Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
This is a very important chapter, both in terms of theme and the techniques Swift employs to express his meanings.
The first thing Gulliver does is to ask the queen for some hairs from her head. With these he
makes chairs similar to English cane-backed chairs. They are teeny-tiny from the standpoint
of the royal couple, but they keep them nonetheless as souvenirs. They suggest that Gulliver
use them as furniture, but he "would rather die a thousand deaths than place a dishonourable
part of my body on those precious hairs...." Keep this in mind as you read the rest of this
The king is curious about Gulliver's country, and asks him lots of questions about it. Gulliver gives quite a detailed account of how things are done in England.
The king is horrified. He can't understand the English system of taxation,
and suggests that Gulliver's figures are all wrong, for the country seems
headed for bankruptcy. Deficit spending makes no sense at all to the king.
Neither does having colonies, unless it's for purposes of self-protection.
He's also mystified by England's having a standing army in peacetime.
He's astonished that religious differences give rise to problems. And
gambling-what a crazy pastime! Gulliver tells us "He was perfectly
astonished with the historical account I gave him of our affairs during
the last century, protesting it was only an heap of conspiracies, rebellions,
murders, massacres, revolutions, banishments, the very worst effects that
avarice, faction, hypocrisy, perfidiousness, cruelty, rage, madness, hatred,
envy, lust, malice, or ambition could produce."
The king says that though he likes Gulliver, he must conclude that his compatriots are "the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth."
In Lilliput it was Gulliver who denigrated England. When he did, we sided with him. But this time things are different. By Gulliver's refusing to sit on the chairs he made, we know that he holds the king and queen in high regard. And with good reason. The royal couple has been good to him. And the king's objections to Gulliver's account of English practices are human, and his comments are delivered gently, without malice. Therefore, we lend credence to the king's assessment of England. Now when we hear England being criticized, we feel that our hands are being slapped. Is it maybe Swift who is rapping our wrists?
We feel that our hands are being slapped because we're still identifying with Gulliver. This is natural, as he is the protagonist of this novel. Also, since the king doesn't lump Gulliver with other English people, Gulliver, and we, are able to keep some semblance of self-respect. This is another way in which Swift makes sure we don't become alienated from Gulliver at this point. Even though Gulliver has, in a sense, dug his own grave in this chapter.