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Gulliver's Travels | Discussion Questions 31 - 40

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How does the governor of Glubbdubdrib in Gulliver's Travels, Part 3, Chapter 7 contrast with all the other leaders presented in the novel?

The governor of Glubbdubdrib is the only leader in the novel thus far who makes few demands on Gulliver when he comes to court. There is a seating arrangement, and Gulliver is required to answer questions about his experiences and intentions, but the complex protocols of Laputa and, later, Luggnagg are absent. Gulliver is not expected to perform or entertain in any way, as the Lilliputians and Brobdingnagians demanded of him. In short, the governor of Glubbdubdrib appears to have little interest in outward demonstrations of his power over the people in his court, unlike the leaders who have preceded him in the narrative. This difference could result from the governor having actual power over life and death, which he demonstrates by calling up the dead as servants and, later, as consultants for Gulliver's entertainment and education. He is the first ruler who appears more interested in providing a service of some kind for Gulliver instead of demanding Gulliver provide a service for him.

What does Gulliver learn from his conversations with the dead in Gulliver's Travels, Part 3, Chapter 7?

Gulliver learns some unusual tidbits about the ancient leaders he speaks with in his first conversations with the dead. Alexander the Great tells Gulliver he died from excessive drinking, not poison, which provides a cautionary tale about how great men can be undone by their vices. Gulliver also sees a meeting of the Roman Senate next to a modern group of representatives, and he is struck by the contrast. He thinks the Roman Senate looks like "an assembly of heroes and demigods; the other, a knot of pedlars, pick-pockets, highwaymen, and bullies." Gulliver clearly idealizes the governments of the past and believes the quality of leadership available in Europe has deteriorated substantially since. Yet the ancient senate was not without its flaws, as demonstrated by the approach of Julius Caesar with his friend and assassin, Brutus. Gulliver is taken with Brutus, who reflects "firmness of mind, the truest love of his country, and general benevolence for mankind." In the afterlife Brutus keeps company with other notable philosophers who also resisted the tyranny of their rulers: Junius, who ousted a despotic king and founded the Roman Republic; Socrates, who was sentenced to death for criticizing the Athenian government; Cato the Younger, who resisted Caesar's growing influence; Epaminondas, who ended Sparta's dominance over Greece; and Sir Thomas More, who was executed for his disagreements with Henry VIII of England. Even Caesar himself admits that his greatest actions in life were not as glorious as the end of it, implying that Brutus was right to kill him when he did. From this, Gulliver learns that in the grand scheme of things, resisting corrupt leaders is a noble cause.

What disturbing truth does Gulliver learn about history and politics from talking to the dead in Gulliver's Travels, Part 3, Chapter 8, and what implications does that truth have?

By getting firsthand accounts from historical figures, Gulliver discovers how much of historical knowledge is filtered through writers with their own agendas. He calls them "prostitute writers," paid to glorify fools, cowards, and villains, who rise to powerful positions. These opinions reflect many of the same claims and criticisms directed toward modern political writers and media. Leaders rise to power, Gulliver finds, through betrayal and lies. He discovers the degree to which secret dealings give power to people who otherwise should not be involved in matters of state, saying he sees "how a whore can govern the back-stairs, the back-stairs a council, and the council a senate." This example shows how personal affairs, in the literal sense, can shape the course of an entire nation and affect the public good. Even in the most recent century—or the last decade, or the last three days—government decisions are often shaped by personal scandals that have little direct bearing on the good of the people. Kings are led to decisions by the treachery of their ministers, but they also say that government cannot function without corruption because virtue is "a perpetual clog to public business." In short, these dealings are appalling to Gulliver, but they are efficient, and efficiency and personal gain have greater value to the people in charge. Arguably, these kinds of backhanded dealings characterize government and politics through all eras. Gulliver takes a very cynical view of these revelations, using them as proof that governments are irretrievably broken. A less cynical view might lead to the conclusion that the problems that plague government in any era are not unique but universal, and yet humanity continues.

How does meeting the dead influence Gulliver's view of modern human health and physical bodies in Gulliver's Travels, Part 3, Chapter 8?

In his conversations with the dead, Gulliver comes to believe that humanity has lost its moral ideals over time, describing the Roman Senate as heroic compared to a contemporary assembly made up of men who seem absolutely criminal. He also finds that humankind has become more degenerate in simple physical appearance. He believes the historical figures, who appear to him as they looked in life, are much healthier looking than the English. He believes disease has caused modern men to appear shorter, more nervous, less muscular, and paler in complexion. He describes modern flesh as "loose and rancid." As a doctor, Gulliver would have a better than average understanding of human health, but his conclusion also reflects a desire to idealize the past, although it is unclear whether he comes to this tendency because he is personally dissatisfied with the present state of England or because the past is objectively superior to the present.

In Gulliver's Travels, Part 3, Chapter 9, what does the King of Luggnagg reveal about himself when he uses the court's customs for nefarious ends?

The primary custom of Luggnagg's court requires entrants to lick the floor as they approach the king's throne. This ritual can confer favor or punishment, depending on the king's mood. For Gulliver, the experience conveys favor, as the floor is cleaned prior to Gulliver's approach so he is exposed to little dirt in his approach. Less-favored courtiers, however, might find the floor deliberately dirtied to make their passage more difficult. Much of the cleanliness of the floor seems to be based on the king's whims, which shows him to be a ruler more concerned with his own personal vendettas and punishments than the personal qualities of those who come to see him. Spitting or wiping their mouths in the court is not an option, since it is a capital crime to do so, which further reveals the king's tendencies toward showing his control over other people. He executes this tradition in such an arbitrary way that the only reasonable conclusion is that he enjoys watching his subordinates humiliate themselves. Most insidiously, though, the king has also used this ritual as a vehicle for execution. When the king is highly displeased with a courtier, he has the floor sprinkled with poisonous powder that kills within a day. As a form of execution, it shows the absolute power over life and death the king has seized for himself, but as a method it reveals a sneaky, even cowardly, nature. Gulliver describes this as a gentle form of execution, but he also points out the hazard of this method on the off chance that the floor is not adequately cleaned after such an execution. The last time a page failed to clean the floor, a young lord was killed accidentally, but the king spared the page after he promised it wouldn't happen again, which reflects how little the king values human life.

