Satire in Gulliver's Travels
Satire is a literary genre of Greek origin (satyr), in which human folly and vice are held up to scorn, derision, or ridicule. Although satire is usually meant to be funny, its purpose is often irony or sarcasm, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, religion, and communities themselves, into improvement. In Gulliver's Travels, satire is shown through narration, setting, character, and plot. Jonathan Swift uses utopia and dystopia as elements of setting, and he uses a flat character, miser and tyrant type of character, moral touchstone, and grotesque to illustrate the character element of his satirical novel.
Jonathan Swift has chosen a first-person narrator in his novel of Gulliver's Travels. The narrator is Gulliver who has been plunged into extraordinary and absurd circumstances during his four voyages to a multitude of strange lands around the globe. Although Gulliver's vivid and detailed style of narration makes it obvious that he is intelligent and well educated, his perceptions are naive and gullible. As an example, Gulliver is a naive consumer of the Lilliputians' grandiose imaginings, because he is cowed by their threats of punishment, and their formally worded condemnation of Gulliver on grounds of treason works quite effectively on the naive Gulliver, forgetting that they have no real physical power over him. Gulliver is a round character which is a kind of character who encounters conflict and is changed by it. He changes in relation to the places he visits and the events that befall him as he voyages. As an example, he is the giant in Lilliput and he is worried about trampling on the Lilliputians, while he is at risk of being trampled upon and he is treated as a doll in the land of Brobdingnag. In his last voyage, he develops such a love for the Houyhnhnms society that he no longer desires to return to humankind. And he becomes more and more narrow-minded as the story progresses. On the whole, Gulliver proves to be more resilient that the average man by managing to survive the disastrous shipwrecks and the foreign people.
The setting in Gulliver's Travels explores the idea of utopia and dystopia. Utopia is an imaginary model of the ideal community. The Houyhnhnms represent an ideal of rational existence because they are reasonable, rational characters, and they seem to embody the principle virtue of friendship and benevolence, and all the perfections that humans strive to achieve. Their language does not have negative words such as lie, deceit, war, and evil. Their society builds simple houses, and it has a sound knowledge of medical herbs and poetry. They breed cleanliness and civility in their young and exercise them for speed and strength, because they are concerned more with the community than their own personal advantages. The Houyhnhnms are used as objects of satire, particularly when the inconsistencies in their character and behaviour are reflective of paradoxes in human thoughts and faults. Utopia could turn into dystopia, for the reason that Houyhnhnms could not have a true sense of good if they do not know what the evil is, and their lives seem lacking vigour, challenge, and excitement. Therefore the Houyhnhnms' society is perfect for Houyhnhnms, but it is hopeless for humans.
On the other hand, dystopia is a creation of a nightmare world where the conditions and the quality of life are extremely bad. Dystopia is illustrated through the Yahoos. The Yahoos are more primitive than humans. Their behaviour reflects the decadent and irrational behaviour of the civilized humans. For example, Yahoos fight with other groups and each other without apparent reason. Also their avarice for certain shiny stones of no practical use can be paralleled to contemporary societies' possessions of material such as jewellery. Swift uses the Yahoos as an example of greed and selfishness of humans. The Yahoos are entirely bestial and Gulliver's first meeting with them greatly disgust him "Upon the whole, I never behold in all my travels so disagreeable an animal, nor one against which I naturally conceived so strong an antipathy" (Swift 170).
The satirical element of character is illustrated through flat character, type of character, moral touchstone, and grotesque. A flat character is relatively uncomplicated and do not change throughout the course of a work. Swift uses the king of Lilliput as a flat character and he pictures the king as a powerful and greedy man who is very proud of himself. The king's government uses performance such as jumping high on a tight rope in order to obtain the vacant position in the government. This shows how the king's power eventually makes him care more about personal entertainment than the kingdom. In addition to that, the king's commands for Lilliputians to break their eggs on the small end first, illustrate the act of pride because the king wishes to make everyone subject to his will.
As well as using a flat character, the character element of the novel includes the greedy and the tyrant character type. For instance, the farmer of Brobdingnag plays the role of the greedy that puts Gulliver on display to profit from spectacular viewing of Gulliver performing tricks. Furthermore, the farmer starves Gulliver to death and resolves to make as much money as possible before Gulliver dies by selling him to the queen.
As an illustration of tyranny, Swift uses the king of Laputa. When the king wants to punish a particular region of the country, he can keep the floating island above it, depriving the lands below of the sun and rain. Similarly, the king is oblivious to the real concerns of the people below as he has never been below.
Also, the character element of a satiric