Part I, “A Voyage to Lilliput,”
Each chapter is advertised. In this chapter, “The Author gives some Account of himself and Family, his first Inducements to travel. He is shipwrecked, and swims for his Life, gets safe on shoar in the Country of Lilliput, is made a Prisoner, and carryed up the Country.”
The narrative begins with the narrator, Lemuel Gulliver, describing his childhood and the events that led him to become a seaman. He tells the reader that he is the third of five sons and that he was sent to a Puritan college at the age of fourteen. Afterwards he became an apprentice to a surgeon in London, during which time he also learned about navigation and mathematics in preparation for a future on the sea, “as I always believed it would be some time or other my fortune to do.” Next he studied “Physick” (medicine) because he thought it would be “useful in long Voyages.”
Afterwards Gulliver married Mrs. Mary Burton and began his life as a surgeon, taking on several patients. When his business begins to fail, he takes a six-year trip to the sea, where he serves as the surgeon to two ships and travels the East and West Indies. He spends much of his time on these voyages observing the people and learning their languages.
The real problems begin in 1699. Gulliver sets sail on a voyage that starts out prosperously but quickly takes a turn for the worse. The ship encounters violent storms, has bad food, and weakens the crew (twelve crew members die) when the ship hits a rock and is split. Six of the crew members, including Gulliver, get into a small boat and row until they are overturned by a “sudden Flurry.” Gulliver swims until he is nearly exhausted, at which point he finds an island, comes across a patch of grass, and sleeps for what he estimates is more than nine hours.
When Gulliver awakens, he is lying on his back. He finds himself unable to sit up or move at all. His “Arms and Legs were strongly fastened on each side to the Ground; and [his] Hair, which was long and thick, tied down in the same manner.” He feels something moving along his body almost up to his chin, at which point he sees that it is “a human Creature not six Inches high, with a Bow and Arrow in his Hands, and a Quiver at his Back.” Gulliver will later learn that these creatures are called Lilliputians. Startled by this sight, Gulliver roars out and soon manages to free his left arm. The frightened Lilliputians fire dozens of tiny arrows into his hand, face, and body until he lies calmly. The Lilliputians then build a stage to Gulliver’s side that is about a foot and a half tall, upon which a “Person of Quality” stands and makes a ten-minute speech to Gulliver in a language he cannot understand.
Gulliver signals that he wants food and drink, so the people bring baskets of meat and several loaves of bread, which he eats three at a time because they are so tiny to him. The Lilliputians also bring two barrels of drink, which he enjoys even though they are smaller than a half a pint together.
Gulliver admits that as he lies on the ground he often thinks of taking up fifty of the small creatures in his hand and crushing them-but he does not want to be pricked with arrows again, and he has given his “Promise of Honour” to behave in exchange for good treatment.
After he has eaten, Gulliver signals to the people to move out of the way. He relieves himself by “making Water.” He promptly falls asleep because his drink had a sleeping medicine in it. Once they are sure he is asleep, the Lilliputians, who are excellent mathematicians, transport Gulliver to the Capital. They use a large platform with twenty-two wheels pulled by dozens of four-and-a-half-inch horses, dragging Gulliver half of a mile. After he awakens, Gulliver finds that he is chained by his leg in the capital, but he is able to move in a circle of about two yards in diameter. More than one hundred thousand Lilliputians come out to see Gulliver.
“The Emperor of Lilliput, attended by several of the Nobility, comes to see the Author, in his Confinement. The Emperor’s Person and Habit described. Learned Men appointed to teach the Author their Language. He gains Favour by his mild Disposition. His pockets are searched, and his Sword and Pistols taken from him.”
Gulliver has been allowed to move about at the end of his chain and to retire into his small house. He gives a detailed description of his need to relieve himself after two days without defecating-and how he finally does so, first in his house because of embarrassment and on every following day early in the morning so that it can be carried away by two workers before the general population is awake.
