Gulliver's Travels Summary and Analysis
Part II, "A Voyage to Brobdingnag"
"A great Storm described, the long Boat sent to fetch Water, the Author goes with it to discover the Country. He is left on Shoar, is seized by one of the Natives, and carry'd to a Farmer's House. His Reception there, with several Accidents that happen'd there. A Description of the Inhabitants."
On June 20, 1702, ten months after his return from Lilliput and Blefuscu, Gulliver returns to the sea in a ship named Adventure. The journey begins very smoothly, the only delay being caused by an illness contracted by the captain. They continue on their journey for several months until a storm begins to brew, pushing the Adventure several miles off track. On June 16, 1703, the crew sees land and drops anchor, at which point the captain sends a dozen men on shore to fetch water. Gulliver wanders away from the other men to observe the countryside until he sees them in the boat hurrying back to the ship. He tries to call out to them, but he sees that they are being chased by a giant-though the giant is not able to catch the boat. Gulliver runs as fast as he can into the island.
Gulliver finds that much of the island is well cultivated, but to his surprise, when he comes across a hayfield, he realizes that the grass is more than twenty feet tall. Similarly, corn is at least forty feet high. Gulliver sees another giant, this time well-dressed, walking along the path he is on. He notes that each of the giant's strides is about ten yards long. The well-dressed giant is joined by seven workers, whom he instructs to begin reaping the corn (though Gulliver cannot understand the language).
Exhausted and filled with despair, Gulliver lies down and hopes that he will die. He writes, "I bemoaned my desolate Widow, and Fatherless Children." He begins to think back on the Lilliputians who thought that he was such a powerful and strong creature, saying that he now feels as a single Lilliputian would feel among humans. "Undoubtably," he muses, "Philosophers are in the right when they tell us, that nothing is great or little otherwise than by Comparison."
When he is about to be stepped on by one of the farmers, Gulliver cries out as loudly as he can. The giant stops short and picks up Gulliver to get a better look. Gulliver resists struggling in order to avoid being dropped sixty feet to the ground and instead brings his hands to a prayer position and points his eyes skyward. The giant seems pleased with Gulliver and, putting him in his pocket, heads over to show his master.
The master takes Gulliver home to show his wife, who screams at first, but when she sees how polite Gulliver is, she quickly warms up to him. Gulliver and the farmer try to speak to each other but are unsuccessful. At dinnertime, Gulliver sees that the full family consists of the parents, three children, and an elderly grandmother. The farmer's wife breaks up some bread and a small piece of meat and hands them to Gulliver, who gets out his knife and fork and proceeds to eat, thoroughly delighting the whole family. Later, as Gulliver walks across the table toward the farmer (whom he now calls his master), the farmer's son picks him up by one leg and dangles him in the air until the farmer grabs him back and boxes the boy's ear. Gulliver, not wanting to make an enemy in his new home, signals that he would like the boy to be pardoned, which he is.
At this point an infant is brought into the room, who at the sight of Gulliver cries to get him into its hand-with which the mother obliges. Quickly the baby squeezes Gulliver and puts his head in its mouth, at which Gulliver cries out until the baby drops him, luckily into the mother's apron. The baby cannot be quieted until the nurse nurses it. The sight of the woman's breast is repulsive to Gulliver. It is so large in his view that he can see all of its defects.
After dinner Gulliver signals that he is tired. The farmer's wife sets him on her bed and covers him with a handkerchief, where he sleeps until two rats the size of large dogs startle him. Gulliver fights them with his hanger (a short sword), killing one and scaring the other away.
Afterwards Gulliver signals that he needs time alone in the garden to relieve himself. He asks the reader to excuse him for dwelling on particulars.
"A Description of the Farmer's Daughter. The Author carried to a Market-Town, and then to the Metropolis. The Particulars of his Journey."
Gulliver is given into the care of the farmer's daughter, Glumdalclitch, who teaches him the language and treats him very well, like a child would care for a favorite doll. In fact, she keeps him in a doll's cradle, which she closes inside a drawer at night to keep him safe from the rats.
As word of Gulliver spreads throughout the kingdom, the farmer begins to realize that there is profit to be made and takes Gulliver to the marketplace, where he performs shows for paying patrons. The show is so successful that the farmer decides to take Gulliver on a tour of the kingdom. Gulliver does ten shows a day, which makes him quite tired.
"The Author sent for to Court. The Queen buys him of his Master the Farmer, and presents him to the King. He disputes with his Majesty's great Scholars. An Apartment at Court provided for the Author. He is in high Favour with the Queen. He stands up for the Honour of his own Country. His Quarrels with the Queen's Dwarf."