How have Gulliver's conversations with the dead in Gulliver's Travels, Part 3, Chapters 7 and 8 influenced his approach to the struldbrugs in Chapter 10?

During his stay in Glubbdubdrib, Gulliver spent days gaining firsthand accounts of history and the wisdom of the ages directly from their sources. Gulliver learns that written accounts of history are unreliable and corrupt. So when Gulliver learns of the immortals born in Luggnagg, the struldbrugs, he lauds their potential as advisers. These immortals, Gulliver believes, would be able to advise the king and court with firsthand wisdom accumulated over centuries of observation, in much the same way that the dead advised him in Glubbdubdrib, only without the practice of magic. To Gulliver, these living resources are miraculous, and he lightly criticizes Luggnagg's king for having none of them at court, believing the king has excluded them because he has a young man's ego that does not care to listen to the advice of his elders. The real reason no struldbrugs are at court is that Gulliver's vision of their immortality is flawed. They are trapped in perpetual old age, subject to forgetfulness and dementia, unable to provide any wisdom or advice to the court.

Why does Gulliver want to bring a struldbrug back to England with him at the end of Gulliver's Travels, Part 3, Chapter 10?

When Gulliver discovers the true tragedy of the struldbrugs, that they are immortals who age normally and are subject to disease and physical decline, just not death, he realizes that this example could be a valuable one. To those who fear death, which is to say most humans, the struldbrugs show what can happen if the course of nature is interrupted and death is not possible. He believes if the English could see the fate of these unhappy immortals, they would overcome their fear of death and learn that death by whatever means is preferable to a condition of eternal decline with no hope of release. This discovery would help the English, and possibly inhabitants of other nations, overcome their fear of death. The laws of Luggnagg, however, forbid the transport of struldbrugs outside the country; in fact, these immortals are governed by a number of strict laws that prevent them from draining the country's resources.

What is the significance of "trampling upon the crucifix" when Gulliver visits Japan in Gulliver's Travels, Part 3, Chapter 11?

When Gulliver sets foot in Japan, he asks the Japanese emperor to excuse him from the ceremony of "trampling upon the crucifix" when he enters the country. Gulliver is trying to pass as a Dutch citizen at the time, so he will be allowed to enter the country. This request creates some doubt for the customs officials about Gulliver's true nationality because the Dutch sailors do not usually object to this ritual. The Japanese court ultimately only suspects that Gulliver is a Christian. Fortunately, Gulliver's connection to the king of Luggnagg, a trading partner, allows him to secure passage anyway. Gulliver's failure to complete the ceremony, however, also raises questions about his heritage once he is aboard a ship bound for Amsterdam, but Gulliver is rescued by another sailor who has received instructions from the Japanese to let Gulliver pass and be bothered no more. The ritual of trampling the crucifix refers to an actual Japanese custom used from the 1630s until the 1800s. The custom used fumi-e, a flat likenesses of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, or a crucifix, placed on the ground. Christianity was outlawed in Japan at the time, so citizens were required to walk across the likeness to prove they were not Christian. The practice was employed in ports as well to keep Christians out of the country, as it was assumed that Christians, especially Catholics, would refuse to walk on the fumi-e. As Holland was the only European country allowed access to Japan during these years, Dutch sailors were presumably inured to the practice. Therefore, when Gulliver asks to be excused from the ritual, he calls attention to himself and risks exposing his true identity.

How does the relationship between the Yahoos and the Houyhnhnms reverse the order Gulliver has seen in Europe in Gulliver's Travels, Part 4, Chapter 2?

Gulliver goes into more explicit detail on the way Europeans treat horses in Part 4, Chapter 4, but initial observations of the relationship between the two groups reveal the reversal at work in this society. Houyhnhnms use Yahoos as beasts of burden, making them pull sledges and live constrained to kennels on their property. They feed the Yahoos and keep them tied to prevent escape. This is much the same as the way horses in European society are treated at the time, although horses may receive kinder treatment than the Houyhnhnms show the Yahoos. Shifts of perspective between Gulliver's world and outside observers are the foundation of every section of the novel. In using such familiar creatures to provide the alternate perspective in this case, the flaws of humanity become much clearer when the Houyhnhnms analyze Gulliver and his stories. Unlike the other cultures Gulliver encounters, the Houyhnhnms have direct experience with humans as Yahoos, and this gives their evaluation of the human condition more weight in Gulliver's mind.

In Gulliver's Travels, Part 4, Chapter 3, why does Gulliver think his countrymen would never believe him if he told them about the Houyhnhnms?

Gulliver has been able to provide proof of the Lilliputians in the form of tiny livestock. A tooth from a giant proves the existence of Brobdingnag. Nearby cultures have had dealings with Luggnagg and Balnibarbi. At no point does Gulliver worry about being met with disbelief before he meets the Houyhnhnms. Proof of the Houyhnhnms might be impossible to provide, since any evidence he could take to England would be regarded only as evidence that horses exist, with no way of proving how the Houyhnhnms are different from European horses. The familiarity of the bodies of these creatures makes their existence more difficult to prove, not less. Giants are more plausible to the Europeans than intelligent versions of the animals they see and work with every day, and giants would be less challenging to the European human view of themselves as masters of the world around them.

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