by Jonathan Swift
Gulliver's Travels Part 1, Chapter 1 Summary
READ THE BOOK: Part 1, Chapter 1
"The author giveth some account of himself and family; his first inducements to travel. He is shipwrecked and swims for his life; gets safe on shore in the country of Lilliput; is made a prisoner, and carried up the country."
- Our hero, Lemuel Gulliver, starts out his adventures with a description of his origins: he's from Nottinghamshire in England, and he has spent several years at college at Cambridge.
- Sadly, Gulliver's father runs out of money for young Gulliver's education, so he sends Gulliver as an apprentice (read: someone who works for a skilled tradesman in exchange for first-hand, practical training in said trade) to Mr. James Bates, a London surgeon.
- Gulliver also spends a lot of time studying math and navigation, because he wants to travel.
- Eventually, with the financial help of his uncle, his father, and some other relatives, Gulliver travels to Leyden (now Leiden, a city in Holland), where there is a famous university known for its teaching of medicine.
- After studying at Leyden for a couple of years, Gulliver returns to England, where Mr. Bates gives Gulliver a recommendation to join the crew of the ship the Swallow as a surgeon.
- Gulliver travels for three years on the Swallow and gets as far as the Levant (a.k.a. the eastern portion of the Mediterranean and the areas that border it, including parts of Egypt, Syria, Israel, Lebanon, and Turkey.)
- He comes back to London and settles down to marry Mrs. Mary Burton, who comes with a dowry (read: a certain amount of money settled on her by her family once she marries) of 400 pounds – nice for Gulliver!
- Gulliver's former boss and current patron, Mr. Bates dies a couple of years later, and Gulliver's business starts to go bad.
- Gulliver decides to go to sea again, traveling this time to the Far East and the West Indies.
- He spends a lot of time reading while he's at sea; when Gulliver is ashore, he enjoys observing the customs of the people he meets.
- But even the sea starts to lose its interest for Gulliver, and he decides to head home to London to hang out with his wife.
- Gulliver moves his business to various parts of London, but he continues to fail at making a living, so he hits the sea once again three years later.
- He sets sail with Captain William Prichard on the Antelope, heading to the South Seas (in other words, the oceans south of the equator.)
- As you might expect, things go wrong. All of the following happens in one long paragraph:
- A storm blows up.
- The ship winds up in the Northwest of "Van Diemen's Land" – what we now call Tasmania, an area in the southeast of Australia.
- 12 members of the ship's crew die and the rest are weakened by hard work and lack of food.
- High currents and rough seas make it hard for the crew to get from the ship's anchorage point to shore.
- So the Antelope sends six crew members, Gulliver included, in a small rowboat to go to shore.
- The boat capsizes and all of the six sailors except for Gulliver drown.
- In the water, Gulliver totally loses track of where he is, but he still manages eventually to find his way to a shore.
- Gulliver's feeling a bit sleepy from all of this exercise and the half-pint of brandy he drank onboard ship before getting into this rowboat, so he lies down to sleep.
- He wakes up at dawn after a lovely nap in the grass.
- Gulliver tries to stand up, but he can't move at all. He's stuck lying on his back.
- Gulliver notices that his arms and legs and even his long hair all appear to be tied down.
- He can't look right or left, so he has no idea what is happening, but he does feel something moving across his chest towards his chin.
- Gulliver turns his eyes down to look over his chin and he sees a tiny, tiny human being, no bigger than the length of Gulliver's finger.
- The tiny fellow is carrying a tiny, tiny bow with lots of tiny, tiny arrows – and there are also around 40 other tiny guys following him. (Incidentally, these tiny people are the Lilliputians – residents of Swift's made-up island of Lilliput.)
- Gulliver yells in fright at the sight of all of these tiny people. At this roar, they jump or fall back in fear.
- Gulliver manages to break the strings tying down his left arm, but the strings attached to his hair really hurt, so he can still barely turn his head.
- The little people all run away a second time – and they shoot his left hand full of about a hundred arrows. Some of them try to stick his sides with itsy bitsy spears, but they can't get through his leather vest.
- Gulliver decides to lie still until nighttime, when he might be able to use his left hand to free himself.
- But he can hear a huge number of people massing: more and more of the little people arrive, and they start building something near him.
- It appears to be a stage, from which an important little person recites a speech to Gulliver. Gulliver can't understand the speech, but he does hear the words, "Langro Dehul san" (1.1.5). Gulliver deliberately acts as submissive as he can during this to indicate that he intends no harm.
- Gulliver is hungry, thirsty, and really has to pee, so he gestures with his left hand that he needs to eat and drink.
- The important little person making speeches is called the "Hurgo" (1.1.5), and he orders his people to bring Gulliver food.
- All the tiny people are amazed at how much Gulliver can eat and drink.
- The tiny people keep dancing around in joy as they watch him stuffing himself and drinking their wine.
- (By the way, Gulliver keeps talking about "hogsheads" of wine. A hogshead is a large barrel that, in normal human terms, holds many gallons. For these people, a hogshead holds less than half a pint.) They all shout, "Hekinah Degul."
- Gulliver has to admit that he's impressed: these people seem totally fine with climbing onto his body and walking around even though they know his left hand is free – and even though he's a giant to them.
- After Gulliver finishes eating, a representative of the Imperial House climbs the scaffolding to talk to Gulliver.
- Through sign language, the representative of the Emperor manages to get across that Gulliver must be carried as their prisoner to the capital city about half a mile away. Gulliver wants to go free, but the Emperor won't allow it. Gulliver will be well treated, though.
- Gulliver thinks about fighting, but changes his mind when he sees the number of little people has increased. He agrees.
- The Hurgo and all of his people climb down and get out of the way.
- The strings binding Gulliver's left side are loosened enough that Gulliver can roll over and pee (or "make water," as he puts it).
- The little people also treat Gulliver's tiny arrow wounds, which makes his injuries stop stinging.
- So all in all, what with the food, the peeing, and the medical treatment, Gulliver stops freaking out and starts feeling sleepy again.
- He crashes for about eight hours – thanks, he discovers later, to a sleeping potion in his wine.
READ THE BOOK: Part 1, Chapter 1