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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
In this part, Gulliver goes to the land of Lilliput, where people are no more than six inches high, where sheep, horses, and "large" fowl fit in the palm of Gulliver's hand. Dubbed by the Lilliputians as the "Man-Mountain," Gulliver's presence poses such gigantic problems that the government must enact special legislation to deal with such things as Gulliver's diet and the manner in which his excrement is to be handled. Swift has come under a lot of fire for his emphasis on and vivid descriptions of urination, defecation, and the body in general.
Throughout this book Swift juxtaposes Gulliver's physicality and bodily functions against the ultratidy, picturebook-tiny, form-obsessed Lilliputians. Many of the Lilliputians' political machinations represent inflamed incidents in the English politics of Swift's time. As you read this section think about the things we normally associate with "big" and "little"- in his allegorical juxtapositions, Swift makes a pointed exploration of personal and political grossness, largesse, narrowness, and tyranny.
You're really "starting over" as you dive into Chapter I. Right away you know from the startling difference in tone that Gulliver started his voyages with one viewpoint and finished them with another. Try to put Gulliver's letter to Richard Sympson in the back of your mind (but don't forget it entirely). Getting to know Gulliver will be as much a voyage for you, as his travels were for him.
Notice how Gulliver tries to make a good impression on you, tries to present himself as solid and respectable, as though he were applying for a job. He tells you that his father had a "small Estate in Nottinghamshire," that he was the third of five sons, that he spent three years at Emanuel College, Cambridge, that because his family wasn't rich, he stopped formal schooling and was apprenticed to a Mr. Bates. With his allowance, he managed to study navigation, mathematics, and medicine ("physic"), which he knew would be useful when he began to travel, as he had always felt he was meant to do. On the basis of recommendations from Mr. Bates, he was hired as "surgeon" (physician) aboard the Swallow, his first ship. Again, on the basis of Mr. Bates' recommendations, Gulliver is able to set up a medical practice upon his return from sea. He marries, his practice flags, and because "conscience would not suffer me to imitate the bad practice of too many among my brethren"- in other words, to steal, swindle, and the like-he resolves to go to sea.
Evidently satisfied by this introduction of himself, Gulliver launches into his tale. It's true that he's given us many details. He not only mentions the name of his home region, college, employers, ships, wife, streets of residence, etc.; he is at pains to furnish us specifics, and wants to make sure we note them. From the outset, then, you know that Gulliver is detail-oriented.
But most of the details Gulliver gives us are such as we might find on his resume. And what does a resume tell you about a person? The official, public aspects of his life. This helps us as we try to make a picture of the person. We can infer that Gulliver is conscientious (he used his allowance for his studies), hard working (he seems never to have been out of a job when not in school), and competent (he gets good references). Helpful as these details are, they're still not a full portrait. The only personal information we get from Gulliver is that compared to some of his peers, he's honest. Maybe Gulliver needs the impetus of comparison to delve behind his public appearance; certainly it is through comparing Gulliver to those he meets during his voyages that you'll get to know Gulliver.
It is by chance that Gulliver finds himself in Lilliput. In the haze, his ship hits a rock, and Gulliver and some of his mates let down a boat and try to row toward shore. But the wind overturns the boat, and only Gulliver makes it to land. He immediately falls asleep on the grass. The first thing he feels on waking is that his arms, body, and hair are pinned to the ground. Flat on his back, face to the sun, Gulliver is blinded by the light. Bear in mind, as you read, the importance to Gulliver of his eyesight, the lengths to which he'll go to protect it, and the different value the Lilliputians ascribe to vision, Gulliver's in particular.
The first thing Gulliver sees on this strange shore is a human creature six inches high, with a bow and arrow in its hands and a quiver on its back. This creature has walked up Gulliver's leg, stomach, and chest, and stands just in front of his chin. Behind this creature are forty of his fellows.
How blase Gulliver is as he tells us of people six inches high! How detailed is his description! Because Gulliver doesn't question the reality of what he's seeing, we don't either. And because he describes with extreme clarity and care, he earns our confidence and we become "conditioned" to believe the improbable, fantastical things Gulliver recounts. Swift has several techniques that ensure that we'll accept the fantastical. Gulliver's reliable observations in Part I is one such device. But Gulliver, as you'll see, isn't always completely believable, which is why Swift needs recourse to other techniques as well.
Gulliver manages to break his bonds, and as soon as he does, one of the Lilliputians shouts an order and the rest shoot their arrows at Gulliver. In a moment, the tiny ones subdue the giant. (Gulliver lies back, quietly, so as to avoid more arrows.) A work crew arrives and starts building a stage. When it's finished, a person who's obviously a noble arrives and makes Gulliver a long, highly oratorical speech. Gulliver doesn't understand a word, and responds to this show by putting his finger on his mouth and grunting to indicate that he's hungry. What a contrast between the tiny, ceremonial Lilliputian and the grunting hulk who doesn't seem to care about words (much less oratory!) and just wants to be fed. Gulliver calls up images of a beast, or a baby. When he gives us the catalog of all he's eaten, he seems much more like a beast. And it's only after the Lilliputians feed Gulliver that he feels honorbound not to hurt them.
Gulliver realizes his conduct may be against the "strict rules of decency," but he can't help himself. He's overcome by the demands of his body, and in contrast to the refined-seeming Lilliputians, he seems a little less human for it.
When he urinates, the Lilliputians scatter as though from a flood. Not only does Gulliver appear crude, he's positively dangerous, a walking natural disaster! He himself describes his urine as a "torrent which fell with... noise and violence." Gulliver's begun looking at himself and his functions through the eyes of his host. Have you?
He's also looking at his hosts with newly awakened eyes. When the emperor orders Gulliver to be transported to his court, the Lilliputians do sophisticated calculations to arrive at the exact amount of wood they will need for Gulliver's cart. They also devise a pulley system to raise Gulliver from the ground to the cart. Gulliver is so impressed he practically begins to brag about the Lilliputians.
They, however, don't hold Gulliver in such high regard. They house him in a polluted temple. Gulliver says he "creeps" inside his lodging, like something nasty and debased.
No doubt Gulliver is experiencing some conflicting feelings. On the one hand, he is the size of a Lilliputian mountain, the mere fact of his presence is a major event. On the other hand, he's crude compared to the Lilliputians, less civilized seeming. How do you think you'd react if you were in Gulliver's shoes?