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Swift's style is composed chiefly of satire, allegory, and irony. Satire consists of a mocking attack against vices, stupidities, and follies, with an aim to educate, edify, improve. Allegory is one of Swift's most important satirical tools. Allegory is a device in which characters, situations, and places have a significance that goes beyond simply what they are in themselves. Allegory, like satire, is used to teach. The Lilliputians, for example, are allegorical Whigs. The Academy of Projectors is an allegory of the Royal Society. In order to make his devastating case against the Whigs, for example, Swift needs the disguise (the allegory) of the Lilliputians. He could never have actually named real names in his novel. The Yahoos are an allegory for a part of man's nature. Notice how important a part exaggeration plays in Swiftian allegory.
Irony is when the intended meaning of a statement or an action is opposite to that which is presented. A fine example of Swiftian irony is when Gulliver says he saw no mercy in the Lilliputian decision to blind him. Gulliver was actually looking for the mercy here, and, of course, there was none to be found. It is also ironic that the Brobdingnagians appear gross, but are filled with beauty.
Swiftian satire is a complicated affair. You've seen how even when he's using Gulliver to satirize the Lilliputians, for example, Swift is satirizing Gulliver. And then Swift satirizes the reader by creating a great tension between what is and what appears to be. He seems always to be prodding us, "What do you really think, beneath your nice appearance, polite ways, and evidence of intelligence?" It's hard not to fall into Swift's trap. The most obvious Swiftian trap, of course, is Gulliver himself, your tour guide-an affable, respectable, conscientious man. But if you follow him all the way, he'll lead you to madness.
Swift also satirizes himself through Gulliver. Gulliver ranting that mankind is beyond improvement is Swift flagellating himself for even trying. Yet, of course, there's tension here, too, for Swift has written the book. The tension within Swift is communicated directly to us, for if he fails as a satirist, it's because we've failed as human beings. But Swift satirizes because overridingly he cares, and thinks we, and his efforts, are worth it.
POINT OF VIEW
Point-of-view in Gulliver's Travels shifts. As Gulliver travels, his viewpoint changes. Though the novel is narrated by Gulliver, he is not an omniscient (all-knowing) narrator. Because Swift frequently satirizes Gulliver, we must be on our guard against what Gulliver would have us believe. Sometimes Gulliver speaks for Swift, and sometimes he doesn't. Swift's aim in this book is for you to come to terms with your ideas on some important questions regarding humanity and to be aware of the factors that influence your beliefs. Like all effective teachers, Swift knows that his audience has to learn to think for itself, and not simply accept everything he tells us through his narrator.
FORM AND STRUCTURE
The novel is written in the form of a travel book. Swift chose this device because travel tends to change our perspective on the world around us. What may seem strange at the start of a trip may well seem ordinary by the end, or strange in other ways, for different reasons. As Gulliver voyages, and we voyage with him, his (and our) viewpoint changes according to the place(s) in which he finds himself and the things that happen to him there.
True to form, Swift also satirizes travel books in Gulliver's Travels.