Gulliver's Travels

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Gulliver's Travels Book 1, Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Gulliver describes life in Lilliput. He explains that, though the Lilliputians are small, their animals, surroundings, and physical capacities (such as sight) are scaled to size.
Because everything in Lilliput is small (from Gulliver’s perspective), nothing looks small to a Lilliputian.
Themes
Perspective Theme Icon
Gulliver describes aspects of the Lilliputians’ legal system. If a person is found innocent by trial, the accuser is sentenced to death and the innocent person is paid generously for the inconveniences suffered. Fraud and ingratitude are likewise capital crimes punished by death. Citizens who follow the law throughout their lives have the title snilpall (which means ‘legal’) added to their name and are accorded privileges. (And Lilliputians are appalled to hear from Gulliver that his society maintains order only by punishment, without rewards.) When hiring people to positions, the hirers consider that person’s moral more than they do his abilities.
The Lilliputian state obviously takes honesty extremely seriously—it punishes both false accusation and fraud with death. The state’s justice system is also organized to promote obedience to the law by rewarding good behavior as well as punishing bad behavior. (Swift’s England, by contrast, promoted obedience only by punishing bad behavior.) Note how, while to Gulliver (and us) the Lilliputian's laws seem ridiculous, to them England's laws seem silly.
Themes
Society and the State Theme Icon
Truth and Deception Theme Icon
Gulliver goes on to describe other aspects of life in the Lilliputians’ society. Children are raised by professors and servants in public nurseries away from their parents. The nurseries are organized based on gender and social class. However, girls are raised to be just as brave and smart as boys are (and any maid at the girls’ nurseries who entertains the girls by telling stories is whipped, imprisoned, or permanently exiled). Parents rich and poor all pay pensions and monthly sums to the nurseries, as the Lilliputians’ think it is unfair to place the cost of raising children on the general public. Still, the payments are scaled to the parents’ income levels.
This description of Lilliputian child rearing evokes the philosopher Plato’s notion that an ideal society would raise children apart from their parents. It also evokes ideals of egalitarianism (by treating both genders equally) and fairness (by sparing non-parents from the costs of other people’s children and by taxing people progressively).
Themes
Society and the State Theme Icon
Gulliver goes on to describe the prodigious efforts made by hundreds of the Lilliputian servants to clothe and feed him. He notes that once he had the Lilliputian emperor and the whole court over for an enjoyable dinner, though he thinks that Flimnap, the lord high treasurer, may have used the event as evidence to show the emperor how much money Gulliver was costing the kingdom. Gulliver describes also losing favor with the emperor when Flimnap accused him of having an illicit affair with Flimnap’s wife, though Gulliver assures the reader that he and the lady were only ever friends. Gulliver says he found out about this accusation “by an accident not proper to mention” but notes that the treasurer was eventually “undeceived” and warmed to his wife again, though he never stopped resenting Gulliver.
This passage introduces the symbol of clothing, which represents perspective. Gulliver’s clothes will change in each society as his perspective also changes. Flimnap’s secret agenda behind the dinner party and the rumor about Gulliver’s affair with Flimnap’s wife intertwine the theme of the state with the theme of deception, as government officials appear to be driven by concealed or untruthful motives. At the same time, Gulliver’s withholding (neglecting to explain how he heard about the rumor) could imply his own deceptiveness.
Themes
Perspective Theme Icon
Society and the State Theme Icon
Truth and Deception Theme Icon
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