My Gulliver Piece, With Added Comments
I spent half a day writing this crap for class and then it wasn't required because the lecturer was ill. So I thought I'd share it here. Might as well do something with it, although casually flaunting my laboured academic prose in front of Suffolk Punch readers is a little like doing a naked jig in the high street. The task? Take a passage from Gulliver's Travels and analyse it in 500 words using at least one 'secondary source'. Well, here we go...(I have, by the way, interposed a few comments not in the original script.)
Gulliver’s Travels Book 1, Chapter 4
“Which two mighty powers have…”
In this passage from Book 1, Gulliver learns from Principal Secretary Reldresal (sounds like redressal, that does) that a difference about how eggs should be eaten is the motivation for the long war between Lilliput and the neighbouring empire of Blefuscu. Reldresal has been asked to give this historical account to Gulliver in the hope that he will use his size and strength to support Lilliput when Blefuscu invades.
The Big-Endians and the Small-Endians are a satirical parallel of the sort we see throughout the novel (Bywaters 734). They represent something Swift wishes to pass comment on, and in recognising what they represent we (who the hell's this 'we' you're going on about?) derive the fullest enjoyment of the text (I sound like an eight year old writing a letter to his grandad). The parallel’s satiric effect, as we shall see, depends as much on Gulliver as on the absurdity (I wanted to say 'silliness' there) of the conceit.
Swift’s intentions in the novel have been extensively debated (apparently - what do I know?). The main source of disagreement between scholars about Book One appears to lie in the question of whether it is a cohesive allegory or a series of satirical thrusts woven into one narrative (Harth 40). There is general agreement (I hoped there was anyway) that Blefuscu represents France under Louis XV; Lilliput, on the other hand, only has correspondences to England under George I (Bywaters 734). Given that Louis was a Catholic who gave shelter to exiles from the old Jacobite court and King George a Protestant (although his wife was a Catholic), we can speculate that warring over which end one’s egg is opened might refer to the stupidity of the ongoing hostilities between France and England, with religion symbolising all other differences (I was sure there's another literary term for what the eggs are doing but I couldn't be mithered to look it up.) (Korshin 258); whatever the doctrinal disagreements between Catholicism and Protestantism, after all, its respective adherents worship the same God.
Although Swift achieves great comic play here with the invention of new administrative/ bureaucratic words – Reldresal refers to ‘the Brundrecal (which is their Alcoran)’ (Swift 37) – as well as in the capacity of textual interpretation (as in the different readings of ‘convenient’) to cause conflict, the trenchancy (I got that word into two essays this week cos it sounds academicky - hope the lecturers don't talk to each other) of the humour and the satirical parallel is due in large part to Gulliver’s distance from the political machinations of the Lilliputian court. He is, literally, bigger than the disputing parties, as well as ‘a foreigner’ (Swift 37); and the cause of the dispute is, by any reckoning, petty. It is made even more petty, to the reader, by the seriousness with which it is taken in Lilliput (I sound like Jeeves when I mangle sentences to avoid ending them with prepositions). ‘Many hundred large volumes have been published upon this controversy,’ Reldresal tells Gulliver (Swift 36).
Swift’s intention, however, is complex. Gulliver’s commitment to come to the aid of Lilliput at the end of the passage shows that Swift does not mock the notion of fighting for his country, even when the political climate is inhospitable or the cause unsupportable (like the two ables there - it's damn near poetry). What he mocks is factionalism. Swift subscribed at the time of writing Gulliver’s Travels to the Tory ideal of an informal coalition of interests in government that would end the warring and intrigue scarring British life; Prime Minister Walpole and his Whigs did not. (Good: Coalitions don't fucking work.)
Gulliver, then, is used by Swift to show that Tories are great patriots because they are beyond factionalism (Bywaters 734). Since his argument, by extension, is that the Whigs are not, he is guilty of a contradiction he appears not to notice.(I bet that observation would have caused roars of laughter in the classroom.) (Should I say classroom?)
Bywaters, David. ‘Gulliver’s Travels and the Mode of Political Parallel During Walpole’s Administration.’ ELH. 54. 3 (1987): 717-740. Web. Accessed 9th December 2011.
Harth, Philip. The Problem of Political Allegory in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. Modern Philology. 73. 4 (1976): 40-47. Web. Accessed 9th December 2011.
Korshin, Paul J. Swift’s Politics: A Study in Disaffection.’ Modern Philology. 95. 2 (1997): 253-258. Web. Accessed 9th December 2011.
Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. Richmond: Oneworld Classics Limited, 2010. Print.