The emperor comes to visit Gulliver. The two attempt to converse even though they cannot yet understand each other’s language. Gulliver tries to speak to the emperor and his men in every language he knows, but to no avail.
Gulliver is given a strong guard to protect him against those citizens who enjoy pestering him. When a group of six citizens is caught shooting arrows at Gulliver, one of which narrowly misses his left eye, they are given to Gulliver to punish as he sees fit. Gulliver puts five of the men in his pocket and dangles the sixth above his mouth as if he is going to eat him, but he then lets all of the men go, gaining favor with those who are watching.
During this time the emperor holds many conferences with his wisest men, trying to decide what to do with Gulliver. They are worried that he could escape or that he could cause a famine because of how much food it takes to keep him satisfied. It is eventually decided that two officers should be appointed to search Gulliver with his assistance. Afterwards, Gulliver is asked to demonstrate the purpose of each of the items found on his person. When he fires his pistol into the air, several of the Lilliputians fall to the ground in fright.
Gulliver begins the story of his journeys in the typical pattern of the travel narratives of his time. He tells the reader a great deal of background information, such as where he was born, which schools he attended, and his profession. The reader learns that Gulliver began his life in a very usual way. He was basically middle-class and had to work for a living. By setting up the narrator as a normal person in the beginning of the book, Swift helps readers to sense that Gulliver is trustworthy and a regular guy whom they can relate to. While a more fantastic narrator may have been more impressive and exciting, for the satire to work best, readers are placed in Gulliver’s everyman shoes.
The perception that Gulliver is trustworthy diminishes, however, as soon as Gulliver comes into contact with the Lilliputians. It is obvious that the creatures are figments of Swift’s imagination, since it is extremely unlikely that such beings actually exist. But Gulliver’s trustworthiness is unimportant insofar as the reader recognizes that the real conversation is with Swift. We continue happily on Gulliver’s journey in order to find out what Swift wants us to perceive through the tale.
At the time that Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels, England was the most powerful nation in the world, with a large fleet of ships, which were constantly searching for new lands to control. During these searches the English came into contact with several new civilizations. The Lilliputians seem almost possible in this context. But Swift chooses to set the first culture Gulliver comes into contact with as far too small to be real. He makes the Lilliputians only six inches tall. It is significant that Gulliver, coming from the most powerful nation in the world, is able to be held prisoner by six-inch men. Swift is asking the English to consider the pride of their own country, especially as a colonial power. A great number of small people can overpower one large person-if they are resourceful enough. Are England’s colonies powerful and crafty enough to do it?
At the same time, it is apparent that even though Gulliver fears the tiny arrows of the Lilliputians, he could almost certainly escape if he put his mind to it. Why does he choose to stay? Perhaps he is curious about the Lilliputians, their culture, language, and ways of living. Gulliver’s curiosity and thirst for knowledge were established in the first few paragraphs of the novel. Or perhaps Gulliver enjoys the power that comes with being a giant. Even as a prisoner in Lilliput, Gulliver is the most powerful being on the island.
“The Author diverts the Emperor and his Nobility of both Sexes in a very uncommon manner. The Diversions of the Court of Lilliput described. The Author hath his Liberty granted him upon certain Conditions.”
Because Gulliver has been behaving so well, the emperor, his court, and the general population are beginning to trust him. Gulliver also has made a great deal of progress in learning the language and learning about the culture he is now such a large part of.
The emperor decides to entertain Gulliver by showing him a tradition of the court in which candidates for an open position of honor compete by walking to the middle of a string or tight-rope that is suspended two-and-a-half feet above the ground. They jump as high as they are able. “Whoever jumps the highest without falling succeeds in the Office.” Gulliver tells the reader that very often these competitors are injured or fall to their death.
