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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
In this Chapter we get more of Gulliver's perceptions on the Lilliputians, and a fine example of one of Swift's most effective techniques.
Gulliver tells us that there is "an exact proportion" between the size of Lilliputian humans and animals, birds, trees, vegetables, etc. "Nature," he tells us, "hath adapted the eyes of the Lilliputians to all objects proper for their view: they see with great exactness, but at no great distance." To illustrate this point, he tells us he has seen "a young girl threading an invisible needle with invisible silk." Notice the interplay here between the literal and the figurative.
This is one of Swift's most important satirical techniques, and it works on us in two ways. We accept the information pertaining to the literal because it is laid out for us precisely with consistent-seeming comparisons. We have confidence in Gulliver at this point because he has taken pains to give us lots of details: he seems like a character who's "done his homework." Because the literal seems to hold up, it smooths our way as we slide over into the figurative. Gulliver gives us supporting evidence both before and after. Yet, would the Lilliputians need good eyesight to see such tiny animals? they are all on the same scale; to Gulliver, Lilliputian thread may be invisible, but it isn't to them. Gulliver's laps is deliberate on the part of Swift. Swift is able to subtly satirize Gulliver even as Gulliver is telling us something important, perceptive, and true about the Lilliputians. Their views are so narrow they can't be said to see at "great distance." As readers of Swiftian satire, we must be alert to the fact that it cuts more than one way.
As we read on, we can't help but be further impressed with the correctness of Gulliver's assessment of Lilliputian "vision." He tells us that a person who accuses another of a crime of which the latter is found to be innocent, is immediately put to a cruel death, and the unjustly accused is rewarded materially. Not only that, he receives a title of distinction from the emperor. From what you already know of the workings of the Lilliputian court, how much confidence do you have in the legal system here? At the very least, many crimes must go unreported.
And anyone here who obeys the laws for "seventy-three moons" is
rewarded with a title of honor and a goodly sum of money. The Lilliputians
find it odd that in Gulliver's country the judiciary system is based mainly
on punishment. This is an interesting point, but do you think the Lilliputians
would make such a big deal of staying within the laws if nearly everyone
Gulliver expounds on Lilliputian hiring practices. You have already seen the importance of rope jumping and other such skills in the attainment of public office. Morals, believe the Lilliputians, count more than abilities, since those with high intelligence are usually lacking in moral virtues. Mistakes made in ignorance, reason the Lilliputians, usually have less serious consequences than those made by corrupt cunning. What do you think? Is intelligence to be feared? To be punished so? And what of "moral virtue"? It seems that in Lilliput this translates as utter servitude to the emperor. No one who rejects the notion of the divine right of kings is allowed to hold public office. What about the free flow of ideas? Do you think insuring against such freedom of belief is a sign of a healthy society and a secure government? What do you think Swift thinks?
For all their display of logic, the Lilliputians show themselves to be very illogical. Ingratitude is considered a heinous crime because "whoever makes ill returns to his benefactor, must needs be a common enemy to the rest of mankind... and therefore... not fit to live." Ingratitude is not an appealing trait, but the reasoning here is cockeyed. Being guilty of ingratitude on one occasion does not signal that a person is a menace to society at large. And an awful lot of offenses in Lilliput are punished by death. How do you feel about this?
The Lilliputians also show themselves to be cynical with regard to love and families. A child is never under any obligation to his parents for conceiving and begetting him, since life is no great bargain anyway, and because his or her parents were just acting out of lust. Children are sent away to school and see their parents only twice a year. Girls receive schooling inferior to that for boys. And unless you're born into the upper class, you have no choice as to what to study. Lower-class kids are assigned a trade and that's it. The poorest of the poor have no option but to tend the land, if their parents have any.
Still, Gulliver retains his admiration of Lilliputian ingenuity. They determine what size to make his clothes by measuring only his right thumb-twice around the thumb, they calculate, is once around the wrist, and "so on to the neck and waist." You're left on your own to make an assessment of the Lilliputians (and of Gulliver). Gulliver may well be less offended by the Lilliputians than is Swift. This, too, is one of Swift's ways of making sure you stand on your own two feet while reading this book. Even though Gulliver's your tour guide, you should feel free to question what he tells you.
For all his docility, Gulliver is not on solid footing with his hosts. A rumor has circulated that the wife of the treasurer has been paying secret visits to Gulliver. The treasurer is livid at what he supposes to be his wife's infidelity. It's hard not to laugh out loud at such a ridiculous suspicion. Yet Gulliver dare not, because for him this means big trouble.