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Gulliver’s Travels

Jonathan Swift

Part I, Chapters II–III

Summary Part I, Chapters II–III

The difference in size between Gulliver and the Lilliputians helps to emphasize the importance of physical power, a theme that recurs throughout the novel. Over time, Gulliver begins to earn the Lilliputians’ trust, but it is clearly unnecessary: for all their threats, Gulliver could crush the Lilliputians by simply walking carelessly. The humor comes from the Lilliputians’ view of the situation: despite the evidence before their eyes, they never realize their own insignificance. They keep Gulliver tied up, believing that they can control him, while in truth he could destroy them effortlessly. In this way, Swift satirizes humanity’s pretensions to power and significance.

In these chapters, Swift plays with language in a way that again pokes fun at humanity’s belief in its own importance. When the Lilliputians draw up an inventory of Gulliver’s possessions, the whole endeavor is treated as if it were a serious matter of state. The contrast between the tone of the inventory, which is given in the Lilliputians’ own words, and the utter triviality of the possessions that are being inventoried, serves as a mockery of people who take themselves too seriously. Similarly, the articles that Gulliver is forced to sign in order to gain his freedom are couched in formal, self-important language. But the document is nothing but a meaningless and self-contradictory piece of paper: each article emphasizes the fact that Gulliver is so powerful that, if he so desires, he could violate all of the articles without much concern for his own safety.