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
race.
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
else.

Works Cited

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