Gulliver's Travels - How Does Jonathon Swift use satire to show up the time in which he lived and the way people behaved?

In finding the true meaning of satire you must read Gulliver’s Travels. I understand Satire to mean: the usages of sarcasm, irony, ridicule and scorn in a way to criticize vices. In this context vices are countries and the way they are run. The ways in which the people in charge pass any law if they want. The petty reasons for war, Reward Systems, etc…. Jonathon Swift had lived in the 18th Century and had seen everything that had happened.

This book puts forward his feeling to the time in which he lived. Swift uses many techniques of satire, the one I feel is most prevalent is, Ridicule.

He uses this on various occasions. The time which stands out most is when Gulliver sees The Emperor holding a stick which is either leaped or crept under by various candidates. The one that stays in the longest is rewarded. Here Swift is ridiculing reward systems. He’s saying that the ones that complement the person in charge most will be rewarded.

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Whoever ‘Creeps’ the lowest will be rewarded. They are each given different colours by coming first, second and third. Swift says, “You see few great persons about the court who are not adorned with one of these girdles. They’re each full of their own importance. I say this because every individual shows off his or her medal. Swift also has the feeling that you don’t need ability anymore to get on in life. He ridicules this as well.

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You just need to ‘kowtow’ to the leader. He’s using circus imagery. Jumping through hoops being put through paces. They’re picked because of their allegiance to the Emperor, not on political intellectual merit. He also uses ridicule in the last part of Book 1 when Gulliver urinates on the Palace and in doing so gets the Queen wet. This angers The Emperor and of course the Queen.

Everything which Gulliver had done is forgotten. Gulliver then refuses to help the Emperor enslave the people from Blefescu. Swift is now trying to portray the ingratitude by means of ridicule. In Laputa, the Laputians live on an island, which flies around, patrolling in a way. The island flies over the top of other islands and if there is any trouble, it stops. In doing so this blocks out the sunlight. This is ridiculing the colonial situations where countries rule over another one near by. An example of this would be English rule over Ireland. England at that time was ruling over Ireland.

The last time he uses ridicule is when he ridicule the Scientists. The scientists are shown as people who are locked in their own little world, unaware of the pleasures of life and people who don’t think about anybody else. He shows this by saying, ” … bladders, they now and then flapped the mouth and ears of those who stood near them. ” The technique I liked most was Irony. This is also used throughout the book. In Brobdingnag Gulliver speaks to the King about England. In this conversation he brings up the illegal and atrocious acts which had been committed in the 17th Century.

Here’s an extract: “Conspiracies, rebellions, murders, massacres, revolutions, banishments…. malice or ambition could produce. ” This is an outright attack on England by means of Irony. His voice is also an angry and bitter voice. It also caused great offence in England at that time. Bitter satire creates the biggest reaction. He uses the King as a respective listener. Somebody who had heard all the crimes and is not impressed. The King himself says, ‘the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth. This is really strong stuff and obviously Swift feels very strongly about it. Swift knows that England is not what it’s said to be and so uses irony to explore that. He says, ‘my noble and most beloved country. ‘ That is obviously not true after all the various crimes etc which had been listed. That was all the crime that had gone on. He also accuses the King of ‘narrowness thinking. ‘ This is also untrue because the King was clearly wise enough to pick up on what had been said before. Irony is used to great effect in this part of the story.

Another occasion when Swift uses satire is when he talks about the female Yahoos, ” I could not reflect without some amazement, and much sorrow, that the rudiments of lewdness, coquetry, censure and scandal should have place by instinct in womankind. ” Swift seems shocked when in fact Sexy scandals were an everyday occurrence in England. They were just as common as they are today. Finally Swift uses another little piece of irony when he’s threatened in Lilliput with a ‘little’ punishment: gauging out his eyes.

Swift now uses irony because Gulliver has done so many good things but all that is forgotten and he’s being punished for one little thing. I find this ironic. The Emperor thinks he’s doing Gulliver a favour by just gauging out his eyes. At this time in England people were being hung for stealing. Basically anything was being punished with something as bad as being killed. Swift seems to go over the top slightly some times, exaggeration. The biggest example of this is when the Yahoos drink alcohol they do various silly things as Gulliver describes, ‘They would howl and grin and chatter, and reel, and tumble, and then fall asleep in the dirt. As well as using exaggeration here he uses repetition. He mentions this on three occasions in the last chapter. I think when he tells us about the flying Island in Laputa he goes a little far. Descending over a country and blocking out the sun is going a bit far. It’s not as if England would have gone that far to show their rule over Ireland. I liked the way that Swift satirises how wars are started. They’re started by petty disagreements. In this case it’s the side the egg is cracked open. The native Blefescu or France, are breaking their eggs the opposite side.

