Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Comparison of the satire in Gulliver's Travels with Animal Farm, Utopia and Candide


According to John M. Bullitt, satire is a non-rational way of bridging the gap between the two perceptions—the perception of man as he is and the perception of man as he ought to be. It is a demonstration of human follies and vices by means of scorn, derision and ridicule. It is usually a humorous piece of writing, invoking the element of laughter, yet it is underlined with irony and sarcasm for the purpose of abashing certain individuals or institutions into rectitude. Gulliver’s Travels is a magnum opus of Jonathan Swift and so far one of the masterpieces of satirical novels ever written. Swift has employed every possible technique to produce a hierarchy of the most profound satire that has universal application. Through narrative technique, he satirises the travelogues and voyagers of his time. In background setting, he optimally exploits the Utopian and dystopian aspects and through his complementary and contrasting characters, Swift manoeuvres the type of satire intended. Furthermore, the use of the grotesque is also very skilfully utilised.
The narrator, Gulliver, is a voyager who is victimised by the abnormal and bizarre circumstances that lead him to visit four incredulous and strange lands. Although an intelligent man, Gulliver’s gullibility becomes the weapon of satire pointed towards politics, religion, society and human nature. He is a stranger in the book with no deep familial or emotional links. The stress is on his perception that is controlled by his contained and naive view of the world.
"Gulliver is neither a fully developed character nor even an altogether distinguishable persona; rather, he is a satiric device enabling Swift to score satirical points." (Rodino 124)[1]
George Orwell's Animal Farm is a classic novel wrought with political and human satire, published in 1945. It is a story about an Animal Farm in which the animals revolt against their human master to gain self-rule, deciding upon a totalitarian society. The mighty despotic rule alludes to the Russian Revolution of 1917. Orwell snorts at the system of Soviet Communism which exploits the working class while the rulers (i.e. the pigs) lead a luxurious life, gradually reverting to capitalism which they themselves defied in the beginning. In contrast, Swift in Gulliver’s Travels shows different kinds of governments in the four voyages. However, the English monarchy in the third voyage most reflects the Communist dictatorship of the Animal Farm. In both cases, there is a wide gap between the rulers and the ruled. The public or the ruled in either novel is unaware of the power that they can wield against the government. The pigs gradually gain ground and on being elevated to such a high position of responsibility, indulge in corruption, hence, becoming exactly what they fought against, the human tyranny. Here, the rampant evil of corruption has been highlighted. It can be related to the satire on human nature in Gulliver’s Travels. In the fourth voyage, Swift satirises the “Yahoo” in everyone that needs to be tamed, a failure of which will lead to destruction. This “Yahoo” could be the incessant lust for power in Animal Farm or the unruliness of the real Yahoos in Gulliver’s Travels.
Both novels under discussion incorporate dystopia to allude to their real purpose. The use of animals has accentuated the comic aspect in both novels. Both of these elements not only help in conveying the real message but also appeal to the readers and entertain them. Gullibility or naivety is also used as a technique to bring out the human follies and the subsequent degeneration and downfall of mankind in both writings.
Animal Farm and Gulliver’s Travels also point towards specific political figures in describing the Soviet and the English politics respectively. Both point towards the misgivings of the corrupt system that the populace so blindly believes in. While Old Major, Napoleon and Snowball represent the founders of Communism Karl Marx and Lenin, Joseph Stalin and Trotsky respectively in Animal Farm, Flimnap, Reldressal and Bolgolam stand for Sir Robert Walpole, Lord Carterel and the Earl of Nottingham respectively in Gulliver’s Travels.
Orwell while disagreeing to the system of Communism deliberates that equality cannot exist anywhere and there is no such thing as a classless society. Greed makes man’s intentions vile and those at the top are bound to get corrupt. Hence, the law that “All animals are equal,” changes to “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” Likewise in Gulliver’s Travels, Swift comments on the Imperialist nature of English which has its roots in avarice and nothing else. The non-inclusion of Britain as an Imperialist state by Gulliver is clearly a satire on his innocent patriotism like that of the animals of the Animal Farm. However, this point of view is negated by John M. Bullitt and William Bragg Ewald.[2]
Utopia by Thomas More is another exemplary satire written in 1516 which can be related to Gulliver’s Travels in a number of ways. This fictional novel exudes a pungent scent of religious and political disagreements of More with respect to his contemporaries and portrays an apt picture of the sixteenth century England. What links these two excellent pieces of satire together is the virtue of justice,  and its institutional and societal abuse. Both demonstrate the process of the so-called justice in fantastical, pragmatic, foreign societies. The Brobdingnagians find the invention of gun-powder as horrific as Hythloday’s company at Cardinal Morton’s dinner find his idea of the rehabilitation of thieves. Both are satires on the irrationality of the English and their lack of reason in doing justice. The Utopia in the novel is an almost similar concept found in the Houyhnhms in the fourth voyage of Gulliver. Both strive towards an almost perfect society with no emotion or passion, making them more technical, less of humans and yet having a civil life.
