Gulliver's Travels | Study Guide

Jonathan Swift

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Gulliver's Travels | Part 2, Chapter 7 | Summary

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Summary

Gulliver is upset that the king holds a low opinion of England. He fears his summary of England's history may have represented the country unfairly. Gulliver attempts to win the favor of the king by offering to teach him how to make gunpowder, but the king is horrified to hear of something so destructive and commands Gulliver to never speak of it again. Gulliver explains that the king seems to know very little about politics and does not seem to respect the process or demands of dealing with other countries. He does describe Brobdingnag's militia, indicating that the country has had internal struggles in the past. Gulliver criticizes the education of people in Brobdingnag for being limited to only a few subjects, even though Gulliver reads books in the kingdom.

Analysis

Gulliver naturally feels a need to defend his home country and seems nearly desperate to show the king that he comes from a civilized society. Gulliver also wants to show the king that he, and his background, can be of use to the king, so the king's horror at the suggestion of gunpowder is dispiriting. Brobdingnag's isolation comes into play as the king has no understanding of the political negotiations that take place between nations. The country's history of unrest comes from within. When Gulliver says that "the nobility often contending for power, the people for liberty, and the king for absolute dominion" led to three civil wars, it shows a need for the king to open his thinking about political processes, but the king dismisses these as well. The concept of voting, even in a limited sense, would threaten his "absolute dominion." Government in Brobdingnag is kept simple, with the laws short and never criticized, which further illustrates the narrowness of the king's and the people's thinking. All learning (even poetry and mathematics) is ultimately for practical use, and the Brobdingnagians are uninterested in philosophical or conceptual learning. Many societies—perhaps those of Europe included—can benefit from practicality, and Swift believed that Enlightenment philosophers were too deliberately obscure and theoretical in their thinking. But in Brobdingnag, the emphasis on practical knowledge is taken to an extreme, and ultimately impractical, level.

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