The Role of Satire in “Gulliver's Travels”

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The Role of Satire in “Gulliver’s Travels”

Sir Thomas More wrote “Utopia” in 1516, Daniel Defoe produced “Robinson Crusoe” in 1719, Jonathan Swift brought forth “Gulliver’s Travels” in 1726. The first coined the much used today word “utopia”, the second created the first English novel about reason and moral values, and the third fathered probably the best satiric masterpiece. Contemporaneity, a few centuries later, is still amazed at the strength and validity of these notions. Satire, Swift’s hard-hitting instrument of tackling bitter political realities and deficiencies of human nature, is still very potent and perhaps much more useful nowadays than in the eighteenth century. Therefore, this essay will try to provide a description of satire, more than a definition, by looking into Swift’s motifs for making use of it on such a large scale. The reason for mentioning More’s and Defoe’s great works is the connection they have with “Gulliver’s Travels”. There are both similarities and differences between them, in the sense that all three of them criticize the shortcomings of society and man, but the styles in which they do this are very different. “Utopia” is probably monotonous for many of us, but one cannot deny the depth and meaning of its content related to the human world. Daniel Defoe “made a direct appeal to Puritan readers by including moral lessons in his work and showing that an ordinary man such as Robinson, who believed in God and in the principles of self-reliance and hard work, could overcome any obstacle” (Delaney, Ward and Fiorina D53), and set an example for his peer(s). But Jonathan Swift’s allegorical satire targets many social follies and almost every aspect of mankind in a funny way, which makes it all the more piercing. The book encapsulates many colourful happenings which are a delight for both children and adults, even if for various reasons. Children enjoy the adventures, while grown-ups discover their weaknesses and selfishness cloaked in fiction. A wise man posted this message for J. Swift’s readers: “One cannot work successfully with Swift’s satire without getting dirty” (Boyle 209). I would like to paraphrase it by saying that one cannot unveil the crude reality without getting bruised. Satire is made for getting more or less dirty; it is the shadow accompanying the mischievous ways of the world; the white and just as much the black side of the Yin and Yang circle; it is the mass of clod that both the writer and the reader shape and reshape. Give it a faultfinding critic, and it becomes poison; give it a somewhat tolerant master, and it becomes digestible. Satire hurts; it is a “sacred weapon, left for Truth’s defence / Soul dread of Folly, Vice and Insolence!” as Pope depicted it in “Epilogue to the Satires” (Cudden 780). This is just a basic sketch underlining some of the traits of the satire. Much has been said about it and much more is to come because modern Yahoos will never be civilized enough so as to create less opportunities for satire to unfold. People today are not so much different, in essence. We have better lives, but we still allow ourselves to derail, to lose sense of goodness and reason, to expose ourselves to grotesque. Swift’s Yahoos have evolved, they smartened, but Swiftian observers still have endless opportunities to unleash their finger-pointing. The role of the satire in this great book is to lift off the mask, wipe the make-up, and tear the veil in order to reveal the wrinkles and the ugliness of society, politics and individuals. The author’s harsh message is conveyed through a whole canopy of dim-witty characters and hilarious events, and one can almost literally taste the bitterness poured into it. The main vehicle of the novel, used for making us observe, is Lemuel Gulliver, the traveller. Before advancing with our story, we have to notice the similarity of his name with one of the words in the dictionary: gullible (naive and easily deceived or tricked). It would...
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