu and England. The two political parties in Gulliver’s Travels being differentiated by the height of their heels points out how little substantial difference there was between Whig and Tory in England, or today between Democrat and Republican. Swift also highlights the pretensions of politics by informing the reader of some of the creditable and original ideals and practices of Lilliputian society such as rewarding those who obey the law, holding a breach of trust as the highest offense, and punishing false accuses and ingratitude, but shows that, like humans, even the Lilliputians do not fulfill their own standards when they express ingratitude for Gulliver's help and accuse him of high treason. Even though Gulliver sees the absurdity of the Lilliputians’ nation, he is not able to discover a similar absurdity in the English or European society. Swift intents to draw the reader’s attention to the fact, that although the European customs in politics and society seem to completely differing from the practices of the Lilliputian and Blufuscan society, there still exist resemblances between the fictional and the real nations. By comparing the different customs, Swift satirizes the conditions of Europe and wants the reader to realize the flaws in his own society. In addition, by changing the relative size of the characters, Swift uses the technique of distortion, consequently defamiliarizes the situation which makes the reader think about and judge the happenings since he would not realize the satirical underpinnings if the story was presented in a realistic manner. “Whatever technique the satirist uses (…), his effort is always to strip the object satirized of the film of familiarity which normally reconciles us to it, and to make us see it as in itself it really is.” (Willey 417)

This means is continued in the second voyage to the island of Brobdingnag, where the perspective shifts and Gulliver finds himself a Lilliputian to the Brobdingnagians. Most of the social and political criticism occurs in chapters six and seven. Gulliver describes European civilization to Brobdingnag's King, including England's political and legal institutions and how they work, as well as some of the personal habits of the ruling class and afterwards describes his intention to the reader:

I would hide the Frailties and Deformities of my Political Mother, and place her Virtues and Beauties in the most advantageous Light. This was my sincere Endeavour in those many Discourses I had with that mighty Monarch, although it unfortunately failed of success. (Swift. Gulliver’s Travels 109)

However well he tried to speak of England, much of what he so faithfully speaks to the King is actually the vice and immorality to be found in England.


Excerpt out of 11 pages


Analysis of the nature of Swift’s satire in Gulliver’s Travels - Targets, techniques and effectiveness
University College Dublin  (Faculty of Arts; School of English and Drama)
Gulliver’s Travels
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
394 KB
Analysis, Swift’s, Gulliver’s, Travels, Targets, Gulliver’s, Travels
Quote paper
Reni Ernst (Author), 2006, Analysis of the nature of Swift’s satire in Gulliver’s Travels - Targets, techniques and effectiveness , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Analysis of the nature of Swift’s satire in Gulliver’s Travels - Targets, techniques and effectiveness

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free