Jonathan Swift, author of the satirical Gulliver's Travels, employs different characters and situations to represent the aspects of people and societies that he chooses to criticize. The bickering between the Big- and Little-Endians, the Lilliputian method of selecting public officers, the behavior of the Yahoos, the characteristics of the Houyhnhnms, and the experiments of the Grand Academy of Lagado are all vehicles to convey Swift's opinions of man and society. The disagreement between the Big-Endians and the Little-Endians is a ridiculous one. Their opinions differ about the correct way to break an egg, a petty argument that leads to the formation of two separate empires (Swift 59). In this situation, Swift is mirroring the circumstances surrounding a religious war; specifically, the needless bickering between the Catholics and the Protestants. The author effectively demonstrates that disagreeing about the "correct" way to worship God is equally as absurd and senseless as the disagreement between the Big- and Little-Endians.
The customs of the kingdom of Lilliput reflect corrupt aspects of British society. In order to be chosen for public office, candidates must perform a dance on a tight rope (Swift 46-47). The performer that the emperor likes best receives the most prestigious position, with the rest of the dancers obtaining positions according to how well their performances ranked with the emperor. This represents the corruption that ran rampantly through the British government during Swift's time. Although tight rope walking was not required of candidates in Britain, bribery was not uncommon. Political hopefuls would offer large amounts of money to influential figures within the government in order to achieve positions of great power.
Later in the book, the Yahoos are introduced (Swift 239). In the country in which these creatures live, horses called Houyhnhnms are superior to the human-like Yahoos. These lowly, ignorant creatures represent the baseness of human nature. They are beings without a conscience, with their carnal desires and need to survive taking precedence over all else. Yahoos operate selfishly; for example, a handful of Yahoos will fight viciously over an amount of food large enough to feed dozens of their kind. The struggle is a pointless one that represents the lack of substantial reasons men have for waging war.
Swift also satirizes man's quest for perfection through reasoning and scientific means. The Houyhnhnms are completely rational, intelligent beings. They do nothing without a solid reason for taking that action. They marry solely to produce healthy new generation of Houyhnhnms, they educate their colts and fillies solely to make them productive members of society, and they put visitors at ease solely to ensure that their guests will be amusing and diverting company. However, since they are infallibly virtuous and rational, they lack feeling and sympathy for other living things (Price 192). They have no understanding of love, hate or fear, and they see the inferior Yahoos as pests to be disposed of.
Through the beliefs and actions of the Houyhnhnms, Swift is showing readers how dangerous it is to become obsessed with perfecting man and society, and how futile it is for man to attempt to lock away his most basic human emotions and become purely scientific and logical. The Grand Academy at Lagado is another example of the futility of man's pursuit of a scientific society. At the Academy, scientists undertake impossible endeavors, such as extracting sunshine from cucumbers, and obtaining food from human excrement Swift 195-196). Another experiment is the search for a way to cure colic, and when the process is demonstrated on a dog, the animal immediately dies.
Although the researchers have accomplished nothing in the years they have been performing these experiments, they will continue to take money from the community and look for ways to accomplish anything scientifically. Swift shows that this is clearly and impossible undertaking; science is not the answer for every problem man encounters. Although the work is seemingly innocent, in reality Gulliver's Travels is a satire that attacks pride and ignorance of man and the society in which he lives. Through the use of outwardly comical and absurd characters and situations, Swift criticizes the less admirable characteristics of human nature. Works Cited Price, Martin. "Order and Obligation." Modern Critical Interpretations: Gulliver's Travels.
Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publisher, 1986. Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver's Travels. New York: Penguin Books USA Inc.
, 1983. Williams, Kathleen. "Animal Ration is Capa x." Modern Critical Interpretations: Gulliver's Travels. Ed. Harold Bloom.
New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986.