H. B. Anderson Writing

freelance writing and blogging

As readers acquaint themselves with the writing of Jonathan Swift through his book Gulliver’s Travels, they are introduced to the writing style of a man deeply interested in history, politics, and keeping society accountable. When reading this book without the cultural and historical knowledge of Swift’s period or from a simple outsider in his day and age, one may think that it was only an elaborate and fictional tale with no meaning. This conclusion is entirely unfounded, and, through careful study, readers find that Jonathan Swift’s s Gulliver’s Travels is a tale calling out everyone and everything he can from real-life events: the everyday man, the powerful, his home country, and international relations, using satire.  

One such example of Swift’s subtle political and geographical ribbing reads, “when in an instant I felt above an hundred arrows discharged on my left hand, which pricked me like so many needles; and besides they shot another flight into the air, as we do bombs in Europe (Swift 285).” These simple six words at the end of the sentence pack a potent punch, especially considering how true these observations rang to Smith’s audience.  

In another excerpt, Jonathan Swift pokes fun at the modern man’s slavery to time writing of the natives finding a watch in Gulliver’s pocket,  

He put this engine to our ears, which made an incessant noise like that of a watermill. And we conjecture it is either some unknown animal, or the god that he worships: but we are more inclined to the latter opinion, because he assured us (if we understood him right, for he expressed himself very imperfectly), that he seldom did any thing without consulting it. He called it his oracle, and said it pointed out the time for every action of his life (Swift 294).  

By pointing out the natives’ outside perspective on Gulliver’s use of a standard pocket watch, Swift took something that everyday individuals could relate to and pointed out the common folly of its idolized use.  

Swift’s use of satire was sometimes much more subtle and required his readers to do their own research or knowledge into both his written intent and current events. One portion of text follows this pattern of satire closely, “I was assured, that a year or two before my arrival, Flimnap would have infallibly broke his neck, if one of the King’s cushions, that accidentally lay on the ground, had not weakened the force of his fall (Swift 296).” This text, if glanced at, seems to only carry along the storyline of the intricate lives and social order of the Lilliput. However, Swift is speaking of George I’s lover who is said to have aided Walpole’s return to public life in 1721 (Greenblatt, et al 296). The use of this satirical addition was to acknowledge, with others, the obviousness of these current events and to challenge its morality or authority.  

This leads to one last excerpt being examined. Swift writes a few pages later, “I had sent so many memorials and petitions for my liberty that his Majesty at length mentioned the matter first in the cabinet, and then in a full council; where it was opposed by none, except Skyresh Bolgolam, who was pleased, without any provocation, to be my mortal enemy (Swift 299). When specifically looking for satire within Swift’s work, this line sticks out even to the untrained eye. The character Skyresh Bolgolam was based on a real person, the earl of Nottingham, who did not take kindly to Swift (Greenblatt, et al 298). 

In every account of satirical usage, Swift’s words hold a purpose. He continually uses words to tastefully show the fault of society, while pushing his fellow men and women to change their own irony, as well. Gulliver’s Travels, on the outside, may seem a story of pure fiction, but Jonathan Swift’s true meaning and message still press on, even generations after him. 

Works Cited

Swift, Jonathan. “Gulliver’s Travels” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century, edited by M. H. Abrams, Stephen Greenblatt, James Noggle, James Simpson, Jon Stallworthy, Jack Stillinger, Carol T. Christ, and Lawrence Lipking, W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., 2018, pp. 278-322.

This essay was an assignment for my college the University of the Cumberlands, but I enjoyed it so much that I wished to share it with my readers 🙂 This lesson of necessary (and carefully constructed) satire continues to this day.

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