Discuss the Satire on English Politics as Portrayed in Gulliver’s Travels
Gulliver’s Travels can be read and appreciated on more than one levels. On one level, it is an engaging story of sea-voyage in which Gulliver meets with fantastic people in strange lands. In the first book, for example, 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 the small-sized man where the inhabitants are giants, twelve times of Gulliver’s size. The use of physical size as a comparative device gives Swift an opportunity to satirize the meanness and triviality of mankind. Gulliver is the representative of 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 the European society. He exposes the silliness of politics and irrationality of the behavior of the politicians. 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 as well as for ridiculing them. The Lilliputian courts actually a mock to the contemporary political situation in England. In the voyage to Brobdingnag, the king criticises 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.
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 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. Itcreateslaughter in us as we feel how petty the issues are on which the politicians’ quarrel. This is actually a reference to the rivalry between the Tory and the Whig party of England. This also refers to the religious conflicts between the Catholics and the Protestants in which so many thousands of valuable lives have been lost. In the same way, the quarrel between the High Heels and the Low Heels is clearly 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 Lilliputians 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 Book I describes some of the activities of the empirical court. These activities include rope dancing or leaping over or creeping under sticks. Rope-dancing was practiced by those persons who were candidates of the high officials of the court. 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 emperor held in his hands. The account of these activities is obviously a satire on the way in which 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. Gulliver is requested by the emperor 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.
In the voyage to Brobdingnag, Gulliver is in the land of giants. Here the meanness and triviality of human behavior are enlarged into hundred times in order to show man to be gross and ridiculous. But 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 Great Spirit thus showing his patriotic spirit. But he 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 House of Commons and the House of Lords. He also tells the king about the English courts of justice. After heating everything about the politics, wars etc. the king shows his disgust about 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”. 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.”
In this way, the first two books of Gulliver’s Travels portray a satirical picture of the contemporary politics in and around the royal court of England.