Gulliver's Travels Summary and Analysis
Part I, Chapters III-IV
"The Author diverts the Emperor and his Nobility of both Sexes in a very uncommon manner. The Diversions of the Court of Lilliput described. The Author hath his Liberty granted him upon certain Conditions."
Because Gulliver has been behaving so well, the emperor, his court, and the general population are beginning to trust him. Gulliver also has made a great deal of progress in learning the language and learning about the culture he is now such a large part of.
The emperor decides to entertain Gulliver by showing him a tradition of the court in which candidates for an open position of honor compete by walking to the middle of a string or tight-rope that is suspended two-and-a-half feet above the ground. They jump as high as they are able. "Whoever jumps the highest without falling succeeds in the Office." Gulliver tells the reader that very often these competitors are injured or fall to their death.
Gulliver's hat is found washed upon the shore, and he asks the emperor to command his men to bring it to him. It is worn from being dragged the half-mile to the kingdom, but it looks tolerably good. The emperor then asks Gulliver to stand up tall with his legs spread apart so that his troops can march through them.
Gulliver is finally granted his freedom on the condition that he (1) swear to help the Lilliputians if they are ever in a war, (2) survey the surrounding land, (3) help with any building that needs to be done, and (4) deliver messages. He agrees. In return he will be granted the food and drink sufficient for 1,724 Lilliputians.
"Mildendo, the Metropolis of Lilliput, described, together with the Emperor's Palace. A Conversation between the Author and a Principal Secretary, concerning the Affairs of that Empire: The Author Offers to serve the Emperor in his Wars."
The first thing Gulliver wants to do once he is free is see the metropolis of Lilliput. He finds the town very impressive. It is "capable of holding five hundred thousand Souls" and has two great streets that are five feet wide and cross in the middle, quartering the city. At the center is the emperor's palace. When Gulliver reaches the palace, the empress reaches her hand out the window for Gulliver to kiss.
Two weeks later Redresal, the Principal Secretary of private Affairs, comes to see Gulliver and tells him about the "two mighty Evils" that Lilliput struggles against: "a violent Faction at home, and the Danger of an Invasion by a most potent Enemy from abroad." He describes two parties of Lilliput, the Tramecksan and Slamecksan, who are distinguished by the high and low heels of their shoes. The emperor has decided to permit only low heels in the administration of Lilliput.
Redresal and the Lilliputians also have to worry about the threat of invasion from those living on the Island of Blefuscu, "which is the other great Empire of the Universe." The people of Lilliput and Blefuscu are unable to get along because years ago, after an emperor's son was injured trying to break his egg on the smaller end (the traditional way of egg breaking), he decreed that no one may break the smaller end of his egg. This caused a great uproar among many of the Lilliputians and led to six rebellions and thousands of deaths. Eventually the Big-Endians were exiled and went to Blefuscu, where they gained favor and convinced the government to go to war against Lilliput.
Gulliver finishes the conversation by telling Redresal that, while he does not want to interfere, he is "ready, with the hazard of [his] Life, to defend his Person and State against all Invaders."
These two chapters highlight the kinds of commentary Swift makes throughout the novel. By describing a society that chooses its highest officials with silly competitions like seeing who can jump the highest on a tight-rope, Swift is poking fun at the way officials are chosen in England. He is also commenting on the disturbing trend of politicians who are willing to do whatever it takes to gain favor in the court-including humiliating themselves. The danger of ambition is also figured here; jumping badly can lead to death.
Having Gulliver stand with his legs apart so that the Lilliputian armies can walk through is also a ridiculous idea. It is a comment on the pomp and circumstance of English armies. To Swift it seems that armies are often more concerned with looking impressive than with being impressive. This scene might also be an allusion to the Colossus of Rhodes, described in Julius Caesar by Shakespeare as a larger-than-life figure that men could walk through the legs of.
The contract Gulliver signs in order to gain his freedom further highlights the unequal relationship between Gulliver and the Lilliputians, but it is a relationship where a cordial contract trumps simple power. Gulliver could easily take control and break the contract, but he chooses to be peaceful.
The war between the English and the French is parodied in the conflict between the Lilliputians and the Blefuscudians. Their conflict over which end of the egg to break reflects the centuries-old conflict over how to practice religion-as Protestants or Catholics. While the wars over religion certainly were very serious, Swift suggests that what was being fought over (at least on the religious rather than the political side) really was not very important. In Swift's eyes, fighting over religion is as pointless as fighting over which end of an egg to break.
Swift also parodies the political parties within England. The Tory party is represented by the Low Heels while the Whigs are represented by the High Heels. Considering that Swift himself changed parties, he must have understood that political allegiance was important. Yet, political bickering is often about such unimportant matters as the height of one's heels.
Gulliver's Travels Essays and Related Content
- Gulliver's Travels: Major Themes
- Gulliver's Travels: Essays
- Gulliver's Travels: E-Text
- Gulliver's Travels: Questions
- Gulliver's Travels: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Jonathan Swift: Biography
- Gulliver's Travels Summary
- About Gulliver's Travels
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Part I, "A Voyage to Lilliput," Chapters I-II
- Summary and Analysis of Part I, Chapters III-IV
- Summary and Analysis of Part I, Chapters V-VIII
- Summary and Analysis of Part II, "A Voyage to Brobdingnag"
- Summary and Analysis of Part III, "A Voyage to Laputa ... and Japan"
- Summary and Analysis of Part IV, "A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms," Chapters I-VI
- Summary and Analysis of Part IV, Chapters VII-XII
- Important Quotations
- Related Links on Gulliver's Travels
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources