Gulliver's Travels | Study Guide

Jonathan Swift

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Gulliver's Travels | Part 1, Chapter 6 | Summary

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Summary

In Lilliput, everything exists in proportion to the Lilliputians, including their eyesight. Lilliputians are clearly able to see objects that are close but cannot see far away. Their writing system consists of words moving on a diagonal from corner to corner of the page, rather than left to right or up and down. Gulliver notes that this is like "ladies in England."

In the Lilliputian legal system, those found guilty of crimes are punished severely. Fraud and treason are the worst crimes one can commit. Lilliputians are also rewarded for law-abiding behavior. Government officials are chosen based on their morals, not abilities. Individuals who do not believe in Divine Providence—the Lilliputian idea of god—cannot hold office.

Parents in Lilliput do not rear their own children but send them to what they call public nurseries. These nurseries are schools divided by class and by gender. Parents are allowed to visit children at school twice a year, but they are not allowed to give gifts or show affection during these visits. Middle-class children are taught trades, and the lowest classes do not attend school at all. Girls are educated but are also prepared to become "reasonable and agreeable" wives.

Gulliver is invited to have dinner with the emperor. Flimnap, the royal treasurer, also attends the dinner. Flimnap dislikes Gulliver and complains that feeding and housing Gulliver is bankrupting the kingdom. Flimnap also accuses Gulliver of having a secret affair with his wife. Gulliver denies these accusations.

Analysis

The description of the Lilliputians makes them literally shortsighted, able to see what is near but not what is far away. In the same way, these small creatures have a sense of their own importance that is disproportionate to their place in the world at large, a characteristic of many people who live in isolation or have great power in a small sphere of influence. The description of their writing, and the comparison to "ladies in England," also seems to minimize their scholarly accomplishments.

Indeed, the Lilliputians are not especially concerned with scholarly accomplishment, as indicated by the high premium they place on moral qualifications over other abilities. Both fraud and ingratitude are capital offenses in their legal system, and the liberal use of capital punishment still seems harsh even on balance with the rewards offered to law-abiding citizens. The educational system likewise hinges on the teaching of strong principles, especially in the upper classes, rather than academics.

Gulliver's own sense of honor emerges again when he exonerates the treasurer's wife from rumors of an affair. The rumor reflects how much weight gossip and hearsay can have at court and in determining public reputation. It illustrates how readily the public, or at least the court, will accept a negative rumor about anyone whose popularity is declining, no matter how absurd. An affair or "violent affection for [Gulliver's] person" on the part of a Lilliputian seems implausible, and a physical relationship would be impossible, but this does not stop the rumor mill from turning.

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