Gulliver's Travels | Study Guide

Jonathan Swift

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Gulliver's Travels | Part 1, Chapter 7 | Summary

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Summary

A government official tells Gulliver that members of the council, including Flimnap, have charged Gulliver with treason. The charges include public urination, refusing to destroy Blefuscu, and aiding the emperor of Blefuscu. The official says that Flimnap and other leaders want Gulliver to be executed for his crimes, but Reldresal, Gulliver's friend, has convinced the officials to impose a more lenient sentence: Gulliver is to be blinded and slowly starved to death, after which his skeleton will remain as a monument. Gulliver learns his sentence will be carried out in three days. He leaves Lilliput for Blefuscu, where its people welcome him.

Analysis

Gulliver's "lenient" punishment is to be blinded and starved to death, which is far crueler than an execution. The people of Lilliput seem to know this, too, as Gulliver observes nothing could "terrify the people so much as those encomiums on his majesty's mercy; because it was observed, that the more these praises were enlarged and insisted on, the more inhuman was the punishment, and the sufferer more innocent." While Reldresal may genuinely believe he is doing Gulliver a favor, the characteristic shortsightedness of Lilliputians—and governments in general—is again on display in his plea for "leniency." The Lilliputian belief that their emperor is merciful when in reality a more "merciful" punishment creates greater suffering for an alleged offender reveals how systems of crime and punishment may not account for true justice. Just as the decision to indict Gulliver for treason is based on the biases and preferences of a few of his enemies, accusations and punishments can be issued at will by the powerful.

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