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Gulliver's Travels | Study Guide

Jonathan Swift

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Part 2, Chapter 5

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Part 2, Chapter 5 of Jonathan Swift's novel Gulliver's Travels.

Gulliver's Travels | Part 2, Chapter 5 | Summary



Gulliver has several accidents that nearly kill him in Brobdingnag. The queen's dwarf drops a barrel of apples on him; he's nearly squashed in a hailstorm; the gardener's dog retrieves him in its mouth; a kite (bird of prey) almost carries him away in its talons; and he falls inside a molehill. The queen's maids of honor play with Gulliver as if he is a toy. The maids often strip naked in front of him and strip him naked as well. Gulliver is repulsed by their strong smell and the sight of their bare bodies. Gulliver is taken to witness the execution of a criminal. Normally, he is not interested in such spectacles, but he is curious to see an execution on a giant scale.

The queen has a rowboat and pool made for Gulliver's exercise and entertainment. A frog jumps into his pool and almost capsizes his boat, but Gulliver fights it away with his oars. A monkey gets loose in the palace, carries Gulliver to the roof, and feeds him like a baby. Gulliver almost chokes from the food. Glumdalclitch saves him in time and forces him to vomit. The king asks Gulliver what he would have done had a monkey attacked him in England. Gulliver says there are no monkeys there, but if a giant creature attacked he would use his sword. The king laughs at Gulliver's response. Glumdalclitch takes Gulliver to the countryside, where he walks knee-deep into a pile of cow dung. The story amuses members of the royal court.


The dangers Gulliver faces in Brobdingnag illustrate the vulnerabilities of the human condition and how easily human dignity can be lost. Even though the king and queen favor him, that favor cannot save Gulliver from the hazards of nature, such as a dog's instinct to retrieve a small object, a bird of prey's instinct to catch small creatures, a weather event, or a monkey's instinct to parent its young. Royal favor cannot save Gulliver from the dwarf's jealousy or the maids' desire to treat Gulliver as a toy. Their favor and care cannot even prevent Gulliver from walking into his own accidents. The world is a dangerous place, and any protection derived from high-level associations is an illusion.

Paradoxically, while the king and queen favor Gulliver on a personal level, they too treat him as something of a joke. The entire court is amused by Gulliver's run-in with the cow dung, and the king refuses to accept the possibility of Gulliver being able to defend himself in his home environment. The king's power and isolation have closed his mind to seeing Gulliver from any point of view other than his own, even though the king has also seen Gulliver hold his own against all the attacks and dangers life in Brobdingnag has thrown his way. The king illustrates how powerful men can be inflexible in their thinking, even on trivial matters, because their personal experiences are likewise limited to their own spheres. Leaders may become more effective by broadening their experience and understanding of the world.

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