Gulliver's Travels


Jonathan Swift

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Gulliver's Travels can help.

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

Gulliver recounts his birth into modest circumstances and his background as a surgeon and then a ship’s surgeon. However, he never made a lot of money because he didn’t feel comfortable cheating people, as other surgeons did. One of the ships he was working on was wrecked and he was the only survivor, swimming to safety on a beach where he passed out with exhaustion.
Gulliver’s description of his past distances himself from the corrupt, deceitful society of England and gives him the moral high ground. He may not have been a financially successful member of society, but he was far richer in virtue than his lying peers.
Moral vs. Physical Power Theme Icon
Society and the State Theme Icon
Truth and Deception Theme Icon
When Gulliver awakens, he finds himself tied down to the ground and surrounded by a crowd of six-inch-high people (the Lilliputians) speaking a language he doesn’t understand. At first he struggles and the people shoot arrows at him. Then when Gulliver stops struggling, the people loosen some of his bindings and feed him well. Though tempted to grab and crush handfuls of them, Gulliver restrains himself reminding himself that he has made them “a promise of honor” by his “submissive behavior.” The little people dress the wounds Gulliver suffered from their arrows.
This scene introduces the theme of moral vs. physical power. The Lilliputians have exerted physical power against Gulliver by tying him to the ground and shooting at him. However, when Gulliver resists the urge to fight back with physical power and instead chooses to negotiate reasonably, the Lilliputians respond in kind. They begin to heal the physical wounds they themselves inflicted.
Moral vs. Physical Power Theme Icon
Related Quotes
While Gulliver’s sleeping, the Lilliputians convey him onto a large carriage, which they had built specially in the few hours since Gulliver appeared (Gulliver praises their ingenious mathematics and engineering), and begin a journey to the Lilliputian emperor. Upon arrival, he is chained to an out of use temple (the biggest structure in the kingdom) where he will lodge. The emperor and thousands of people view him. His strings are cut so that he may stand and move while still being constrained by his chains. Everyone is dumbfounded by his size.
The Lilliputians are obviously talented and practical engineers as Gulliver says since they have been able to invent and construct an enormous carriage in just a few hours. The image of Gulliver standing upright emphasizes the difference between his perspective and the Lilliputians’ perspective. For him, he is normal and they are tiny. For them, they are normal and he is a giant.
Perspective Theme Icon
Knowledge Theme Icon