Satire on a Nation
Jonathan Swift?s, Gulliver?s Travels satirically relates bodily functions and physical attributes to social issues during England?s powerful rule of Europe. Through out the story we find many relations between bodily features and British and European society. Swift uses this tone of mockery to explain to his reader the importance of many different topics during this time of European rule. Swift feels that the body and their functions relate to political as well as the ration of a society. Swift?s fascination with the body comes from its unproblematic undertone which gives his audience recognizable parallelism to many issues such as political change and scientific innovation.
Gulliver?s first adventure takes place in Lilliput. Gulliver swims to a foreign shore after his boat and rowboat capsize due to a fierce storm. Washed upon the shore, Gulliver finds himself tied to the grass surrounded by little bodied people called the Lilliputians. The Lilliputians stood no more than six inches high. During this time Swift recognized that England was also a kind of six inch being that had great influence in Europe. Swift wrote Gulliver?s Travel?s during a time when Europe was the worlds most dominant and influential force. England, despite its small size, had the potential to defeat any nation that might try to conquer them. Swift relates this phenomenon to the small stature of the Lilliputians. They stood a mere six inches high but had the power to siege the mammoth Gulliver. The capability of a nation consisting of miniature people, who are able to capture someone ten-times their size can be seen as reinforcing the capability of a small nation, such as England, becoming and remaining a great power. Even though this is true, Swift entices a condescending tone to Gulliver?s portrayal of the small Lilliputians, who easily fit into the hands of Gulliver, yet still manage to threaten his life.
Even though the Lilliputians are piteously small in Gulliver?s eyes, they do not see themselves the same way. To themselves, the Lilliputians feel they are normal and Gulliver remains the outlandish giant. The unexpected infringement of giant Gulliver into the Lilliputians well-developed society reminds the European society, that size and strength are always relative, and there is no way for Europe to be certain that a Gulliver-like giant, might not arrive and conquer them at any moment. This encounter, between Gulliver and the Lilliputians would put Europe?s confidence in its power in jeopardy. Swift made sure that this message got across to humble the society of England.
In chapter three we see the advance of Gulliver in the Lilliputians society. During the process of integrating Gulliver finds that their culture is based around trivial issues. These trivial issues can be looked at as subsequent to their small stature. Gulliver finds that their government officials are chosen by rope dancing. To Gulliver and the reader these practices are ridiculous and arbitrary, but to the Lilliputians who do not need extravagant things because of their size, see these practices as normal. Swift uses this scene to satire the British government at this time. The British government also elected their ministers in a trivial manner. In order to receive freedom from the Lilliputians, Gulliver must help them in battle. Gulliver ’s agreement to the terms provided in his contract to stay on the island for his freedom came not from exceeding force from the Lilliputians, for Gulliver could crush their entire city with his colossus body size and weight compared to the Lilliputians. The Lilliputians were so secure in their laws and rules, where they felt their laws could even rule this great bodily giant with them. Noticeably the audience sees that Gulliver can easily crush the tiny Lilliputians, but he decides out of the kindness of his heart not to forcefully become free. Once this great body inquires his freedom, there will be no way for these small humans to thrust their laws upon him. Trying to control outside forces were also flaws that Europe processed at this time. We again see how Gulliver feels that land is control by people and not land controlling itself. When the audience sees that Europe remains controlled by human bodily egos, this makes his satire even more convincing and critical.
In the next chapters, the Lilliputians let Gulliver receive his freedom, at the same time they realize what kind of political power they can gain from the body size of Gulliver. Gulliver goes into battle with the Lilliputians and destroys most of the Blefescan naval fleets, but not all of them. Gulliver is greeted as a hero, because of his great demonstration of strength. The Lilliputians ask him to recover the rest of the ships but Gulliver refuses to use his bodily strengths to promote slavery or injustice. Clearly, Swift implies that Europe should also not use its great strength to enslave or bring injustice to other nations. Relating bodily images in Swift’s satire makes the reader relate to the piece as an individual. When the reader sees that every person plays a part in the European government the satire has more effectiveness to changing the individuals of a nation rather then placing sole blame on the hierarchy of this time. Even though the Lilliputians have seen Gulliver’s tremendous force over their enemy, they remain confident in their egos to still treat Gulliver as a common subject. Easily, Gulliver could crush the entire Lilliputian army with his great strength but they are over-confident with their forces, just as Europe.
The Lilliputians have been warring with the Blefescan City for many years. They have been fighting over which side to break an egg. To any rational human these arguments would be trivial. Swift reports these arguments with great seriousness, because even though the arguments are trivial, they are also relative to the size of the Lilliputian. Swift wants to get the point across that conflict of any sort becomes a threat to the standings of the government. Just as the Lilliputians have trivial arguments, Swift relates these problems with Europe’s government. Swift makes reference to outside forces looking into the story such as the reader, to conclude these arguments are ridiculous. On the other hand outsiders view Europe’s conflicts just as ridiculous but very much serious inside the nation.
A bodily function that has deep implications concerning Swift’s personal life surfaced when Gulliver must urinate on the Emperor’s wife’s room when it catches fire. Gulliver’s urination on the palace is not merely an offense to the Lilliputians’ sense of decency; it suggests that they are insignificant, and therefore they respond with due indigence. Even though Gulliver’s urination intends to prevent a disaster, its also an assertion of his ability to control the Lilliputians in any way he likes, even by the simplest and most profane actions. Swift uses this sequence of problems to show a personal issue in his life. Swift was a man known for his uncleanness. By pointing this out in his story, mocks his critics. Swift?s urination scene ridicules this view, giving a satire within a satire.
In chapter eight we see the Lilliputians turn on Gulliver for deceiving them in battle, and the utmost crime of urinating in public. The Lilliputians want to take Gulliver?s eyesight, leaving him blind. Swift uses this portrayal of sight to acknowledge, without eyesight; the strongest of countries can be overturned. If Europe were to loose its eyesight on other countries in the world, they would be vulnerable to be overthrown. Even though the Lilliputians wanted to execute Gulliver it remains easy for him to talk his way out of the situation. This is true for the fact that Gulliver is a threat to their whole society, which they know. They let him escape because they would like to return to their normal society in which they built, and with Gulliver gone their bodily smallness is no longer a falsity in their society. Swift realizes that any country being threatened by a potentially dominating country will react in a way that that country no longer remains a threat to their society. The Lilliputians are content with their smallness, when Gulliver is not around because everything is relative when he is gone.
Obviously we see that Swift has a fascination for bodily functions by his use of relating these bodily functions to social issues. Swift uses height, weight, length of hair, and eyesight to relate to the Europe audience, his social interest. Swift fascinates with these bodily functions for the simple fact that he directly tries to satire the European Government, which is, ran by people operated by bodily functions. Just as the Lilliputians responded to Gulliver in issues, reminds Europe they respond the same way. Using these bodily functions helps the audience to better understand his satire, and relate these issues to each of their lives. Swift reminds Europe that they have limitations just as every bodily function lives and dies.