Gulliver's Travels | Study Guide

Jonathan Swift

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Gulliver's Travels | Part 1, Chapter 5 | Summary

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Summary

Gulliver honors his promise to defend Lilliput from a Blefuscu attack. He collects the entire Blefuscu naval fleet and brings it back to Lilliput. The emperor is pleased, and gives Gulliver the title of nardac, the highest honor in the kingdom. The emperor makes an ambitious plan to destroy Blefuscu, overtake its government, and execute any Big-endians. Gulliver disagrees with the emperor, however, as he thinks it is wrong to force people into slavery. This upsets the emperor and other officials in the government, so Gulliver falls out of favor with the emperor. Three weeks later Lilliput makes a peace treaty with Blefuscu. Gulliver asks the emperor for permission to visit Blefuscu in the future. The emperor agrees but remains cold toward Gulliver.

A fire breaks out in the empress's apartment. Gulliver extinguishes the fire by relieving himself on the building. This disgusts the empress, as public urination is illegal in Lilliput. She vows revenge on Gulliver.

Analysis

Gulliver fulfills his part of the agreement he has made with the Lilliputians by aiding in their defense and taking Blefuscu's fleet. The emperor, however, reveals his true intention to use Gulliver as a weapon against Blefuscu when he asks Gulliver to assist him in overthrowing Blefuscu and enslaving its people. Defense is not sufficient for the emperor; he wants to conquer. To Gulliver, this request is quite different from the agreement he entered into, and his moral objections to it cause him to lose favor at court. As shown in earlier chapters, the emperor places highest value on obedience, so Gulliver's resistance represents a great betrayal.

Gulliver further distances himself from the court, unwittingly, in his role as a fire extinguisher. In relating the story of the fire, Gulliver is clear that he had no other methods available. He left his coat at home in his hurry to assist, and the fire was spreading too quickly to summon sufficient water to extinguish the blaze. The empress's disgust is understandable, but her quarters would have been lost to fire anyway. The emperor and empress placed Gulliver in an impossible situation, as he would have been equally culpable had he allowed the fire to burn and consume the entire palace. The incident highlights the short-sightedness of leaders and their disregard of the big picture based on personal preferences and whims. It also draws attention to the randomness of "civilized" convention: Gulliver has saved the palace and perhaps the lives of some of the Lilliputians, but the much higher good of his action is dwarfed by the Lilliputian disgust for bodily functions.

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