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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER V

Anxious not to lose what freedom he has, Gulliver walks across the harbor and seizes the Blefuscudian fleet. He unties each boat from its mooring, ties the boats together so that they form a sort of seafaring train, and strides back to Lilliput with the fleet literally in hand. Gulliver succeeds in spite of the bow and arrow attacks of the Blefuscudians. Had he not stopped his work for a moment to put on his eyeglasses, he would have been blinded. Keep this detail in mind as you read about Gulliver's downfall in Lilliput.

Immediately upon his return to Lilliput Gulliver is given the land's highest title of honor, Nardac. The emperor confides to Gulliver that he plans to colonize Blefuscu and govern it himself. Of course, the Blefuscudian Big-Endians will be destroyed. Gulliver protests, says he "would never be an instrument of bringing a free and brave people into slavery..." For Gulliver in Lilliput, this is the beginning of the end. But he still doesn't see it.

He continues in the service of his own ideals of fairness. When ambassadors from Blefuscu arrive to offer a humble treaty of peace, Gulliver intercedes on their behalf so that the final treaty will be more equitable. (The Lilliputians did, after all, attack without warning; and because they had Gulliver, against whom the Blefuscudians didn't stand a chance, they never even engaged their own soldiers.) The Blefuscudians express their gratitude to Gulliver by inviting him to their court. The Lilliputian emperor grants permission for this trip, but coldly. Flimnap tells Gulliver straight out that the emperor considered Gulliver's dealings with the Blefuscudians a "mark of disaffection." Gulliver's response? "This was the first time I began to conceive some imperfect idea of courts and ministers."


Swift, you well know, has long been concerned with unjust politics, and the events in this chapter refer to events in England. Gulliver's capture of the Blefuscudian fleet refers to the events leading up to the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), which ended the War of Spanish Succession between England and France. This treaty was introduced by the Tories; Gulliver's "mark of disaffection" stands for the Whig contentions that the treaty was too easy on France. For their part, the Tories were satisfied that England had dominion over the sea.

NOTE:

As you've probably guessed, Gulliver here stands for Oxford and Bolingbroke, the Tory leaders. Notice how involved Swift's satire is, though. Gulliver is used on both sides-it is he who is the physical aggressor against Blefuscu as well as their "ally" when it comes to making a peace treaty. Little wonder that critics have puzzled for years over the boundaries between Swift's identity and Gulliver's.

After all this, Gulliver is nonetheless glad when he has the opportunity to do the emperor a favor. When he's awakened by a crowd at his door telling him the royal apartment is on fire, he rushes over, and urinates into the royal chambers. Within three minutes Gulliver saves the palace. The empress, however, refuses to set foot in her apartment and vows revenge against Gulliver. The empress here represents Queen Anne, who reacted against Swift's earlier A Tale of a Tub in much the way the empress reacted to Gulliver's urinating in her home. Queen Anne blocked Swift's advancement in the Church of England.

NOTE:

What do you think of Gulliver's solution? Certainly it was quick and effective. The Lilliputians evidently had confidence in Gulliver's resourcefulness because they rushed to seek his help. Had Gulliver done something on a Lilliputian scale the palace would have burned to the ground. Gulliver was really stuck. Had he failed to douse the fire, the queen would also have sworn revenge. Gulliver's solution was far from genteel, but so is a raging fire. Gross problems often require gross measures. Finally it all depends on your definition of "gross."

Stop for a moment and think about Gulliver. In Chapter III he prostrated himself before the emperor, thankful for his dubious freedom. Here, though, he's acted with admirable independence, and has proved himself faithful to appealing notions of justice, fairness, and graciousness in victory. Gulliver seems to be one of "the good guys." Would you agree?

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