Study Guide

Gulliver's Travels Part 1, Chapter 6

By Jonathan Swift

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Part 1, Chapter 6

"Of the inhabitants of Lilliput; their learning, laws, and customs; the manner of educating their children. The author's way of living in that country. His vindication of a great lady."

  • Gulliver gives us some more details of Lilliput: first, all of the animals, trees, and buildings are proportional to the six-inch Lilliputians. In other words, everything on the island is equally tiny.
  • They do not read left to right (like in English), right to left (like in Arabic), nor up and down (like in Chinese or Japanese). Instead, they write diagonally across the page.
  • The Lilliputians bury their dead head down. They think that the Earth is flat and that, at the end of the world, it will be flipped over and all of their people will be brought back to life. Once this happens, head down will actually be right side up.
  • If someone in Lilliput accuses someone else of crimes against the state, these charges are taken very seriously.
  • On the other hand, if it turns out that the accused person is innocent, then the accuser is executed and the accused person gets a money reward from the emperor.
  • In fact, lying and fraud are considered worse crimes than theft in Lilliput, and they nearly always result in execution for the criminal.
  • Gulliver points out that our criminal justice system is totally based on punishment – you commit a crime, you get thrown in jail or whatever – but in Lilliput, there is a balance of punishment and reward.
  • If you can prove that you have gone 73 months (just over 6 years) without doing anything wrong, you get a special title (snilpall) and a cash reward from the Emperor.
  • The Lilliputians also believe that it is morally better for people in office to make mistakes out of ignorance rather than out of deliberate wrongdoing. They prefer to appoint guys who are good but dumb over those who are smart but bad.
  • As a result, the Lilliputians generally don't appoint geniuses to the government. Instead, they actively try to keep smart, gifted people out of important offices, so that, if anything goes wrong, it will be because of stupidity rather than corruption.
  • Also, men who do not believe in God's will ("Divine Providence" (1.6.8)) cannot serve in public office.
  • Since the Emperor believes himself to be king thanks to the will of God, he doesn't want to employ anyone who does not believe in the source of the Emperor's power (God) to serve under him.
  • People in Lilliput can be executed for ingratitude, because they think it's a sign of a lack of respect for all of mankind.
  • The Lilliputians believe that men and women come together to have children out of natural instinct, so kids don't owe their parents anything. After all, their parents are having sex and conceiving kids because they want to, not because they have any kind of self-sacrifice in mind.
  • Indeed, the Lilliputians think that, generally, life sucks, and that being born is pretty miserable. So, parents who bring kids into the world are the last people who should be responsible for raising and educating them.
  • They have big public nurseries for both boys and girls. These nurseries teach kids the skills they will need for their particular place in life, as decided by their parents' social position and their own interests.
  • Nurseries for boys of high social standing are staffed by solemn professors who teach the kids to take care of themselves. They are never allowed to hang out in groups without a professor present, and they are only allowed to see their parents for an hour twice a year. They stay in these nurseries until they are 15 (which is equivalent to 21 in our years).
  • Sons of middle and working class families get the same treatment, but they leave their nurseries younger. At 11 years of age, they become apprentices to learn the trades they'll practice as adults.
  • Girls receive about the same education as boys, only with less active physical exercise and more learning about how to keep house. At 12, they become eligible for marriage.
  • Poorer girls also receive instruction in how to do jobs appropriate for women (Swift doesn't spell out what he means). They leave the nursery at 7 to become apprentices.
  • Parents have to pay an allowance for the support of their children by the state.
  • The children of farmers and laborers stay at home, since they don't have to learn a trade and are therefore not of much interest to the Empire.
  • Gulliver lives in Lilliput for 9 months and 13 days.
  • During this time, he makes his own table and chair.
  • 200 seamstresses sew him a shirt out of tiny squares of fabric and 300 cooks prepare him 2 dishes apiece every day.
  • The Emperor invites himself over to Gulliver's home (remember, that giant former temple just outside the city gates) for dinner, along with his wife, children, and Flimnap the treasurer.
  • Gulliver notices that Flimnap keeps looking at him with a frown on his face.
  • Flimnap (like Skyresh Bolgolam) is a "secret enemy" (1.6.21) of Gulliver's.
  • Flimnap uses this visit to Gulliver's house to point out to the Emperor that Gulliver eats a huge amount, and that the Emperor's cash stores are starting to get low as a result.
  • One reason that Flimnap hates Gulliver is that there are rumors going around that Flimnap's wife is having an affair with Gulliver (which, not to get dirty-minded or anything, but how would that even work? She's six inches tall! Wait, let's pretend we didn't say that – it's probably best not to think about the logistics too much).
  • Anyway, so Gulliver protests a lot that there is absolutely no truth to this accusation.
  • Flimnap eventually makes up with his wife, but never forgives Gulliver.
  • Unfortunately, Flimnap has a lot of influence on the Emperor, and keeps persuading him that the kingdom needs to get rid of Gulliver.

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