Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Gulliver in Brobdingnag

After having been home for a few months, our narrator Gulliver goes to sea again.  This time he washes up in a land of giants, the land of Brobdingnag.  The contrast from Lilliput is clear and we get to experience both sides of the giant situation.  Swift is terribly clever here as he thinks through what it must be like to actually live with creatures that are so much bigger than yourself.  For instance, he finds all of them ugly because he can see every skin blemish clearly. 
Gulliver becomes something of a sideshow exhibit.  He is taken around to all the other towns even though he finds the travel exhausting.  His fortune changes when he is sold to the king and queen.  They keep him in one spot and try to learn what he is.  At first the kings advisers doubt that he is sentient but he finally convinces them that he can think and act with will and judgment.
Not that opinions of him are all that positive.  After explaining the various political parties of England to him, the Prince says:
"how contemptible a thing was human grandeur, which could mimicked by such diminutive insects as I: and yet," says he, "I dare engage these creatures have their titles and distinctions of honor; they contrive little nests and burrows, that they call houses and cities; they make a figure in dress and equipage; they live, they fight, the dispute, they cheat, they betray!"
The idea of an elected parliament also gets questioned:
He laughed at my "odd kind of arithmetic," as he was pleased to call it, "in reckoning the numbers of our people, by a computation drawn from several sects among us, in religion and politics." He said, "he knew no reason why those, who entertain opinions prejudicial to the public, should be obliged to change or should not be obliged to conceal them. And as it was tyranny in any government to require the first, so it was weakness not to enforce the second: for a man may be allowed to keep poisons in his closet, but not to vend them about for cordials."  
I wonder how sympathetic Swift was to these views?  As Milton pointed out, there is a huge difference between speech and poison.  Swift himself dealt with tyranny and censorship so it's hard for me to think that these thoughts represented his own.
Eventually Gulliver is picked up by an eagle and carried out to sea.  There he is rescued by a ship and eventually returns home to England.  This won't be his last voyage!

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