Gulliver’s hat is found washed upon the shore, and he asks the emperor to command his men to bring it to him. It is worn from being dragged the half-mile to the kingdom, but it looks tolerably good. The emperor then asks Gulliver to stand up tall with his legs spread apart so that his troops can march through them.
Gulliver is finally granted his freedom on the condition that he (1) swear to help theLilliputians if they are ever in a war, (2) survey the surrounding land, (3) help with any building that needs to be done, and (4) deliver messages. He agrees. In return he will be granted the food and drink sufficient for 1,724 Lilliputians.
“Mildendo, the Metropolis of Lilliput, described, together with the Emperor’s Palace. A Conversation between the Author and a Principal Secretary, concerning the Affairs of that Empire: The Author Offers to serve the Emperor in his Wars.”
The first thing Gulliver wants to do once he is free is see the metropolis of Lilliput. He finds the town very impressive. It is “capable of holding five hundred thousand Souls” and has two great streets that are five feet wide and cross in the middle, quartering the city. At the center is the emperor’s palace. When Gulliver reaches the palace, the empress reaches her hand out the window for Gulliver to kiss.
Two weeks later Redresal, the Principal Secretary of private Affairs, comes to see Gulliver and tells him about the “two mighty Evils” that Lilliput struggles against: “a violent Faction at home, and the Danger of an Invasion by a most potent Enemy from abroad.” He describes two parties of Lilliput, the Tramecksan and Slamecksan, who are distinguished by the high and low heels of their shoes. The emperor has decided to permit only low heels in the administration of Lilliput.
Redresal and the Lilliputians also have to worry about the threat of invasion from those living on the Island of Blefuscu, “which is the other great Empire of the Universe.” The people of Lilliput and Blefuscu are unable to get along because years ago, after an emperor’s son was injured trying to break his egg on the smaller end (the traditional way of egg breaking), he decreed that no one may break the smaller end of his egg. This caused a great uproar among many of the Lilliputians and led to six rebellions and thousands of deaths. Eventually the Big-Endians were exiled and went to Blefuscu, where they gained favor and convinced the government to go to war against Lilliput.
Gulliver finishes the conversation by telling Redresal that, while he does not want to interfere, he is “ready, with the hazard of [his] Life, to defend his Person and State against all Invaders.”
These two chapters highlight the kinds of commentary Swift makes throughout the novel. By describing a society that chooses its highest officials with silly competitions like seeing who can jump the highest on a tight-rope, Swift is poking fun at the way officials are chosen in England. He is also commenting on the disturbing trend of politicians who are willing to do whatever it takes to gain favor in the court-including humiliating themselves. The danger of ambition is also figured here; jumping badly can lead to death.
Having Gulliver stand with his legs apart so that the Lilliputian armies can walk through is also a ridiculous idea. It is a comment on the pomp and circumstance of English armies. To Swift it seems that armies are often more concerned with looking impressive than with being impressive. This scene might also be an allusion to the Colossus of Rhodes, described in Julius Caesar by Shakespeare as a larger-than-life figure that men could walk through the legs of.
The contract Gulliver signs in order to gain his freedom further highlights the unequal relationship between Gulliver and the Lilliputians, but it is a relationship where a cordial contract trumps simple power. Gulliver could easily take control and break the contract, but he chooses to be peaceful.
The war between the English and the French is parodied in the conflict between the Lilliputians and the Blefuscudians. Their conflict over which end of the egg to break reflects the centuries-old conflict over how to practice religion-as Protestants or Catholics. While the wars over religion certainly were very serious, Swift suggests that what was being fought over (at least on the religious rather than the political side) really was not very important. In Swift’s eyes, fighting over religion is as pointless as fighting over which end of an egg to break.
Swift also parodies the political parties within England. The Tory party is represented by the Low Heels while the Whigs are represented by the High Heels. Considering that Swift himself changed parties, he must have understood that political allegiance was important. Yet, political bickering is often about such unimportant matters as the height of one’s heels.
