Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver's Travels Summary and Analysis of Part I, "A Voyage to Lilliput," Chapters I-II

Chapter 1

Each chapter is advertised. In this chapter, "The Author gives some Account of himself and Family, his first Inducements to travel. He is shipwrecked, and swims for his Life, gets safe on shoar in the Country of Lilliput, is made a Prisoner, and carryed up the Country."

The narrative begins with the narrator, Lemuel Gulliver, describing his childhood and the events that led him to become a seaman. He tells the reader that he is the third of five sons and that he was sent to a Puritan college at the age of fourteen. Afterwards he became an apprentice to a surgeon in London, during which time he also learned about navigation and mathematics in preparation for a future on the sea, "as I always believed it would be some time or other my fortune to do." Next he studied "Physick" (medicine) because he thought it would be "useful in long Voyages."

Afterwards Gulliver married Mrs. Mary Burton and began his life as a surgeon, taking on several patients. When his business begins to fail, he takes a six-year trip to the sea, where he serves as the surgeon to two ships and travels the East and West Indies. He spends much of his time on these voyages observing the people and learning their languages.

The real problems begin in 1699. Gulliver sets sail on a voyage that starts out prosperously but quickly takes a turn for the worse. The ship encounters violent storms, has bad food, and weakens the crew (twelve crew members die) when the ship hits a rock and is split. Six of the crew members, including Gulliver, get into a small boat and row until they are overturned by a "sudden Flurry." Gulliver swims until he is nearly exhausted, at which point he finds an island, comes across a patch of grass, and sleeps for what he estimates is more than nine hours.

When Gulliver awakens, he is lying on his back. He finds himself unable to sit up or move at all. His "Arms and Legs were strongly fastened on each side to the Ground; and [his] Hair, which was long and thick, tied down in the same manner." He feels something moving along his body almost up to his chin, at which point he sees that it is "a human Creature not six Inches high, with a Bow and Arrow in his Hands, and a Quiver at his Back." Gulliver will later learn that these creatures are called Lilliputians. Startled by this sight, Gulliver roars out and soon manages to free his left arm. The frightened Lilliputians fire dozens of tiny arrows into his hand, face, and body until he lies calmly. The Lilliputians then build a stage to Gulliver's side that is about a foot and a half tall, upon which a "Person of Quality" stands and makes a ten-minute speech to Gulliver in a language he cannot understand.

Gulliver signals that he wants food and drink, so the people bring baskets of meat and several loaves of bread, which he eats three at a time because they are so tiny to him. The Lilliputians also bring two barrels of drink, which he enjoys even though they are smaller than a half a pint together.

Gulliver admits that as he lies on the ground he often thinks of taking up fifty of the small creatures in his hand and crushing them-but he does not want to be pricked with arrows again, and he has given his "Promise of Honour" to behave in exchange for good treatment.

After he has eaten, Gulliver signals to the people to move out of the way. He relieves himself by "making Water." He promptly falls asleep because his drink had a sleeping medicine in it. Once they are sure he is asleep, the Lilliputians, who are excellent mathematicians, transport Gulliver to the Capital. They use a large platform with twenty-two wheels pulled by dozens of four-and-a-half-inch horses, dragging Gulliver half of a mile. After he awakens, Gulliver finds that he is chained by his leg in the capital, but he is able to move in a circle of about two yards in diameter. More than one hundred thousand Lilliputians come out to see Gulliver.

Chapter II

"The Emperor of Lilliput, attended by several of the Nobility, comes to see the Author, in his Confinement. The Emperor's Person and Habit described. Learned Men appointed to teach the Author their Language. He gains Favour by his mild Disposition. His pockets are searched, and his Sword and Pistols taken from him."

Gulliver has been allowed to move about at the end of his chain and to retire into his small house. He gives a detailed description of his need to relieve himself after two days without defecating-and how he finally does so, first in his house because of embarrassment and on every following day early in the morning so that it can be carried away by two workers before the general population is awake.

The emperor comes to visit Gulliver. The two attempt to converse even though they cannot yet understand each other's language. Gulliver tries to speak to the emperor and his men in every language he knows, but to no avail.

Gulliver is given a strong guard to protect him against those citizens who enjoy pestering him. When a group of six citizens is caught shooting arrows at Gulliver, one of which narrowly misses his left eye, they are given to Gulliver to punish as he sees fit. Gulliver puts five of the men in his pocket and dangles the sixth above his mouth as if he is going to eat him, but he then lets all of the men go, gaining favor with those who are watching.

During this time the emperor holds many conferences with his wisest men, trying to decide what to do with Gulliver. They are worried that he could escape or that he could cause a famine because of how much food it takes to keep him satisfied. It is eventually decided that two officers should be appointed to search Gulliver with his assistance. Afterwards, Gulliver is asked to demonstrate the purpose of each of the items found on his person. When he fires his pistol into the air, several of the Lilliputians fall to the ground in fright.


Gulliver begins the story of his journeys in the typical pattern of the travel narratives of his time. He tells the reader a great deal of background information, such as where he was born, which schools he attended, and his profession. The reader learns that Gulliver began his life in a very usual way. He was basically middle-class and had to work for a living. By setting up the narrator as a normal person in the beginning of the book, Swift helps readers to sense that Gulliver is trustworthy and a regular guy whom they can relate to. While a more fantastic narrator may have been more impressive and exciting, for the satire to work best, readers are placed in Gulliver's everyman shoes.

The perception that Gulliver is trustworthy diminishes, however, as soon as Gulliver comes into contact with the Lilliputians. It is obvious that the creatures are figments of Swift's imagination, since it is extremely unlikely that such beings actually exist. But Gulliver's trustworthiness is unimportant insofar as the reader recognizes that the real conversation is with Swift. We continue happily on Gulliver's journey in order to find out what Swift wants us to perceive through the tale.

At the time that Swift wrote Gulliver's Travels, England was the most powerful nation in the world, with a large fleet of ships, which were constantly searching for new lands to control. During these searches the English came into contact with several new civilizations. The Lilliputians seem almost possible in this context. But Swift chooses to set the first culture Gulliver comes into contact with as far too small to be real. He makes the Lilliputians only six inches tall. It is significant that Gulliver, coming from the most powerful nation in the world, is able to be held prisoner by six-inch men. Swift is asking the English to consider the pride of their own country, especially as a colonial power. A great number of small people can overpower one large person-if they are resourceful enough. Are England's colonies powerful and crafty enough to do it?

At the same time, it is apparent that even though Gulliver fears the tiny arrows of the Lilliputians, he could almost certainly escape if he put his mind to it. Why does he choose to stay? Perhaps he is curious about the Lilliputians, their culture, language, and ways of living. Gulliver's curiosity and thirst for knowledge were established in the first few paragraphs of the novel. Or perhaps Gulliver enjoys the power that comes with being a giant. Even as a prisoner in Lilliput, Gulliver is the most powerful being on the island.