Study Guide

Gulliver's Travels Part 1, Chapter 4

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Part 1, Chapter 4

"Mildendo, the metropolis of Lilliput, described, together with the emperor's palace. A conversation between the author and a principal secretary, concerning the affairs of that empire. The author's offers to serve the emperor in his wars."

  • After Gulliver gets his freedom, the first thing he does is to ask the Emperor if he can go into Mildendo, the main city of Lilliput.
  • The Emperor agrees, and Gulliver steps into the town. He walks through the main streets and visits the Emperor's palace.
  • At this point, Gulliver spends some time describing the state of Lilliput itself, as told to him by Redresal, the country's principal secretary.
  • Apparently, there are two rival factions in the empire, the Tramecksans and the Slamecksans.
  • The Tramecksans are also called the "high heels" because they wear high-heeled shoes; the Slamecksans are the "low heels."
  • Even though the high heels are big fans of Lilliput's constitution, the Emperor will only staff his government with representatives of the low heels. (And of course, since Redresal, the principal secretary, has a high post in the Emperor's cabinet, we can figure out that Redresal is also a low heel.)
  • The two parties hate each other so much that they can't eat, drink, or talk to each other.
  • While the Emperor's heels are definitely low, his son, the heir to the throne, seems less decided: one of his heels is high, the other, low, which makes it tough for him to walk around. (For more on what the heck Swift is talking about, see our "Character Analysis" of the Lilliputians.)
  • Not only is Lilliput divided inside, but it's also threatened from the outside by the island of Blefuscu, a second island empire "almost as large and powerful as this of his majesty" (1.4.5).
  • Redresal admits that there may be countries outside the Lilliput/Blefuscu binary, but Lilliput's philosophers think there probably aren't. They like to believe that Gulliver is an alien who has dropped from the moon.
  • The war between Lilliput and Blefuscu has been going on for three years.
  • It all started with the grandfather of the current Emperor, who cut his finger on an eggshell when he was a kid.
  • The Emperor's great-grandfather thinks that the reason his son cut his finger was because he broke his egg on its rounded, big end rather than the little, pointed end.
  • Even though, up until this moment, everyone had always cracked their eggs on the big end, the current Emperor's great-grandfather decrees that, from now on, everyone will have to crack their eggs on the little end – for safety's sake!
  • Redresal calls people who crack their eggs at the larger end Big-Endians; those who break their eggs at the smaller end are called Little-Endians.
  • (All this stuff with the eggs may sound totally nuts, but Swift is making a larger point about English politics and religion – check out our "Character Analysis" of the Lilliputians for an explanation of this scene.)
  • The people are so against this new egg-cracking law that they keep rebelling against the Emperor. These uprisings get funding from Blefuscu, which is a country of Big-Endians.
  • In fact, Blefuscu is currently calling up its navy for a full-scale invasion of Lilliput, because so many Big-Endian refugees from Lilliput's Little-Endian government have found their way to Blefuscu.
  • The Emperor of Lilliput expects Gulliver to use his strength to defend the island, which is why he has commanded Redresal to tell Gulliver about the Big-End/Little-End conflict.
  • Gulliver promises Redresal that he will do everything he can to protect Lilliput.

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