“The Author by an extraordinary Stratagem prevents an Invasion. A high Title of Honour is conferred upon him. Embassadors arrive from the Emperor of Blefuscu, and sue for Peace. The Empress’s Apartment on fire by an Accident; the Author instrumental in saving the rest of the Palace.”
When the Lilliputians and Blefuscudians go to war, Gulliver proves to be very useful by dragging the entire Blefuscudian fleet of ships to the shore of Lilliput, where “The Emperor and his whole Court stood on the Shore expecting the Issue of the great Adventure.” When Gulliver arrives, he cries out, “Long live the most puissant Emperor of Lilliput!” The emperor gives Gulliver the land’s highest honor, “Nardac.”
Later the emperor requests that Gulliver go back to the enemy’s shores and do his best to destroy what is left, turning the empire into a province. Gulliver thinks that this action is going too far and declines the request. Three weeks after Gulliver’s victory, an embassy from Blefuscu arrives offering peace, which the emperor accepts.
A few days later Gulliver is awoken at midnight by hundreds of Lilliputians telling him that there is a fire in the empress’s chamber in the palace. Gulliver hurries to be of assistance, but he quickly realizes that the thimble-sized buckets he is being passed are not having an affect on the raging fire. Thinking quickly, Gulliver chooses to urinate on the fire, putting it out completely and keeping it from spreading to the rest of the palace.
Gulliver returns to his home, where he awaits word of how the emperor and empress will react to his deed. He shortly learns that the empress feels abhorred.
“Of the Inhabitants of Lilliput; their Learning, Laws and Customs, the Manner of Educating their Children. The Author’s way of living in that Country. His Vindication of a great Lady.”
Gulliver goes into great detail about what he has learned about the Lilliputians, their customs, and their culture. He tells the reader that everything in Lilliput is proportionate to the Lilliputians’ size and that even their eyesight is adjusted so that they can see things closer than Gulliver can.
Gulliver also describes many of Lilliput’s laws, telling the reader that dishonesty and false accusations are punished more severely than theft and other terrible things are punished in England. If someone in Lilliput accuses another but is proven to be wrong in the accusation, the accused is punished severely while the falsely accused person is rewarded.
Also, Gulliver tells the reader that children are raised by the state rather than their parents. Different classes learn about different things. The nobility’s children, for instance, learn about honor, justice, courage, modesty, clemency, religion, and love of country.
Gulliver ends the chapter by straightening out a falsehood created by Flimnap, who has “always been [his] secret enemy.” Gulliver declares that Flimnap’s accusation that Gulliver carried on with his wife is completely untrue, which should reestablish the lady’s reputation.
“The Author being informed of a Design to accuse him of High-Treason, makes his escape to Blefuscu. His Reception there.”
A high member of the court arrives to tell Gulliver that he is being charged with treason. Originally his sentence was to be death, but Redresal has argued successfully to have the sentence lessened to the removal of Gulliver’s eyes. The charges Gulliver has been accused of are “making water” in the royal palace, refusing to reduce Blefuscu to a province, aiding the ambassadors of Blefuscu when they came to ask for peace, and planning to visit Blefuscu.
Not wanting to have his eyes put out, Gulliver flees to Blefuscu, where he is warmly received.
“The Author by a lucky Accident, finds means to leave Blefuscu; and, after some Difficulties, returns safe to his Native Country.”
While in Blefuscu, Gulliver spies a ship that is the proper size for him to sail in. He spends about a month making repairs, during which time the emperor of Lilliput sends a message demanding that Gulliver be returned so that his sentence can be carried out. The emperor of Blefuscu sends back a message refusing. Gulliver eventually sets sail and is picked up by a merchant ship and returned to his home, where he makes a solid profit showing Lilliputian-sized livestock he has carried home in his pockets.
