Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Kind of Obvious?

I don't know if it was just me, but a lot of the representative satire Swift uses in Gulliver's Travels, especially in Part 1, seems fairly obvious. I mean, he gets lost in a fog. Obviously, when he comes out of it it represents a realization. He gets tied down and captured. Obviously, he means that the constraints of his society are extremely limiting. An emperor figure pities him but at the same time keeps him tied up. Obviously, he feels that the ruling class has no real sense of what trials and tribulations the people of his society are actually undergoing. And the people keeping him restrained speak an entirely different language. Obviously, he means that the ruling class can't even relate to anyone else.

I mean, there's an underlying layer and it's obviously a satire. But compared to works over the past couple hundred of years (e.g. Spenser's The Fairie Queene) it just seemed to be very shallow allegory. I suppose I could be missing another layer altogether, and if so I apologize to extinct body of Swift, but I really don't see it.


  1. I agree, Alec, there are some instances where the satire is obvious (see especially Gulliver's panegyric on his country and the King of Brobdingnag's response on p. 116-120). However, I think the satire gets a bit more complicated once we begin to question how it is conveyed, and more particularly the reliability of the narrator. Wile Gulliver appears, as Sarah suggests, like a detached observer in part 1, and the Lilliputians serve as the object of satire, in part II Gulliver himself has become the satiric object. Does this flip suggest complications for some of the more obvious satirical moments?

  2. The success/value of this novel does not come exclusively from the obvious social commentaries it provides. One thing that makes Gulliver's Travel a classic is that the themes can resonate both in the time it was written and even today. He is portraying truths about the human experience. Kathryn provides a good example of this when she discusses the objectification of the human person.