Gulliver's Travels

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Gulliver's Travels Book 1, Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Gulliver is desperate to relieve himself so the first thing he does in his new house is defecate on the floor. He assures the reader that he only did this that one time out of desperation and, in the future, he defecated at the far length of his chain in the open air and it was cleaned up by Lilliputian servants.
This anecdote introduces the symbol of excrement and is the first of many examples of Gulliver’s dedication to honesty: he doesn’t edit out details, even for the sake of politeness or propriety.
Truth and Deception Theme Icon
Gulliver is fed and visited by the Lilliputian emperor, who is a human-nail’s-width taller than his subjects and very handsome. The two of them converse without understanding each other, each in their own language. Onlookers who shoot an arrow at Gulliver are seized and handed over to Gulliver who picks them up, scares them with a mean face and a glimpse of his penknife, and then releases them. The Lilliputians are delighted by Gulliver’s gentleness.
These interactions confirm Gulliver’s choice to exert moral rather than physical power. He converses peacefully with the Lilliputian emperor (even though they can’t understand one another) and lets the arrow-shooters free without any bodily punishment.
Moral vs. Physical Power Theme Icon
Gulliver is well provided for with custom-made furniture and food. He begins to learn the Lilliputians’ language and frequently visits with the emperor, whom he begs for his liberty. The emperor agrees after his men search Gulliver and Gulliver surrenders his weapons. These men submit a report to the Lilliputian emperor inventorying Gulliver’s possessions, all of which are foreign to them and which they describe in great detail without calling anything by its name in human society. They refer to Gulliver as the “man-mountain.” They call his handkerchief a “great piece of coarse-cloth, large enough to be a foot-cloth” in the palace; they call his pipe a pillar “the length of a man” with a “piece of timber” at the end; they call his pocket watch “a wonderful kind of engine” at the end of “a great silver chain.”
Though the Lilliputian state exerts its physical power to hold Gulliver prisoner, it otherwise treats him very humanely. Through persistent rational discussion and a willingness to give up his own weapons of physical power, Gulliver is able to convince Lilliput to consider relaxing its own physical power over him. The Lilliputians’ account of Gulliver’s possessions highlights their difference in perspective: to Lilliputians’ a human is mountain-sized, a human handkerchief is carpet-sized, etc.
Perspective Theme Icon
Moral vs. Physical Power Theme Icon
Society and the State Theme Icon