The contract for Gulliver’s freedom proves pointless. He promised in writing to serve the emperor, which he does by capturing the enemy’s fleet. But when the emperor asks him to go back and destroy the enemy, Gulliver refuses-and there is nothing the Lilliputians can do to persuade him. The contract, in this case, is completely useless. Power proves more important, and it is fortunate that Gulliver uses his reason to decide how to use his power appropriately. (Again one might consider the implications for England as a colonial power.)
When Gulliver puts out the palace’s fire by urinating on it, Swift is doing more than making a joke that one should pee on the problems of the state. A fire is a serious thing. One serious implication is that royalty is ephemeral. The royal palace can catch on fire just like anything else, and when it does, no amount of royal power can put it out, just physics-and the dirty side of nature at that. Gulliver proves the point when everyone under the emperor’s power is trying to put out the fire with their tiny buckets, and he realizes the only way to put it out is by urinating. Swift is also showing the reader something about the ridiculous needs of royalty, because even though Gulliver has saved the palace he has done so in a blameworthy manner.
Most of the time in Gulliver’s Travels when Gulliver tells the details of a society’s ways of living, Swift is satirizing something wrong with English society. This can occur when he describes the society negatively, but it also can occur by demonstrating a difference between the other culture and his own. It is apparent that many of the Lilliputian customs are attractive to Swift. For instance, in Lilliput, lying is a capital offence. We see this again when we meet the Houyhnhnms, the noblest race on Gulliver’s journey, who do not understand the concept of saying that which is not true. Swift suggests that lying is worse than several of the blameworthy offences in England.
It is interesting to note that even though lying is seen as a terrible offense in Lilliput, Flimnap tells a huge lie (that Gulliver slept with Flimnap’s wife) and gets away with it. Apart from the ludicrous physical implications of a giant having relations with a Lilliputian, the problem here is that the society must be able to enforce its norm against lying for the law to matter. This may also be a commentary on the seeming ability of those in positions of power to get away with breaking the law. When the law comes down unfairly on Gulliver, he has actual rather than statutory power to leave, so he simply leaves Lilliput to live with their enemies.
Part II, “A Voyage to Brobdingnag”
“A great Storm described, the long Boat sent to fetch Water, the Author goes with it to discover the Country. He is left on Shoar, is seized by one of the Natives, and carry’d to a Farmer’s House. His Reception there, with several Accidents that happen’d there. A Description of the Inhabitants.”
On June 20, 1702, ten months after his return from Lilliput and Blefuscu, Gulliver returns to the sea in a ship named Adventure. The journey begins very smoothly, the only delay being caused by an illness contracted by the captain. They continue on their journey for several months until a storm begins to brew, pushing the Adventure several miles off track. On June 16, 1703, the crew sees land and drops anchor, at which point the captain sends a dozen men on shore to fetch water. Gulliver wanders away from the other men to observe the countryside until he sees them in the boat hurrying back to the ship. He tries to call out to them, but he sees that they are being chased by a giant-though the giant is not able to catch the boat. Gulliver runs as fast as he can into the island.
Gulliver finds that much of the island is well cultivated, but to his surprise, when he comes across a hayfield, he realizes that the grass is more than twenty feet tall. Similarly, corn is at least forty feet high. Gulliver sees another giant, this time well-dressed, walking along the path he is on. He notes that each of the giant’s strides is about ten yards long. The well-dressed giant is joined by seven workers, whom he instructs to begin reaping the corn (though Gulliver cannot understand the language).
Exhausted and filled with despair, Gulliver lies down and hopes that he will die. He writes, “I bemoaned my desolate Widow, and Fatherless Children.” He begins to think back on the Lilliputians who thought that he was such a powerful and strong creature, saying that he now feels as a single Lilliputian would feel among humans. “Undoubtably,” he muses, “Philosophers are in the right when they tell us, that nothing is great or little otherwise than by Comparison.”