The religious satire that More intends to create is through his complete refusal of the very things that he as a person believed in. It is also through an ideal society, one that is in perpetual harmony and without conflict. Religion is considered sacred and there are no fights amongst any group whatsoever. It is portrayed as an opposite of England where there were fights and serious conflicts between the Catholics and the Protestants. In Gulliver’s Travels, the same aspect of religion has been satirised in a different way. The Big Endians and the Small Endians are the Catholics and the Protestants who keep on fighting over the slightest of issues. More praises the Utopians to embrace Christianity because they understand the truth of it. In doing so he is actually criticising the English as W. R. Chamber says, The underlying thought of Utopia always is, With nothing save Reason to guide them, the Utopians do this; and yet we Christian Englishmen, we Christian Europeans!”[3]
The incredulously abstruse names of people and places are another satirical  technique that both authors employ. Hythloday means speaker of nonsense while Utopia itself is derived from Latin and means no-place. Both the names give a very nonsensical vibe. Similarly, names such as Brobdingnag, Struldbrugs, Houyhnhms, also leave one clueless and confounded.
Another equally acclaimed satirical novel that can be related to Gulliver’s Travels is Candide written by Voltaire in . Both novels work successfully in implying at the human follies and vices. They use the same technique of a travelogue to venture into strange lands which come to evaluate and comprehend human weaknesses. The two imaginary worlds that the two authors delineate are the Houyhnhms, a society of horses and El Dorado, the city of gold. Both employ the element of a naive, innocent protagonist who always lands in trouble. Candide, in his absolute optimism goes out into the world and witnesses a lot of evil which he time and again tries to defend behind the garb of his hopefulness. Gulliver also goes from place to place, striving with hope which makes the satire all the more prominent.
Candide’s enforced servitude in the armed forces and the war that he has to fight against Bulgars and Abares (Prussians and the French) are again a satire on the wars that were initiated on the most trivial issues. In Gulliver’s Travels, it is the continual war between Lilliput and Blefusco (England and France) that has the same implications. Moreover, the institution as a whole is criticized by Voltaire when describing the killing of a soldier every now and then to encourage the others to do better.
The religious satire is also seen in Candide. Voltaire condemns the norms and rules set up by the church that are responsible for a lot of fights. He instead believes in tolerance and the freedom for everyone to follow religion the way they want to. In relating the incident where Candide is rejected food from Calvinist because of his religious beliefs and later on being helped by James the Anabaptist, Voltaire censures the society of imposing religious ideals and encourages religious freedom. Likewise in Gulliver’s Travels, Swift has shown the petty religious issues that cause wars between Lilliput and Blefesco, satirising the religious intolerance and impatience of the society. Equally trivial issue is raised when the grand inquisitor and the Jewish merchant fight over who will get Cunegonde on the Sabbath Day and quarrel because of a difference in their religion. Voltaire’s idea of religion is best explained in El Dorado where “everyone should serve God.”
Candide is also a moral satire. Voltaire exaggerates the human vices to make them funny and yet more likely to have the desired effect on the reader. Candide in his numerous expeditions comes across all kinds of vices, greed being the most common of them. The vices of the medieval society are put in the lime light so that the society is able to see the mirror. Likewise, in Gulliver’s Travels, Swift intends to bring forth all the vices of mankind. He also intends to provide a mirror for his society. However, instead of exaggeration, Swift enters the realm of grotesque.
According to Middleton J. Murry[4], Gulliver’s Travels is “the most savage onslaught on humanity ever written.” While this is true, the works of George Orwell, Thomas More and Voltaire are no less masterpieces of English Literature. Animal Farm, Utopia and Candide, all three novels have a plethora of similarities pertaining to the kind of satire used. While the political, moral and social satire is present in all three, they are employed in a variety of way to bring out the same effect. Since, the main objective of any satire is reformation and rectification of individual and of the society as well, these novels play this role very effectively. All four books successfully employ the innocent to amplify the effect on the reader. In conclusion, Animal Farm, Utopia and Candide all contain similar satire compared to Gulliver’s Travels, although there are different satires that are comparable to each.


[1] Rodino, Richard H. "The Study of Gulliver’s Travels, Past and Present." Critical Approaches to Teaching Swift. New York: AMS Press, 1992.

[2] Bullitt, John M. Jonathan Swift and the Anatomy of Satire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966.
Ewald, William Bragg. The Masks of Jonathan Swift. Oxford, Great Britain: Basil Blackwell, 1954.
[3] Chamber, W. R. The Meaning of Utopia, 1992
[4] Murry, J. Middleton. Swift. London: F. Mildner & Sons, 1970.

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