Study Guide

Gulliver's Travels Part 3, Chapter 2

By Jonathan Swift

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Part 3, Chapter 2

"The humours and dispositions of the Laputians described. An account of their learning. Of the king and his court. The author's reception there. The inhabitants subject to fear and disquietudes. An account of the women."

  • The people surrounding Gulliver when he gets up to the island look totally bizarre: all of their heads lean either to the right or the left, one of their eyes points in and the other up, and they are all dressed in clothes decorated with stars, moons, and musical instruments.
  • Gulliver sees a lot of servants standing around holding these things he calls flappers, little rattles on the end of a long stick.
  • The people of Laputa are so caught up in their own thoughts that they need someone else to remind them to speak or listen.
  • So whenever a group of them gets together, the job of their servants is to touch the mouth of the person who should be speaking and the ears of those who should be listening.
  • And when they go walking, their servants have to tap their eyes with the flapper to be sure that they watch where they're going.
  • The Laputians bring Gulliver to the King.
  • The King's room is full of mathematical instruments and globes, and he is so deep in thought that it takes him an hour to become conscious enough of his surroundings to notice Gulliver.
  • The King provides Gulliver with a tutor to teach him their language; most of the words he learns are for different signs of the zodiac, mathematical figures – really abstract stuff, in other words.
  • What helps Gulliver to learn Laputian language is his knowledge of math and music, which dominate Laputian culture.
  • At the same time, the Laputians don't seem able to make anything right: Gulliver's suit doesn't fit and all of their houses have weird angles because no one knows how to apply their equations to real life.
  • Gulliver also discovers that Laputa controls the continent under it, Balnibarbi, and that there are frequent visitors and deliveries from sea level up to Laputa by means of rope. In fact, Laputa is the King's personal home, but Balnibarbi is where the capital city sits.
  • What surprises Gulliver is that, even though all the Laputians know only math and music, they still like to talk endlessly about politics – proof, to Gulliver, that all humans most enjoy discussing what they know least.
  • He also finds it weird that the Laputians live in such constant fear of the end of the world that they can hardly sleep at night or enjoy life. Their science has actually become a terror to them.
  • The women of Laputa despise their husbands and love strangers.
  • In fact, whenever guys come up to the island from the lands below, the women have affairs with them pretty freely. Their husbands never notice because they are so busy with science.
  • Gulliver becomes pretty fluent in Laputian after a month.
  • The Laputian King doesn't bother asking him about the countries he has seen; all of his questions revolve around math.

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