When he is about to be stepped on by one of the farmers, Gulliver cries out as loudly as he can. The giant stops short and picks up Gulliver to get a better look. Gulliver resists struggling in order to avoid being dropped sixty feet to the ground and instead brings his hands to a prayer position and points his eyes skyward. The giant seems pleased with Gulliver and, putting him in his pocket, heads over to show his master.
The master takes Gulliver home to show his wife, who screams at first, but when she sees how polite Gulliver is, she quickly warms up to him. Gulliver and the farmer try to speak to each other but are unsuccessful. At dinnertime, Gulliver sees that the full family consists of the parents, three children, and an elderly grandmother. The farmer’s wife breaks up some bread and a small piece of meat and hands them to Gulliver, who gets out his knife and fork and proceeds to eat, thoroughly delighting the whole family. Later, as Gulliver walks across the table toward the farmer (whom he now calls his master), the farmer’s son picks him up by one leg and dangles him in the air until the farmer grabs him back and boxes the boy’s ear. Gulliver, not wanting to make an enemy in his new home, signals that he would like the boy to be pardoned, which he is.
At this point an infant is brought into the room, who at the sight of Gulliver cries to get him into its hand-with which the mother obliges. Quickly the baby squeezes Gulliver and puts his head in its mouth, at which Gulliver cries out until the baby drops him, luckily into the mother’s apron. The baby cannot be quieted until the nurse nurses it. The sight of the woman’s breast is repulsive to Gulliver. It is so large in his view that he can see all of its defects.
After dinner Gulliver signals that he is tired. The farmer’s wife sets him on her bed and covers him with a handkerchief, where he sleeps until two rats the size of large dogs startle him. Gulliver fights them with his hanger (a short sword), killing one and scaring the other away.
Afterwards Gulliver signals that he needs time alone in the garden to relieve himself. He asks the reader to excuse him for dwelling on particulars.
“A Description of the Farmer’s Daughter. The Author carried to a Market-Town, and then to the Metropolis. The Particulars of his Journey.”
Gulliver is given into the care of the farmer’s daughter, Glumdalclitch, who teaches him the language and treats him very well, like a child would care for a favorite doll. In fact, she keeps him in a doll’s cradle, which she closes inside a drawer at night to keep him safe from the rats.
As word of Gulliver spreads throughout the kingdom, the farmer begins to realize that there is profit to be made and takes Gulliver to the marketplace, where he performs shows for paying patrons. The show is so successful that the farmer decides to take Gulliver on a tour of the kingdom. Gulliver does ten shows a day, which makes him quite tired.
“The Author sent for to Court. The Queen buys him of his Master the Farmer, and presents him to the King. He disputes with his Majesty’s great Scholars. An Apartment at Court provided for the Author. He is in high Favour with the Queen. He stands up for the Honour of his own Country. His Quarrels with the Queen’s Dwarf.”
Having heard about the wondrous little creature that is making his way around the kingdom, the queen sends for him and his master to come to court. Gulliver immediately impresses the queen with his compliments and general manner, so she asks the farmer if he would be willing to sell Gulliver. The farmer, believing that Gulliver will die in about a month because he has lost so much weight from performing, quickly names a price. Gulliver is happy to live at court and be done with performing. He asks only that Glumdalclitch stay as well to continue taking care of him.
Afterward the queen carries Gulliver to the king’s chamber. The king at first believes that Gulliver is some sort of mechanical creature, but he eventually believes that Gulliver is just helpless. Gulliver tries to explain that where he is from, everything is proportionate to him.
The queen has a small apartment built and new fine clothes tailored for Gulliver. She enjoys his company very much. Gulliver often comments that watching the Brobdingnag people eat or getting too close to their faces is quite repulsive.
Gulliver and the king spend a great deal of time discussing politics. Gulliver explains how things work where he is from. The king laughs at English politics, which puts Gulliver off at first. Soon, however, Gulliver realizes that his adventures have begun to sway him to the same opinion; his perspective has begun to change.
