The Satire Of Jonathan Swift Revealed Essay

, Research Paper

The Satire of Jonathan Swift Revealed

During the eighteenth century there was an incredible upheaval of

commercialization in London, England. As a result, English society underwent

significant, ?changes in attitude and thought?, in an attempt to obtain the

dignity and splendor of royalty and the upper class (McKendrick,2). As a result,

English society held themselves in very high regards, feeling that they were the

elite society of mankind. In his novel, Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift

satirizes this English society in many ways. In the novel, Swift uses metaphors

to reveal his disapproval of English society. Through graphic representations

of the body and it’s functions, Swift reveals to the reader that grandeur is

merely an illusion, a facade behind which English society of his time attempted

to hide from reality.

On his first voyage, Swift places Gulliver in a land of miniature people

where his giant size is meant as a metaphor for his superiority over the

Lilliputians, thus representing English society’s belief in superiority over all

other cultures. Yet, despite his belief in superiority, Swift shows that

Gulliver is not as great as he imagines when the forces of nature call upon him

to relieve himself. Gulliver comments to the reader that before hand he, ?was

under great difficulties between urgency and shame?, and after the deed says

that he felt, ?guilty of so uncleanly an action? (Norton,2051). By revealing to

the reader Gulliver’s shame in carrying out a basic function of life, Swift

comments on the self imposed supremacy of English society. By humbling their

representative, the author implies that despite the belief of the English to be

the most civilized and refined society, they are still human beings who are

slaves to the same forces as every other human being regardless of culture or


On the second voyage, Swift turns the tables on Gulliver and places him

among a race of giant people, the Brobdingnagians, where Gulliver is viewed as

the inferior. Due to his miniature size, Gulliver is able to examine the human

body in a much more detailed manner. Upon witnessing the undressing of the

Maids of Honor, Gulliver expresses his aversion to their naked bodies. They

were, ?very far from being a tempting sight?, and gave him, ?any other emotions

than those of horror and disgust?, because of the acuteness to which he was able

to observe their, ?course and uneven [skin], so variously colored? (Norton,2104).

Gulliver also talks of their moles, ?here and there as broad as a trencher, and

hairs hanging from (them) thicker than pack-threads? (Norton,2104). Earlier in

the novel, upon witnessing the suckling of a baby, Gulliver tells the reader

that upon seeing the woman’s breast he, “[reflected] upon the fair skins of

[his] English ladies, who appear so beautiful… only because they are of [his]

own size” (Norton,2088). In showing Gulliver’s disgust at the sight of such

prestigious and beautiful women of Brobdingnag, Swift again comments on English

society through a graphic portrayal of the human body. Swift uses the Maids of

Honor as a metaphor to comment on the women of England, whom, among eighteenth

century English society, were believed to be the most beautiful of all the world.

Showing that despite their apparent beauty, they are not perfect, and suffer

the same flaws and imperfections of appearance as any other women.

At one point during Gulliver’s stay in Brobdingnag, Swift comments almost

directly on his distaste for the self imposed supremacy of English society over

all other cultures. It happens when the King of the land, his Majesty, comments

on, ?how contemptible a thing was human grandeur, which could be mimicked by

such diminutive insects as [Gulliver]?(Norton,2097). Here, Swift bluntly

criticizes the attitude of English society for considering themselves to be so

high in rank and eminence, by implying that even the smallest and least

civilized creature could assume such a high degree of superiority.

Gulliver’s Travels is a satirical novel of the eighteenth century English

society, a society with superficial ideas of grandeur and nobility. Through

clever representations, Jonathan Swift successfully humbles this society’s pride

and human vanity. He reveals the flaws it their thinking by reducing them to

what they are, human beings, which, like any other group of human beings is able

to do, have merely adopted a superficial self righteous attitude. In doing so,

Swift makes a broader statement about mankind today. Despite all the self

acclaimed advances in civilization and technology, we are still merely human;

suffering from the same forces and flaws, impulses and imperfections as everyone


Works Cited

McKendrick, Neil. Brewer, John. Plumb, J.H. The Birth of a Consumer Society,


Universtiy Press, Great Britan, 1982.

Swift, Jonathan. “Gulliver’s Travels”. Norton Anthology of English Literature.

6th Ed.

M.H. Abrams, vol.1, New York: Norton, 1986.


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