This leads to war. Between these years Britain was at war with France. So this is an indirect comparison. People which didn’t comply in the story were exiled and for what? For not breaking their egg at the right end. Swift is blatantly ridiculing wars, Swift obviously disliked wars and thinks its petty the ways in which they’re started. Swift repeats this when he meets the Houyhnhnms. When he tells them about war they can’t believe it as they have never experienced it and don’t even have a word for it! This makes Gulliver see it for what it is, inhuman and against nature.

In Laputa Gulliver visits the ‘Royal Academy’ where he sees lots of weird and wonderful experiments going on. The ‘Royal Academy’ was supposed to be seen as the ‘Royal Society’ where various weird experiments took place. The one that shocked me the most was the experiment, which tried to cure indigestion. Swift describes the Experiment, ‘Bellows were conveyed up the anus, and drawing in the wind, the scientist affirmed he could make the guts as lank as a dried bladder. ‘ This Academy was being mocked by showing this experiment. This experiment would make some people laugh but others may have been disgusted by it.

So Swift, here is using rude humour to put his point across that these Scientists were mad and tried anything. In the final book Gulliver visits the country of the Houyhnhnms. The Houyhnhnms are horses who are in charge of people known as Yahoos. Yahoos are portrayed as being dirty, aggressive and extremely greedy. Here everything has been turned on its head. An upside-down world. Swift is using inversion as a technique. Inversion means to turn something upside down. This is much like in Animal Farm where the Pigs take over and then dominate the farm. This was another satirical book.

Animal Farm was based on the Russian Revolution. The Houyhnhnms are shown as being gentle, sensible eaters and rational where as the lowly Yahoos are aggressive, greedy (animal like eating) and very exitable. Yahoos are meant to be based on humans as the word sounds a little like ‘You’. Where Houyhnhnms sounds like ‘Who are you? ‘ Also Swift knows that in real life it’s the other way round the Yahoos are in charge of the Houyhnhnms. As Swift says ‘ The Houyhnhnms among us(Horses), were the most generous and comely animals we had….. they were employed in traveling, racing etc.. When Gulliver is told to leave the land he reminisces on the various crimes that had had happened in England and wants no part of it. Swift had done this already in the book when he was talking to King of Brobdingnag. The difference is Gulliver is saying it out of anger. He was just telling the King in Brobdingnag. In the first two chapters Gulliver is either bigger or smaller than the people around him. In Lilliput he is much bigger than everybody else. The Lilliputians have such pompous speeches and are so bitter and angry. How can they be so angry if they’re so small?

This is the question Swift wants you to ask yourself. IN Brobdingnag Gulliver is much smaller than everyone around him. Swift uses this to his advantage. In order to show things like the kindness of the people. This is the complete opposite to the Lilliputians who are so mean and vicious. He also uses this to explore the illusion of beauty. It gives Gulliver a new perspective on life. The women now seem so ugly now that he’s small. In the last two paragraphs of Book Four Swift attacks pride. He calls it the worst of all Human vices. Nothing compares to it as Swift says ‘… ut when I behold a lump of deformity and diseases both in body and mind, smitten with pride, it immediately breaks all measures of my patience. ‘ He shows that the Houyhnhnms have no word for pride and he saw it amongst Yahoos. He hates pride so much he will not let anybody who has pride go anywhere near him. I think his satire still applies today. The same vices have applied since the beginning of time, sexual prostitution, Pimps, drugs, greed, avarice. Sloth all live on in todays societyin the 21st Century. Through the Yahoos Swift shows that the same things applied.

The Houyhnhnms were shown as Swifts perfect race and they led Swifts perfect life. They only eat when they were hungry; they only drank when they were thirsty. There was no greed or avarice. This showed how bad the Yahoos way of living was. If he were still alive today Tony Blair and his Tory Party would be targets of his satire especially on the leaping and creeping front. I think he has been successful in this book, sometimes he does seem to go over the top and be to extreme but we can definitely identify with what he is saying, about the ways in which people behaved and the times which we live in.

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Gulliver's Travels - How Does Jonathon Swift use satire to show up the time in which he lived and the way people behaved?. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

Gulliver's Travels - How Does Jonathon Swift use satire to show up the time in which he lived and the way people behaved?

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