Gulliver finds an enemy in the queen’s dwarf, who seems to be jealous of all the attention Gulliver is getting.
“The Country described. A Proposal for correcting modern Maps. The King’s Palace, and some Account of the Metropolis. The Author’s way of travelling. The chief Temple described.”
Gulliver spends a great deal of time describing the landscape of Brobdingnag, the palace that he now lives in and his manner of traveling in a small traveling box designed especially for him. He also sees and describes the largest temple in Brobdingnag, which he does not find impressive in its size.
“Several Adventures that happened to the Author. The Execution of a Criminal. The Author shews his Skill in Navigation.”
Serving in Brobdingnag proves difficult for Gulliver. He experiences a series of dangers because of his small size-and because the dwarf relishes in making Gulliver’s life difficult. The ladies at court treat Gulliver like a toy, dressing and undressing him and undressing themselves in front of him. Gulliver again mentions how offensive he finds the skin and smell of the Brobdingnagians. He remembers the Lilliputians’ similar reaction to his smell, which he did not understand at the time. Gulliver nearly drowns when a toad jumps onto the boat the queen has had made for him. He is also carried to the top of the palace by a monkey and narrowly survives. The monkey is killed, and it is declared that monkeys will no longer be allowed in the palace.
“Several Contrivances of the Author to please the King and Queen. He shews his Skill in Musick. The King enquires into the State of Europe, which the Author relates to him. The King’s Observations thereon.”
Gulliver salvages several of the king’s hairs from his shaving cream and makes himself a comb. He then makes the seat of a chair from the queen’s hair but refuses to sit on it because doing so would be insulting to her. He also makes Glumdalclitch a small purse.
Gulliver spends the evening at a concert in Brobdingnag. For him the music is so loud that he cannot enjoy it unless his traveling box is brought as far away as possible and all of the windows and doors are closed.
Gulliver often goes to see the king, who requests a detailed description of the government of England, which Gulliver relates. The king asks him many questions, challenging various aspects of the government and having particular difficulty with England’s violent past. In the end the king concludes that the English are well below the Brobdingnagians, calling them “the most pernicious Race of Little odious Vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the Surface of the Earth.”
“The Author’s Love of his Country. He makes a Proposal of much Advantage to the King, which is rejected. The King’s great Ignorance in Politicks. The Learning of that Country very imperfect and confined. Their Laws, and military Affairs, and Parties in the State.”
Gulliver is offended by the manner in which the king has dismissed the English as a lowly society. He tries to impress the king by telling him about some of the many great inventions of England, beginning with gunpowder. Gulliver goes into great detail about the power and effect of gunpowder and what the king could accomplish with it, saying that he could easily control everyone in Brobdingnag with gunpowder. The king is “struck with Horror” and disgusted by Gulliver’s proposals. He tells Gulliver that if he values his life, he should never mention gunpowder again. Gulliver cannot believe that the king would reject such an immense opportunity. Gulliver then discusses the general ignorance of the Brobdingnag people, including their simple laws and practices.
“The King and Queen make a Progress to the Frontiers. The Author attends them. The manner in which he leaves the Country very particularly related. He returns to England.”
Gulliver has been in Brobdingnag for two years and strongly feels that it is time to leave. He is basically being treated as a pet. But the royal family does not want to part with him. Coincidentally, on a trip to the seashore, a giant eagle picks up Gulliver’s traveling box and flies off with him. Realizing that the box is not edible, the eagle drops it into the sea. After some time the box is picked up by a passing ship of Gulliver’s normal proportions. Gulliver finds it very difficult to adjust to the size of things back in England. He feels much larger than the others.