Having heard about the wondrous little creature that is making his way around the kingdom, the queen sends for him and his master to come to court. Gulliver immediately impresses the queen with his compliments and general manner, so she asks the farmer if he would be willing to sell Gulliver. The farmer, believing that Gulliver will die in about a month because he has lost so much weight from performing, quickly names a price. Gulliver is happy to live at court and be done with performing. He asks only that Glumdalclitch stay as well to continue taking care of him.
Afterward the queen carries Gulliver to the king's chamber. The king at first believes that Gulliver is some sort of mechanical creature, but he eventually believes that Gulliver is just helpless. Gulliver tries to explain that where he is from, everything is proportionate to him.
The queen has a small apartment built and new fine clothes tailored for Gulliver. She enjoys his company very much. Gulliver often comments that watching the Brobdingnag people eat or getting too close to their faces is quite repulsive.
Gulliver and the king spend a great deal of time discussing politics. Gulliver explains how things work where he is from. The king laughs at English politics, which puts Gulliver off at first. Soon, however, Gulliver realizes that his adventures have begun to sway him to the same opinion; his perspective has begun to change.
Gulliver finds an enemy in the queen's dwarf, who seems to be jealous of all the attention Gulliver is getting.
"The Country described. A Proposal for correcting modern Maps. The King's Palace, and some Account of the Metropolis. The Author's way of travelling. The chief Temple described."
Gulliver spends a great deal of time describing the landscape of Brobdingnag, the palace that he now lives in and his manner of traveling in a small traveling box designed especially for him. He also sees and describes the largest temple in Brobdingnag, which he does not find impressive in its size.
"Several Adventures that happened to the Author. The Execution of a Criminal. The Author shews his Skill in Navigation."
Serving in Brobdingnag proves difficult for Gulliver. He experiences a series of dangers because of his small size-and because the dwarf relishes in making Gulliver's life difficult. The ladies at court treat Gulliver like a toy, dressing and undressing him and undressing themselves in front of him. Gulliver again mentions how offensive he finds the skin and smell of the Brobdingnagians. He remembers the Lilliputians' similar reaction to his smell, which he did not understand at the time. Gulliver nearly drowns when a toad jumps onto the boat the queen has had made for him. He is also carried to the top of the palace by a monkey and narrowly survives. The monkey is killed, and it is declared that monkeys will no longer be allowed in the palace.
"Several Contrivances of the Author to please the King and Queen. He shews his Skill in Musick. The King enquires into the State of Europe, which the Author relates to him. The King's Observations thereon."
Gulliver salvages several of the king's hairs from his shaving cream and makes himself a comb. He then makes the seat of a chair from the queen's hair but refuses to sit on it because doing so would be insulting to her. He also makes Glumdalclitch a small purse.
Gulliver spends the evening at a concert in Brobdingnag. For him the music is so loud that he cannot enjoy it unless his traveling box is brought as far away as possible and all of the windows and doors are closed.
Gulliver often goes to see the king, who requests a detailed description of the government of England, which Gulliver relates. The king asks him many questions, challenging various aspects of the government and having particular difficulty with England's violent past. In the end the king concludes that the English are well below the Brobdingnagians, calling them "the most pernicious Race of Little odious Vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the Surface of the Earth."
"The Author's Love of his Country. He makes a Proposal of much Advantage to the King, which is rejected. The King's great Ignorance in Politicks. The Learning of that Country very imperfect and confined. Their Laws, and military Affairs, and Parties in the State."
Gulliver is offended by the manner in which the king has dismissed the English as a lowly society. He tries to impress the king by telling him about some of the many great inventions of England, beginning with gunpowder. Gulliver goes into great detail about the power and effect of gunpowder and what the king could accomplish with it, saying that he could easily control everyone in Brobdingnag with gunpowder. The king is "struck with Horror" and disgusted by Gulliver's proposals. He tells Gulliver that if he values his life, he should never mention gunpowder again. Gulliver cannot believe that the king would reject such an immense opportunity. Gulliver then discusses the general ignorance of the Brobdingnag people, including their simple laws and practices.
"The King and Queen make a Progress to the Frontiers. The Author attends them. The manner in which he leaves the Country very particularly related. He returns to England."
