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THE STORY - SUMMARY AND NOTES
Gulliver has worn out his welcome in Lilliput. He receives a "secret visit" from a government official who tells him that the emperor and the council are preparing a list of articles for Gulliver's impeachment for high treason. The charges are: 1. urinating in a public place; 2. having refused to destroy all the Blefuscudians who wouldn't forsake the "Big-Endian heresy"; 3. having helped the Blefuscudians with the terms of the peace treaty; 4. preparing to go to Blefuscu, for which the emperor has given only verbal permission.
Some in the council, including the treasurer and the admiral, insist that Gulliver immediately be put to a painful death. Their plan was to set Gulliver's house afire and then shoot him with poisonous arrows as he tried to escape. His sheets and clothes would already have been treated with a poison that would have him tearing his flesh. What do you think of this? Even if you believe the Lilliputians have a claim against Gulliver punishable by death, what do you think of their form of capital punishment?
After debate, the council decides instead to blind Gulliver, as a mark of their "lenity" (mercy). But let's look for a minute at the debate that preceded this decision. Some ministers argued that when blinded, certain fowl eat more than before. If this should happen to Gulliver, his diet might well cause a famine for everyone else in Lilliput. Another suggestion was to starve Gulliver to death-this way the treasury wouldn't be exhausted, and Gulliver's corpse wouldn't smell so bad as it would if he were well fed at the end. It would, of course, carry a stench; so they'd chop his body into little pieces and bury it in the far corners of the kingdom. The plan adopted is to put out Gulliver's eyes:
That the loss of your eyes would be no impediment to your bodily strength,
by which you might still be useful to his Majesty. That blindness is an
addition to courage, by concealing dangers from us; that the fear you
had for your eyes was the greatest difficulty in bringing over the enemy's
fleet; and it would be sufficient for you to see by the eyes of the ministers,
since the greatest princes do no more.
No mention is made in the public records of the plan to starve Gulliver.
Compare the importance of sight as held by the Lilliputians, Gulliver,
and Swift. For the Lilliputians sight approaches blindness. We learn at
this point that "lenity," in the same way, is nearer to what
we normally consider punishment. Gulliver's visitor observes that shows
of the emperor's "lenity" were much feared, "that the more
these praises were enlarged and insisted on, the more inhuman was the
punishment, and the sufferer more innocent." Gulliver says, "I
was so ill a judge of things, that I could not discover the lenity and
favour of this sentence...." He's right-there is no lenity in his
Gulliver is careful to give us detailed reports of what he sees. In fact, he gets lost in the literal. Swift, by playing with literal perspective-big, little; animal, human; etc.- expands the vision of our mind's eye.
Gulliver resolves to flee to Blefuscu, which corresponds to Bolingbroke's fleeing to France just before his trial.
While Gulliver is in Blefuscu, the Lilliputian emperor sends a request that Gulliver be returned bound hand and foot to Lilliput to receive his punishment. The Blefuscudian ruler refuses, and offers Gulliver complete protection for the rest of his life.
But Gulliver resolves to return to England. He stays there just two months, "insatiable" as he is to see foreign countries.
What do you think of Gulliver? Considering what he's been through, he seems to be a solid character. He isn't cruel, though he's been treated cruelly; he isn't violent, though he's been dealt with violently; and he isn't crafty, though he's been dealt some rude blows by Lilliputian cunning. Gulliver seems as naive as he is good; perhaps, he's good because he's naive. It is his finer qualities of character, rather than his physical size, that lend Gulliver stature while he's in Lilliput.