Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels is one of the greatest works of satire ever composed. In Gulliver’s Travels, Swift satirizes politics relentlessly through his portrayal of the rival Lilliputian factions. He attacks religion in his depiction of the big and little endians. Finally, Swift satirizes Western Culture as a whole through the words of the wise king of Brobdingnag. Through his novel, Swift satirizes party politics, religious differences, and Western Culture in ways still relevant to today’s world.
During Swift’s life the English political scene was dominated by two major political parties, the Whigs and the Tories. Just as in Swift’s England, Lilliput is dominated by two rival factions, the high heels and the low heels. Swift writes that “that for above seventy Moons past there have been two struggling Parties in this Empire, under the Names of Tramecksan and Slamecksan, from the high and low Heels on their shoes, by which they distinguish themselves.”
Swift makes the differences between the high heels and low heels seem trivial to satirize what Swift considered were really trivial differences between the Whigs an Tories. This satire is still relevant today, as many people would argue the differences between the Democrats and Republicans are trivial, and by focusing on small divisive issues, the two parties are really hurting the unity of the state.
Another target of Swift’s sharp pen is religion, particularly the conflicts between Protestants and Catholics. Lilliput has long been plagued by internal religious problems the difference between the two sects is where they cut their hard boiled eggs. The Lilliputians cut their eggs at the little end, and are Little-endians, while the Blefuscians cut their eggs at the big end and are Big-endians.
The damage of the wars has been, “That our Histories tell us there have been six Rebellions raised on that account; wherein one Emperor lost his Life, and another his Crown. These civil Commotions were constantly fomented by the Monarchs of Blefuscu; and when they were quelled, the Exiles always fled for Refuge to that Empire. It is computed, that eleven thousand Persons have, at several times, suffered Death, rather than submit to break their Eggs at the smaller End.”
The split between the big and little endians is a satire of the split of Protestantism from Catholicism, which Swift believes was a matter of small differences. However, these small differences led to many wars between Catholics and Protestants, particularly during the 30 Years War. The small differences between religions that leads to violence can still be seen today in places such as Northern Ireland and Iraq, where religious factions have caused civil wars, with has caused a lot of death and destruction.
Finally Swift satirizes Western Culture as a whole. When Gulliver travels to Brobdingnag he encounters a race of giants, who although ugly, are much superior to the peoples of Europe in culture and in government. They are peaceful and fair and not extravagant, violent, and cruel as the peoples of Europe have been. After Gulliver tells the King of Brobdingnag about European government, society, and history, trying to make it sound as good as possible the King replies, “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’s satire of Western heritage through the mouth of the King can still apply to today’s society, where many of the same vices and actions are still seen in our culture just as they were in Swift’s.
Through Gulliver’s Travels, Swift was able to satire English politics, religious conflict, and Western culture masterfully. His biting satire is still relevant today, as many of 18th Century England’s problems can be seen in 21st Century America and other parts of the globe where divisive party politics, religious conflict, and the follies of Western Culture continue to bring harm to our society.