Gulliver has been in Brobdingnag for two years and strongly feels that it is time to leave. He is basically being treated as a pet. But the royal family does not want to part with him. Coincidentally, on a trip to the seashore, a giant eagle picks up Gulliver's traveling box and flies off with him. Realizing that the box is not edible, the eagle drops it into the sea. After some time the box is picked up by a passing ship of Gulliver's normal proportions. Gulliver finds it very difficult to adjust to the size of things back in England. He feels much larger than the others.
Whatever Gulliver did not gain in perspective (in terms of size) during his time in Lilliput, he gains in Brobdingnag. His time here not only gives Gulliver an understanding of what it is like to be powerless, but it also shows Gulliver how the Lilliputians must have felt when near him. Of course this situation is even more intimidating because here there are many giants, while in Lilliput he was the only one. This is how a Lilliputian would feel in England. The differences Gulliver experiences between the two islands are heightened because of the close proximity of the trips. Gulliver feels even smaller in Brobdingnag than he would have felt if he had never journeyed to Lilliput.
Gulliver's newfound understanding of perspective helps him to feel powerless more profoundly-first for himself, when he curls up and rather pathetically hopes to die, and then for others, especially for the Lilliputians he left behind. As his fear rises, he becomes more and more emotional, eventually becoming so overwhelmed that he gives up, curling up into the fetal position.
Once Gulliver is brought to the farmer's house, many challenges await him because of his lack of power in this land. A mere baby threatens his life, as do two common rats. Gulliver is able to fight them off in a seemingly heroic fashion, but it is clear that he could have lost the fight. Gulliver is also surprised by the aesthetic differences of the world from this new perspective. The nurse's breast is disgusting to him because he can clearly see every deformity and blemish. He imagines what the Lilliputians thought of his physicality.
In these chapters we again see Gulliver as less than heroic. Just as in Lilliput, when Gulliver did not fight against his captivity (as Odysseus might), here Gulliver does nothing to try to avoid being captured. He waits until he is about to be stepped on before taking any action at all. And he only begs for mercy from the giant Brobdingnags. Gulliver relies on the protection of a young girl who tucks him into a doll's cradle at night. Gulliver survives and thrives only partly on the basis of his good manners. For the most part, he is a pet and a curiosity.
Gulliver's compliance continues when he is required to perform so that the farmer can earn money. Gulliver becomes drastically emaciated, but he never resists what he is being told to do. In fact, readers do not really learn that Gulliver hated his task until he is out of danger and complains to the queen of Brobdingnag. Once Gulliver is seemingly safe at the court and has gained favor with the queen, he remains a plaything with very little respect, especially from the ladies at court.
As a tiny person in the Brobdingnag world, Gulliver endures several trials that a larger person would never have to suffer. This again reminds the reader of the importance of physical strength as well as intellectual strength. Even when combat is not an issue, a large stature intimidates one's opponent. As a tiny person, Gulliver is left to the whims of those around him. In the fifth chapter, for instance, Gulliver is captured by a small monkey that would have been a minor threat in England.
The overreaction of the queen and the rest of the government to this incident sheds important light on the Brobdingnag government. It seems that this government is rash. The killing of the monkey also shows that Gulliver has more status in the court than that of a toy or an animal. His nemesis is the dwarf, who used to be the small man in court.
The king and Gulliver have long conversations about politics, but the king never really considers Gulliver's opinions on important matters. Being small, Gulliver is considered petty, and the idea of gaining power through gunpowder is anathema to the king. Through Gulliver's discussions with the king, the reader learns that perspective extends beyond size to opinion. After several days of discussing the governments of England and Brobdingnag, the king declares the English to be "the most pernicious Race of Little odious Vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the Surface of the Earth." Again Gulliver's Travels brings light to the fact that people from different backgrounds often have different opinions on the same subjects, even though people tend to follow similar patterns. Gulliver finds that each people prefers its own ways, but a traveler who spends a long time elsewhere might (or might not) come to prefer the foreigners' ways over his own. Experience, thought, and tradition are important considerations in making this choice.
As for gunpowder, for Gulliver (and through him, the English), gunpowder represents the height of achievement primarily because of the power it has provided. The Brobdingnag king, however, is not corrupted by power. He is able to see that the negative effects of gunpowder would far outweigh the positive ones in his society. He might be right that Gulliver is narrow-minded, but his tirade on the general stupidity of the Brobdingnags takes the opposite point of view. Still, on this issue he is unable to see his own faults or those of his society. It is up to Swift to show us, through Gulliver's tale, what Gulliver's insistence on gunpowder means.
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- Summary and Analysis of Part I, Chapters V-VIII
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