Whatever Gulliver did not gain in perspective (in terms of size) during his time in Lilliput, he gains in Brobdingnag. His time here not only gives Gulliver an understanding of what it is like to be powerless, but it also shows Gulliver how the Lilliputians must have felt when near him. Of course this situation is even more intimidating because here there are many giants, while in Lilliput he was the only one. This is how a Lilliputian would feel in England. The differences Gulliver experiences between the two islands are heightened because of the close proximity of the trips. Gulliver feels even smaller in Brobdingnag than he would have felt if he had never journeyed to Lilliput.
Gulliver’s newfound understanding of perspective helps him to feel powerless more profoundly-first for himself, when he curls up and rather pathetically hopes to die, and then for others, especially for the Lilliputians he left behind. As his fear rises, he becomes more and more emotional, eventually becoming so overwhelmed that he gives up, curling up into the fetal position.
Once Gulliver is brought to the farmer’s house, many challenges await him because of his lack of power in this land. A mere baby threatens his life, as do two common rats. Gulliver is able to fight them off in a seemingly heroic fashion, but it is clear that he could have lost the fight. Gulliver is also surprised by the aesthetic differences of the world from this new perspective. The nurse’s breast is disgusting to him because he can clearly see every deformity and blemish. He imagines what the Lilliputians thought of his physicality.
In these chapters we again see Gulliver as less than heroic. Just as in Lilliput, when Gulliver did not fight against his captivity (as Odysseus might), here Gulliver does nothing to try to avoid being captured. He waits until he is about to be stepped on before taking any action at all. And he only begs for mercy from the giant Brobdingnags. Gulliver relies on the protection of a young girl who tucks him into a doll’s cradle at night. Gulliver survives and thrives only partly on the basis of his good manners. For the most part, he is a pet and a curiosity.
Gulliver’s compliance continues when he is required to perform so that the farmer can earn money. Gulliver becomes drastically emaciated, but he never resists what he is being told to do. In fact, readers do not really learn that Gulliver hated his task until he is out of danger and complains to the queen of Brobdingnag. Once Gulliver is seemingly safe at the court and has gained favor with the queen, he remains a plaything with very little respect, especially from the ladies at court.
As a tiny person in the Brobdingnag world, Gulliver endures several trials that a larger person would never have to suffer. This again reminds the reader of the importance of physical strength as well as intellectual strength. Even when combat is not an issue, a large stature intimidates one’s opponent. As a tiny person, Gulliver is left to the whims of those around him. In the fifth chapter, for instance, Gulliver is captured by a small monkey that would have been a minor threat in England.
The overreaction of the queen and the rest of the government to this incident sheds important light on the Brobdingnag government. It seems that this government is rash. The killing of the monkey also shows that Gulliver has more status in the court than that of a toy or an animal. His nemesis is the dwarf, who used to be the small man in court.
The king and Gulliver have long conversations about politics, but the king never really considers Gulliver’s opinions on important matters. Being small, Gulliver is considered petty, and the idea of gaining power through gunpowder is anathema to the king. Through Gulliver’s discussions with the king, the reader learns that perspective extends beyond size to opinion. After several days of discussing the governments of England and Brobdingnag, the king declares the English to be “the most pernicious Race of Little odious Vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the Surface of the Earth.” AgainGulliver’s Travels brings light to the fact that people from different backgrounds often have different opinions on the same subjects, even though people tend to follow similar patterns. Gulliver finds that each people prefers its own ways, but a traveler who spends a long time elsewhere might (or might not) come to prefer the foreigners’ ways over his own. Experience, thought, and tradition are important considerations in making this choice.
As for gunpowder, for Gulliver (and through him, the English), gunpowder represents the height of achievement primarily because of the power it has provided. The Brobdingnag king, however, is not corrupted by power. He is able to see that the negative effects of gunpowder would far outweigh the positive ones in his society. He might be right that Gulliver is narrow-minded, but his tirade on the general stupidity of the Brobdingnags takes the opposite point of view. Still, on this issue he is unable to see his own faults or those of his society. It is up to Swift to show us, through Gulliver’s tale, what Gulliver’s insistence on gunpowder means.