Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Gulliver in Lilliput

The whole story of Gulliver's Travels is set up with a small framing device in which another man vouches for Gulliver's honesty.  Gulliver then defends himself and tells the reader that various errors have crept in pertaining to spelling and chronology.  This works well as a literary device to suggest to the reader that the work really isn't fiction and shouldn't be read as such. 

The first voyage is to Lilliput.  The ship is wrecked and our hero is washed up on a beach.  He wakes to find that hundreds of tiny men have tied him to the ground.  This is one of the most famous images in all of literature and I'm sure there is a thesis in explaining how such an odd event is somehow so universal. 
Gulliver tries to move and the Lilliputians attack him with arrows.  They're very small but they can still damage him so he gives in.  They develop friendly relations but they still keep him in custody.  They provide him with food and shelter, even though it creates difficulties for them.  He comes to friendly terms with the king and learns much about Lilliput.
Swift uses the 'stranger in a strange land' set up to create fictitious customs and laws in each land that he visits.  This is often set in contrast to the ways of England that he left behind.  In Lilliput:
  • They have a challenge system in their law.  If an accused person is found to be innocent then their accuser is put to death.  The wrongly accused is also given quadruple recompense for hardship and loss of time.
  • They treat fraud as a worse crime than theft 'for the allege, that care and vigilance, with a very common understanding, may preserve a man's goods from thieves, but honesty has no defence against superior cunning'.  
  • They have a reward system in which whenever someone can prove that they have strictly observed the laws for a period of 'seventy-three moons', they will enjoy special privileges and get a sum of money.  The Lilliputians were aghast that England only had laws that punished and none that rewarded.
  • People of great morals were given more respect than those with ability.
  • Only believers in 'Divine Providence' could hold public station because kings are given rights and privileges from Providence.  That belief must be in place or that authority cannot be respected.
There are other laws and customs regarding how children should be raised but they're too long to excerpt.

Gulliver gets into trouble when he tries to help out.  A fire starts in one wing of the palace and it soon grows out of control.  Gulliver, having drank quite a bit of wine, simply pees on the palace and puts the fire out.  Everything is saved, but in a very bad way.  This was seen as an allusion to some actions of the Tories when they were in power, having done good things in a bad way.  For myself, I was reminded most of Rabelais.
He then falls out of favor and flees, fearing for his life.  Gulliver goes to a neighboring kingdom and seeks asylum for a short period of time.  As luck would have it, he is able to find a boat from normal sized humans and he refits it and eventually finds his way back to England.

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