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The Use of Satire in Gulliver’s Travels and Animal Farm

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The genre of satire has served as a useful tool throughout history, in literature and the general arts, to indirectly bring attention to the shortcomings of humanity and more often the government as well as to effect political or social change, or to prevent it. It is certainly traditionally a passive aggressive tool, but is actually manipulated as an almost direct provocation within George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ that asserts the notion that men exploit animals in much the same way as the rich exploit the proletariat, and that the animals are to avoid the sins of mankind if there is any hope of achieving true liberty. As well as in Jonathan Swift’s ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ which placed swift under the unofficial title as ‘the master of Juvenalian satire’, also ridiculing the affairs of the human race as a whole in addition to satirizing the English system of governing. The novels both reveal and criticize sins and corruption of British ruling class and their cruel exploitation towards people of Britain and neighboring countries Both tales centering upon the external affairs of the English Government. Orwell’s wrote his own impression of the contemporary state of affairs at his time ‘Taught me how easily totalitarian propaganda can can control the opinion of enlightened people in democratic countries’

The key purpose of ‘Animal Farm’ is to inform as a cautionary tale of Communism, a key reason as to its prolonged date of publication due to its parallels with the Russian Revolution. As well as an allegory, Orwell uses anthropomorphism in order to parody a fable bringing to light a satirical juxtaposition between the stark political seriousness of the tale and any traditional fable generally accessible to children. Furthermore, Orwell extends the use of anthropomorphism as certain characters come to show humanistic traits throughout the tales progression which was decidedly initially taboo, ‘The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig….but already it was impossible to say which was which’. Essentially creating the connotations that you may not always attain the desired results from a revolution as the extent of the pigs corruption is estimated through their growing level of human attributes, and thus an example of satire as a blatant scrutiny of humanity’s vices.

Orwell also uses satire in ‘Animal Farm’ as a tool in order to mock the control of religion as well as the state of the Church within the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union being the first state to have as an ideological objective, the elimination of religion. ‘The Seven Commandments’ are considered the basic laws for the animals, comparable to ‘The Ten Commandments’ of Christianity, and meant to be upheld without fail, however we see that throughout the text the commandments are altered in order to best suit the will of the Pigs. ‘All animals are equal but some are more equal than others’ as an addition to the commandments implies the doom of communism as greed brought along the doom of the USSR’s socio-economic regime, symbolised within the book as the divide between the pigs and dogs living upper class and segregated from the farm but still in power above the rest of the animals. An alternative view of the changing state of the commandments is said to be a direct ridicule of The Bible’s New Testament due to its continuous evolution through translation, and thus taunting human nature.

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Similarly to ‘Animal Farm’, Swift also uses satire and anthropomorphism to illuminate political and religious corruptions in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, as well as, in a deeper facet, on human nature itself. This is highlighted through the stark contrast between the intelligent, dignified and rational-thinking horses, Houyhnhnms and humanlike barbaric and greedy creatures, the Yahoos that he encounters upon his travels. The segregation between the two species shown in both novels, is blatant symbolism of animal superiority, with the vices attached to human nature such as greed, evident as our downfall, and whilst the animals lack human nature, they prosper. Satire is continuously explored through this as Gulliver was ‘at much pains to describe to him the use of money’. This highlights the fact that the Houyhnhnms are able to succeed without the use of a currency within their society whereas the brutish Yahoos are said to be attracted to ‘shining stones’ indirectly ridiculing the use of money among humans and goes on to state that it ‘might proceed from the same principle of avarice which I had ascribed to mankind.’ allowing us to infer avarice itself to be an inherent trait of human nature and therefore explains humanity’s uncanny disposition toward money. Orwell also explores the corruption within the semantics of money and trade as the founding principles of ‘Animal Farm’ that included a prohibition against trade and the use of money were completely disregarded as the pigs plunge deeper into the metaphorical abyss of human nature, and a factor of the farms downfall from their supposed utopia.

Within the first chapter of ‘Animal Farm’ political influence is shown as it is made underhandedly clear that Old Major acts as the novel’s embodiment of Karl Marx, otherwise known as the ‘Father of Communism’. Old Major’s monologue “For the overthrow of the human race’ acts as a stand-in for Karl Marx’s ‘Communist Manifesto’. Old Major’s “strange dream” resulting in inspiring the rest of the farm, however the death of the ‘the prize Middle White boar’ emblematizes the ideals of true pure Marxism dying in the real world. With the result of the Pigs taking on the reigns of control only to twist and perverse the founding principles of Old Major’s wish for animal kind. We can further infer Orwell’s wish was to highlight the negative influence of the Soviet myth upon the western Socialist movement. Similarly Swift also attempts to accentuate the political influence of England as he also uses characterisation to symbolise key figures within the English government. The Lilliputian Emperor represents the King of England at the time of the publication of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, George I, a strongly pro-Whig king. Swift expects us to understand that the history Gulliver relates, parallels European history. The High-Heels and the Low-Heels correspond to the Whigs and Tories of English politics. The context of Swift’s own conflicts with the Whig Party we assume fueled his criticism of the Emperor’s use of rope dancing to achieve positions in government, “Whoever jumps the highest, without falling, succeeds in the office.” creates the connotations that there is little assessment of talent or skill within the Lilliputian and English Government and whoever pleases the ruler most (indirectly suggesting bribery and further forms of foul play) shall be in the Emperor’s favour.

