Gulliver's Travels


Jonathan Swift

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Gulliver's Travels: Book 3, Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Gulliver gets permission from the Laputian king to explore the island and proceeds to describe it: it is a four-and-a-half mile diameter circle with a layer of adamant as its base and an immense magnetic loadstone in a chasm at the island’s center. Laputa’s movements are controlled by highly skilled Laputians who are astronomers (and know about many more celestial bodies, Gulliver notes, than European astronomers do). The astronomers turn the magnet so that either the attractive or the repellent end of the magnet faces the kingdom below (which either pulls Laputa towards or pushes it away).
Though the Laputians generally seem unable to apply their knowledge to practical effect, the astronomers’ use of their skills to navigate the island stands out as an exception. Still, the practical effect—that is, controlling the kingdom below through the elevated physical motion of the island—is perhaps not so laudable.
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The Laputian king manages the kingdom below by manipulating the motions of the island. If a particular population is misbehaving, he hovers the island over them, depriving their land of sun and rain. If they continue misbehaving, he pelts them from above with stones. If they still misbehave, he begins to lower the island towards them, threatening to flatten them completely. However (as the kingdom’s subjects well know) the king is usually too worried about damaging the base of Laputa to really want to crush any part of his kingdom. Even as the king announces that he spares his subjects because of his leniency, they know the real reason. The king and Laputian princes are not allowed to leave Laputa ever. The Laputian queen is not allowed to leave till she is finished bearing children.
The king’s method of ruling his kingdom is a clear abuse of physical power and the mark of a dysfunctional state. Indeed, the kingdom’s subjects don’t respect the king and see him as the selfish, pathetic tyrant that he is. Though the king thinks his lies about his leniency convince the listeners of his nobility, his subjects see straight through his deception. The Laputian king's abuse of power also comments on the way that those who pursue high-minded theory or philosophy are often just as, or more, corrupt and power-hungry than the less theoretically minded.
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