University of Northern Iowa Dept. of English Language and Literature student writing award of distinction for critical essay, 2008
Satire; Swift, Jonathan, 1667-1745. Gulliver's travels;
According to Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels, eighteenth-century English life contained cultural practices and attitudes that he felt needed to be confronted. In an attempt to call attention to these shortcomings, he uses entertaining and fantastical tales in Gulliver's Travels as a medium through which he injects a myriad of satiric techniques filled with subversive discourse that he hopes will vex and disconcert his readers out of their various iniquities and follies. However, Swift’s text presents several challenges to its interpretation, as "an analysis of Gulliver’s Travels can cruelly expose the writer’s intelligence and even character" (Brady 346). Throughout the text, Swift alters his satiric strategy, and the reader must adapt to the author's various devices while maintaining a comprehension of the text in its complete form. Indeed, part of Swift's strategy is to use the relative physical abilities of Gulliver throughout his experiences with the Brobdingnagians and the Lilliputians to point out many absurdities of English government and of European life in general. A different strategy occurs in "Part IV: A Voyage to the Houyhnhnms" where Swift places Gulliver amongst horses equipped with human cognition, and men are depicted as irrational and abhorrent creatures that are used as servants for the horses. The implication of Swift's decision to create the Houyhnhnms as horses has vexed literary critics since the book’s initial release. Consequently, any discussion of Gulliver's Travels must include not only an analysis of Swift’s satiric strategy throughout his narrator's adventures, but also an examination of Swift's personal motives for constructing such an enigmatic piece of literature.
Department of English Language and Literature
©2007 Josh Mahoney
Mahoney, Josh, "Swift's shifting satiric strategy in Gulliver's Travels" (2007). Student Writing Awards. 12.