Jonathan Swift also conveys both human nature and political influence at once through the very concept of war and conflict in part one of the novel, satirizing the Western world’s own conflicts in Swift’s time. The writer brings attention to the rivalry between the Lilliputians whom symbolise Protestant England, whilst the Blefuscu stands for Catholic France, and further mocks each side’s cause as their conflict revolves around the religious question of egg – breaking. This exaggerates the meaningless of their ill will toward one another through such an insignificant matter. Whilst an alternative view is that the the egg-breaking itself may refer to a quarrel over the nature of the sacrament, and it is also possible that it refers to the differences in communion of the Catholic and Anglican churches. “He shall be our ally against our enemies in the island of Blefuscu, and do his utmost to destroy their fleet, which is now preparing to invade us.” is the sixth rule that the Lilliputians give Gulliver as a condition of his stay in Lilliput that acts as a satirization of the rules of the whig party and also emphasizes how they attempt to manipulate Gulliver. Although he doesn’t help in the invasion of the Blefuscudians, this shows the controlling nature for personal gain of those with political influence. Swift mocks this aspect of humanity as the truly insignificant nature of the conflict is mirrored by the size of the citizens of Lilliput and Blefuscu; just as they are physically small, people from Lilliput and Blefuscu are wrapped up in tiny disputes blown way out of proportion. Thus, through this humorous depiction of a war, Swift suggests that Western conflicts are small-minded, absurd, and ultimately unnecessary.

The concept of war is then also manipulated by George Orwell in ‘Animal Farm’ to convey political influence, most notably in “The Battle of the Cowshed” as the climactic battle between the animals and Manor Farm owner Mr. Jones serves as the representation of the Russian Civil War. Although, Snowball’s tactical mastery is what led the animals to victory, Napoleon later changing the events to portray himself as the hero when in fact he was conspicuously missing during the events, depicts the deceitfulness of humanity for personal gain. Napoleon repeatedly puts down any recollection of snowball’s positive contribution to the farm whilst mirroring how eventually, Trotsky was exiled from the U.S.S.R. and killed by the agents of Joseph Stalin, as Snowball is chased off of the farm by Napoleon. Orwell’s parallels with the war of the Red October creates an excessive sense of satire as criticizing the betrayal amongst the animals that even leads to The confessions and executions of animals that directly reflect the various purges and ‘show trials’ that Stalin conducted to rid himself of any possible threat of dissention the continues to relay the active themes of corruption and totalitarianism that takes over human nature when political power is presented to it. Orwell unceasingly continues to use animals to represent figures and classes within society as Swift does to emphasize satire and within the war it is clear to infer and understand how that Snowball the figure of Trotsky emerges as a military hero. Mollie the horse, who represents the Russian upper-middle-class plays little role in the battle and instead uses it to enact her escape, whilst we believe Boxer, symbolises the working class and reveals himself as a powerful military force. As the narrator tells us, ‘the most terrifying spectacle of all was Boxer, rearing up on his hind legs and striking out with his great iron-shod hooves like a stallion,’ represents the overbearing power of the working class people, most useful in ‘The Battle of the Cowshed’, and explains his execution in ‘Animal Farm’ because of his ability to remember the past correctly with a sincere and incorruptible belief in the original principles of Animalism (Communism). Thus representing the force of will power within human nature however alternatively due to the satirical nature of the novel it may be that Orwell wishes to show here how those in power are able to silence and win over those in positions beneath them.

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The Use of Satire in Gulliver’s Travels and Animal Farm. (2022, Jun 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-use-of-satire-in-gullivers-travels-and-animal-farm/
“The Use of Satire in Gulliver’s Travels and Animal Farm.” Edubirdie, 16 Jun. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/the-use-of-satire-in-gullivers-travels-and-animal-farm/
The Use of Satire in Gulliver’s Travels and Animal Farm. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-use-of-satire-in-gullivers-travels-and-animal-farm/> [Accessed 29 Nov. 2022].
The Use of Satire in Gulliver’s Travels and Animal Farm [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 16 [cited 2022 Nov 29]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-use-of-satire-in-gullivers-travels-and-animal-farm/
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