Discuss the greatest satirists of all time, and
Discuss how satire uses aspects of other genres. Use Rape of the Lock and Gulliver’s Travels as the models to support your argument. Jonathan Swift is widely considered to be one of the greatest satirists of all time, and it is generally undisputed that Gulliver’s Travels was his finest satirical work. The satire inherent in this work is not buried irretrievably below the surface, yet it remains out of sight to the casual reader who does not choose to look for it, and the story remains a delightful fantasy adventure that has entertained generations of young and adult readers.
It is a mark of a good satire that it cannot be read merely as an analogy, as has occasionally been attempted. The characters in the story do not respectively represent any historical figure or institution. Like all good satire, it believes that certain points need to be made and it uses subversion to make sure they have an appropriate outlet. Any work whose satirical tendencies are immediately and dominantly obvious runs the risk of becoming wearying and uninteresting to read, after the events and characters become secondary to the author’s political or social viewpoints.
A satire must hold the interest of the reader so that the serious points behind the work can be given time to unravel gracefully and effectively. For this reason, a satirical work will often disguise itself as a product of an entirely different genre. If done well, there is no reason why the work cannot also be an entirely enjoyable example of this genre – after all, there must be some literary substance to the experience of reading the work in the time until its satiric nature has been suspected and revealed.
It is the genre of travel writing that Jonathan Swift chooses to; satirise itself, to some extent, and also as the vessel through which his deeper political satire will flow. While an all encompassing analogy cannot successfully be sought, however, it is known that during Swift’s lifetime there existed a high degree of animosity and conflict between, not only Catholics and Protestants, but between Catholics and Catholics, and Protestants and Protestants, and infinite other sects within sects.
All of which Swift gleefully highlights the ridiculousness of by presenting a variety of apparently silly conflicts which the Lilliputians use as the basis of intense feuding. It is a rather literal metaphor for small-mindedness which Swift seeks to employ in the size of the Lilliputians, as contrasted by Gulliver’s upstanding compassion. Physical attributes and bodily functions are another recurring feature of Swift’s satire, and parallels are drawn between the workings of the human body and the political structure of a society.
But it is always worth remembering that the Lilliputians are confident that they are entirely normal, whereas Gulliver is the outsider (initially, at least) and a giant. These combinations of writing techniques and character attitudes serve to enforce Swift’s firmly held notions of relativity, and could be interpreted as a warning to the united aggressive dominance of Europe’s ruling body at that time. The Rape Of The Lock chooses to use the genre of the mock epic as his satirical canvas.