Discuss the Satire on English Politics As Portrayed in Gulliver’s Travels


Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travel claws into contemporary England’s politics and politics satirical and brings out the bitter truths to the world.

Gulliver’s Travels can be read and appreciated on more than one level. On one level, it is an engaging story of sea-voyage in which Gulliver meets with fantastic people in strange lands. 

For example, in the first book, Gulliver finds himself in an unknown country where the inhabitants are tiny creatures of only six inches. In Book II, Swift shows the situation in the land of Brobdingnag, Gulliver himself is a small-sized man where the inhabitants are giants, twelve times Gulliver’s size. 

Physical Sizes Depict Human Meanness And Triviality

The use of physical size as a comparative device gives Swift an opportunity to satirize the meanness and triviality of mankind. Gulliver represents the human race, and his behavior is held up for ridiculing the voyage to Brobdingnag. 

In Lilliput, the six inches high Lilliputians stand for the human race in general. In the first two books, Swift ridicules mostly the political institutions of European society. He exposes the silliness of politics and the irrationality of the behavior of politicians. 

Gulliver’s Voyages Confront Ridicule And Criticism

In the voyage to Lilliput, the political rivalry in the king’s court, the selfishness, intrigues, and corruption of the politicians are described for creating fun and ridiculing them. The Lilliputian courts are a mock of the contemporary political situation in England. 

In the voyage to Brobdingnag, the king criticizes the political system of Gulliver’s native country. In both these books, Swift satirizes man as a political animal. This satire has reference to the contemporary political events and personalities of Swift’s own time. 

Swift Represents Contemporary Political Events in Gulliver’s Travels

Gulliver’s Travels was most probably written during the period 1720-1725, during the reign of Queen Anne. Eventually, the political events of this period are shadowed in the narrative. Book I contains the story of Gulliver’s shipwreck and his early adventures among the pygmies. 

In this part, as soon as Swift turns to present the politics of Lilliput, that country becomes an image of England in Swift’s time. In Lilliput, there are great rivalries between the two parties. They are the Big-Endians and the Small Endians. 

These names came from a conflict of opinion as to which end of the egg should be broken. The whole country is decided on this insignificant issue. It creates laughter in us as we feel how petty the issues are on which the politicians quarrel. 

It is a reference to the rivalry between the Tory and the Whig party of England. It also refers to the religious conflicts between the Catholics and the Protestants. So many thousands of valuable lives have been lost in these wars. Similarly, the quarrel between the High Heels and the Low Heels is a parody of English politics.

The story of Gulliver’s first voyage becomes a kind of political allegory. The emperor of Lilliput makes use of only Low Heels in his administration. This is a portrayal of Gorge I of England, who always favored the Whig party. The heir of Lilliputian’s throne, on the other hand, shows an inclination towards High Hells. This is a reference that was in favor of the Tory Party.

Chapter III of Gulliver’s Travels Accounts for Empirical Court Activities

Chapter III of Book I describes some of the activities of the empirical court. These activities include rope dancing or leaping over or creeping under sticks. Candidates of the high officials of the court practiced rope dancing. All candidates are asked to dance, and whoever jumped was offered a high office. 

Very often, the chief ministers themselves are commanded to show their skill. For instance, Flimnap, the treasurer, was to show his superiority to others in this respect. Another activity practiced by the candidates for high office was to leap over, and the emperor held in his hands. 

The account of these activities is a satire of how the political offices are distributed among the candidates by the English king. Flimnap is Sir Robert Walpole, who was the prime minister of England from 1715 to 1717. 

Dancing on a tightrope symbolizes Walpole’s skill in parliamentary tactics and political intrigues. The emperor requests Gulliver of Lilliput to help in the war of Blefescu. This is a satire on England’s long-lasting enmity with France, with which she fought so many wars.

Gulliver’s Voyage to Brobdingnag: The Land of Giants

In the voyage to Brobdingnag, Gulliver is in the land of giants. Here, the meanness and triviality of human behavior are enlarged a hundred times to show man as gross and ridiculous. However, the main bit of satire here is not the Brobdignagians but Gulliver himself. 

The king of Brobdingnag asks Gulliver to describe the way of life and the system of government in European countries. He enquires Gulliver about the people, religion, laws, government, and learning of European countries. 

The king’s reaction to Gulliver’s account is rather a contempt to us. The king thinks that the Europeans are the people of diminutive size, and yet they claim such vanity and grandeur for which they were not fit. Gulliver, however, defends his own country with the Great Spirit, thus showing his patriotic spirit. 

Nonetheless, Gulliver is perfectly conscious of the follies and crimes that are committed in his country.

The king asks Gulliver questions about the people and the government of Gulliver’s own country. Gulliver tells about the English parliament consisting of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. He also tells the king about the English courts of justice. 

After hearing everything about the politics, wars, etc., the king shows his disgust for the European people. The king’s view is that the history of Gulliver’s country seems to be only — 

“A heap of conspiracies, rebellions, murders, massacres, and revolutions.” 

King of Brobdingnag, Gulliver’s Travels.

Conclusion

The king has conceived that English people have all the vices like avarice, hypocrisy, cruelty, rage, madness, hatred, envy, lust, malice, and ambition. The king concludes his comments on Gulliver’s account of his country with the following words;

“I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the pernicious race of little odious vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.”

King of Brobdingnag, Gulliver’s Travels. 

In this way, the first two books of Gulliver’s Travels portray a satirical picture of contemporary politics in and around the royal court of England.

A H M Ohidujjaman

I'm the Founder of Hamandista Academy. I live in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I studied English Literature and ELT. Now, I'm working as a Lecturer of English at a Dhaka-based Private University.

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