by Jonathan Swift
Gulliver's Travels Foreignness and 'the Other' Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Part.Chapter.Paragraph)
In the right coat-Pocket of the Great Man Mountain (for so I interpret the words Quinbus Flestrin), after the strictest search, we found only one great piece of coarse cloth, large enough to be a foot-cloth for your Majesty's chief room of state. In the same left pocket, we saw a huge silver chest, with a cover of the same metal, which we, the searchers, were not able to lift. We desired it should be opened; and one of us stepping into it, found himself up to the mid leg in a sort of dust, some part whereof flying up to our faces, set us both a sneezing for several times together. (1.2.7)
One of the things we really like about Gulliver's Travels is that it's never totally one-sided. These aren't just the adventures of Gulliver looking around at a lot of strangely tiny and strangely huge people. They look back at him in curiosity and wonder. In this scene, two Lilliputian soldiers are taking an inventory of Gulliver's possessions. That "great piece of coarse cloth" is his handkerchief, the "huge silver chest," a snuff box. Gulliver may make these foreign people seem distant, ridiculous, or worthy of satire, but they always seem human, with the same uncertainties that Gulliver feels towards then. Of course, considering Gulliver's finally opinion of mankind, maybe making strangers seem more human isn't such a great thing after all?
It is to be observed, that these ambassadors spoke to me, by an interpreter, the languages of both empires differing as much from each other as any two in Europe, and each nation priding itself upon the antiquity, beauty, and energy of their own tongue, with an avowed contempt for that of their neighbour; yet our emperor, standing upon the advantage he had got by the seizure of their fleet, obliged them to deliver their credentials, and make their speech, in the Lilliputian tongue. And it must be confessed, that from the great intercourse of trade and commerce between both realms [...] there are few persons of distinction, or merchants, or seamen, who dwell in the maritime parts, but what can hold conversation in both tongues. (1.5.8)
As we've discussed in our "Character Analysis" of the Lilliputians, Lilliput = England and Blefuscu = France. And it is one of the historical oddities of these two countries that, even when they have been at war, noblemen from France will marry noblewomen from England, and vice versa. And French children would be sent abroad to study in England and vice versa. So, even though English and French sound like pretty different languages, there aren't many English or French noblemen of Jonathan Swift's time who wouldn't have spoken at least a little bit of both. This constant cultural exchange calls into question the whole point of "the Other": Blefuscu and Lilliput are enemies, but they are basically mirror reflections of one another. Maybe it's because they're so alike that they hate each other so much – like, as competition? Sibling rivalry? Hmm ...
But this I conceived was to be the least of my misfortunes; for, as human creatures are observed to be more savage and cruel in proportion to their bulk, what could I expect but to be a morsel in the mouth of the first among these enormous barbarians that should happen to seize me? Undoubtedly philosophers are in the right, when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison. (2.1.5)
Here, Gulliver is comparing two philosophies. He's sitting in Brobdingnag and looking at a giant. He believes that giants have to be worse than normal-sized people because they contain so much more space for evil in their bodies. On the other hand, some philosophers also point out that size is all relative. The Brobdingnagians seem giant to Gulliver, but Gulliver seems giant to the Lilliputians. All of this speculation here is only possible because Gulliver has yet to speak to a Brobdingnagian. Once he does speak to them, they seem much less foreign and strange to him, despite their size.