Society and the State Theme in “Gulliver’s Travels” Essay Sample

Posted on November 9, 2023

Essay Sample

“Gulliver’s Travels,” a masterwork by Jonathan Swift released in 1726, is a satirical examination of numerous facets of human society and the government. The author makes a pointed commentary on his community’s political, social, and moral aspects through the imaginative excursions taken by the protagonist, Lemuel Gulliver, to many nations. The current essay explores the issue of the people and the state in “Gulliver’s Travels,” analyzing how Swift emphasizes the faults and foolishness of his civilization and government.

One of the most compelling ways the creator addresses the theme of society and the state is through his depiction of the various cultures Gulliver encounters during his travels. Swift satirizes the follies of his own community’s politics in the kingdom of Lilliput, where the people are just six inches tall and employ their ridiculously petty political disputes and bureaucratic procedures. For instance, Gulliver notices the Lilliputian’s protracted discussions on which end of an egg to break before eating, reminiscent of the pointlessness of political talks in the real world. “It is a maxim among these lawyers that whatever has been done before, may legally be done again: and therefore they take special care to record all the decisions formerly made against common justice, and the general reason of mankind” (Swift, 1995, p. 316). The quote humorously criticizes the legal system’s tendency to justify any action by citing precedent, even when it goes against reason and morality. Therefore, in the example of Lilliput, the author depicts a satirical view of society’s rules and political states.

The land of Lilliput reminds Gulliver of Europe, where the hero finds that their manner of life is similar to his regarding social governance. Swift utilizes the activities of these people, including their absurd actions, to criticize the English government. “That, upon his solemn oath to observe all the above articles, the man-mountain shall have a daily allowance of meat and drink sufficient for the support of 1724 of our subjects” (Swift, 1995, p. 50). Under the condition that Gulliver abides by the rules the inhabitants have established for him, particularly to limit what he does and control him, the hero is provided with the food and liquids he needs to maintain his health. Due to his restrictions, Gulliver must carry out various tasks, including defending messengers in battle, helping laborers hoist large objects, and exercising caution to avoid inflicting injury or doing anything against their wishes. The protagonist can obtain food and drink and live quietly despite these regulations. Hence, the author reflects and criticizes Lilliput’s country as a European one because of its societal rules and government.

Swift uses a viewpoint switch in Laputa island and Brobdingnag kingdom, where the people are giants compared to Gulliver, to criticize the flaws in his civilization. When told about European politics, the king of Brobdingnag reacts with contempt: “I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth” (Swift, 1995, p. 164). Here, the creator underscores European humankind’s arrogance, deceit, and moral corruption by highlighting how it appears from an outsider’s point of view. Laputa, the floating island inhabited by impractical intellectuals, critiques the detachment between academic pursuits and the practical needs of society. The author created Laputa as a country of scientists and social planners to reveal that the inhabitants ultimately neglected the concerns of people who lived below, on solid ground, and established the dystopian, or “bad place,” paradigm. This living site illustrates the folly of pursuing knowledge for its own sake without any regard for real-world applications. Thus, through Laputa and Brobdingnag’s way of living, Swift portrays the inconsistencies in real-world civilizations.

The author also shows an ideal public through the Houyhnhnms and the obsessed community through Yahoos. The Houyhnhnms, rational and virtuous horse-like creatures, represent an idealized mankind that embodies reason, harmony, and a natural hierarchy. Gulliver admires their way of life, describing them as the most unblemished pattern of virtue and prudence. In contrast, the Yahoos, savage and brutal human-like creatures, symbolize the imperfections and base instincts within human nature. “The Yahoos were a species of animals utterly incapable of amendment by precept or example” (Swift, 1995, p. 5). The creator uses Gulliver’s disillusionment when he realizes that the Yahoos are closer to humanity than the noble Houyhnhnms to critique the corruption and depravity present in society. Swift drives home his point with scathing sarcasm and comedy. The author comments on the defects of his civilization and government while Gulliver travels, using the folly and irrationality of the cultures he finds as a mirror. The use of exaggerated situations and characters serves as a tool to accentuate these criticisms. Consequently, in the instances of Yahoos and Houyhnhnms, Swift represents various communities with different values.

In conclusion, Jonathan Swift’s book offers a profound exploration of society and the state through its satirical portrayal of various communities and governments. The creator criticizes his modern civilization’s political, social, and moral shortcomings via the prism of Gulliver’s fanciful travels. The analysis has demonstrated how Swift’s sarcasm and symbolism efficiently express his observations on culture and the state by utilizing actual passages from the book. The classic novel “Gulliver’s Travels” is still relevant today and inspires readers to consider the flaws and qualities of their communities.

Swift, J., & Swift, J. (1995). Gulliver’s Travels (pp. 27-266). Palgrave Macmillan US.

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