I thought I understood satire when I read Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” But reading Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels solidified the meaning of satire for me. The two works seemed to illustrate the difference between telling and showing. Reading “A Modest Proposal” was like reading a textbook example of satire, while experiencing the nuances and humor of Lemuel Gulliver’s story was instead an immersion in fluency. “A Modest Proposal” seemed to be an historical commentary, while Gulliver’s story was a more universal commentary on human nature.
Of course, the two Swift works are different genres, so comparing them is probably not fair: it’s like comparing apples to zucchini. “A Modest Proposal” is an essay, and Gulliver’s Travels is a full-length novel. “A Modest Proposal” was, I believe, written in response to a certain political situation and thus was intentionally political. Gulliver’s Travels is primarily a story, and thus is a more universal criticism of human nature. Yet, even the word “criticism” seems wrong when I consider this novel: Lemuel Gulliver’s cynicism is amusing and yet still highly relevant. It was neither an easy nor a challenging read, and it’s surprisingly accessible tone, amusing anecdotes, and pertinent commentary made it a completely satisfying read.Continue Reading