Gulliver's Travels | Study Guide

Jonathan Swift

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Gulliver's Travels | Part 1, Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

Gulliver visits the Lilliputian capital city of Mildendo and the emperor's palace. He is later visited by Reldresal, an official in the Lilliputian government. Reldresal tells Gulliver about the religious and political division that has plagued Lilliput for years, which stems from a disagreement over the correct way to break an egg. According to a Lilliputian philosopher, "all true believers break their eggs at the convenient end." Tradition dictates that eggs are to be cracked on their bigger ends. But a Lilliputian emperor passed a law stating eggs could be cracked only on their smaller ends. This outraged "Big-endians" in Lilliput. Some rebelled and were executed. Others fled to the kingdom of Blefuscu, which led to a series of wars between Blefuscu and Lilliput. Gulliver learns that rebel Big-endians remain in Lilliput and another war is brewing. He agrees to help defend Lilliput against its enemies.

Analysis

The controversy over which end of the egg is most favorable for breaking is a direct reflection of the conflicts between Catholic and Protestant groups in England that, at the time of the novel's publication, had destabilized the English government for well over a century. The tradition of cracking eggs at the bigger end is analogous to the traditional Christian teachings of Catholicism. The emperor who passed the law to crack eggs at the smaller end appears to be a reference to Henry VIII's literal break with the Catholic Church and the establishment of the Church of England. The subsequent outrage and rebellion can be traced in English history, and the scenario sets up Blefuscu as a symbol of France, a country to which many persecuted Catholics fled. This highlights how the conflict between two factions of the same religion were based on ultimately arbitrary and insignificant differences, given the number of lives lost as a result. It is noteworthy that, while Gulliver is hesitant to get involved with party disputes and agrees to help only in gratitude to the emperor, he also does not appear to find fault with the absurd egg-cracking conflict.

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