Question: How does Jonathan Swift satirize politics in Gulliver’s Travels? Political Satire in Gulliver’s Travels
Jonathan Swift (1667 –1745) is the most well-known satirist in the history of English literature. His masterpiece “Gulliver’s Travels” is a satire on politics and social systems. Swift as a master satirist here satirizes politics from a different point of view.
Satire on the politicians
The first and foremost satirical aspect of the first book of “Gulliver’s Travels” is on the corrupted politicians. Scholars have been able to trace that many characters and happenings of the first book are akin to the contemporary English politics of Jonathan Swift. The Lilliputian Emperor who is the paradigm of despotic king resembles George 1. The High Treasurer or Finance Minister of the Lilliputian kingdom namely Flimnap has been compared with Robert Walpole. In this way, Swift means to say that England is a country of worse politicians and any country will be like England if it has politicians like Gorge 1 and Robert Walpole.
Satire on internal politics
Swift has castigated the internal political conflict between the two political parties of England Whigs and Tories through the conflict of high heels and low heels of Lilliputian island. Gulliver comes to know from his Lilliputian friend named Reldresal that the island of Lilliput is facing violent friction because of two parties. The king prefers the low heels and gives them administrative and political power that is why the high heels are deprived of different kinds of facilities and are also victims of tyranny though they are larger in number. Here high heels stand for the Tories and low heels refer to the Whigs. Thus, Swift asserts that favoritism produces a bad country.
Satire on war
War is the symbol of political inexpediency and destruction that has been severely censured. To focus on this, Swift has limned the long-standing dispute between the diminutive or tiny citizens of Lilliput and Blefuscu. Blefuscu is situated in the north-east of Lilliput and separated by a channel or river that is 800 yards or 730 m wide. Lilliput and Blefuscu are at war for some thirty-six moons and this war is related to a religious controversy. The Emperor of Blefuscu often exploits this war for political purposes. Nearly 11000 people have died in the war. In the allegorical context of the book, Blefuscu stands for France and the war between Lilliput and Blefuscu alludes to the war between England and the Catholic Kingdom of France.
Satire on political flattery and intrigues
Rope dancing is a celebrated episode of comic satire in Book 1 of “Gulliver’s Travels”. This comic narration rebukes the political flattery and differentiates between qualification and office in the corrupt state. The rope dancers are the candidates of great employments or high favor at court. Such a hateful and dangerous process for recruitment is arranged only to satisfy the king. Even the high officials are not out of this.
“Very often the chief minister themselves are to show their skill
and to convince the emperor that they have not lost their faculty.”
Here, Swift provides the message that a person will get a working opportunity by dint of his qualification which is as inevitable as breath for the development of a country. Gulliver who becomes the patriot of the island of Lilliput falls victim to political intrigues.
Satire on imperialism
In Book 1, Gulliver refuses the offer of the Lilliputian Emperor when the king offers him to capture Blefuscu with his power. This refusal is the slight opposition against imperialistic politics. But in Book 2, imperialism and despotism have been harshly criticized. When Gulliver offers the king of Brobdingnag gunpowder to take control over the world, the king who is a man of reason and rationality mocks at the ill political practice of England. It is expressed by the horrible description of Gulliver:
“He was amazed how so impotence and groveling an insect
as I would entertain such inhuman ideas.”
Besides, the floating island Laputa suggests England oppresses Ireland politically and its potential desire to crush Ireland entirely.
In termination, Swift’s satire forces us to consider and even accept that the island of Lilliput allegorically signifies England from the contemporary perspective of Jonathan Swift and internationally any corrupted country of any time. On the other hand, the giant’s island Brobdingnag symbolizes good governance.