Gulliver's Travels By Jonathan Swift Summary and Analysis Part I: Chapter 4

Summary

After Gulliver's visit to the Emperor's palace at Mildendo, Reldresal, Lilliput's Principal Secretary of Private Affairs, pays a visit to Gulliver and explains the faction quarrels between the High Heel Party and the Low Heel Party. The conflict, he says, started over a religious question: At which end should the faithful break their eggs: at the big end or at the little end? The Blefuscudians break theirs, in the original style, at the big end. But, by royal edict, the Lilliputians must break their eggs at the little end. There are rebels in Lilliput, Reldresal says, and already 11,000 of them — Big Endians — have been put to death; others have fled to the court of Blefuscu. He explains further that the Lilliputians have lost 40 ships in the war. The dilemma seems hopeless, for Lustrog, the prophet of their religion, has said, "All true believers shall break their eggs at the convenient end."

Analysis

Gulliver's description of Mildendo gives Swift another chance to satirize the pretensions of the Lilliputians. The little people, for example, call their city a "metropolis"; Gulliver, however, describes the city as only 500 feet square. But he does not scoff at the Lilliputians; he accepts their self-declared importance. Thus, once again, Swift emphasizes the contrast between Gulliver's naive acceptance of the Lilliputian viewpoint and the physical facts he reports.

Swift also uses Gulliver's matter-of-fact tone to ridicule the religious war. Politically, Blefuscu stands for France and Lilliput for England. The war between the two over the religious question of egg-breaking symbolizes the long series of wars between Catholic France and Protestant England. The egg-breaking itself may refer to a quarrel over the nature of the sacrament, and it is also possible that it refers to the differences in communion of the Catholic and Anglican churches. The Anglicans receive communion by bread and wine; the Roman Catholics receive only bread. The French and English, of course, also fought over land and loot, but Swift is using the symbolic differences between churches to emphasize the absurdity of any religious war.

The reference to the grandfather of the present emperor, who cut his finger breaking an egg, is to Henry VIII. Henry broke with Rome over the question of papal authority and also over the matter of Anne Boleyn. The Big Endians are, therefore, Catholic, and the Little Endians are Protestant. The emperor who lost his life is Charles I. Charles supported Archbishop Laud and was accused of Roman Catholic sympathies. The emperor who lost his crown is James II, who tried to restore some of the rights of the Roman church. He also attempted to institute a standing army with Roman Catholic officers. Consequently, he was driven out of England in 1688.

Swift also relates the folly of the religious war between Lilliput and Blefuscu to immediate European politics. The two Lilliputian parties stand for English political parties. The High Heels represent Tories; the Low Heels, Whigs. The king was sympathetic to the Whigs. He used them to support Hanover against France and appointed them to official positions to strengthen his position against the House of Lords. Thus, as the Lilliputian emperor, he wears low heels. The Prince of Wales, later George II, surrounded himself with members of both parties who were out of favor. As a Lilliputian, he wears one high and one low heel and wobbles when he walks.

Glossary

garret the space, room, or rooms just below the roof of a house; attic.

damage to the pile a pile is a long, heavy timber driven into the ground to support a structure; here, meaning that Gulliver did not want to damage the structural support of the Emperor's palace by stepping in the wrong place.

fortnight a period of two weeks.

schism a split or division in an organized group or society, especially a church, as the result of difference of opinion, of doctrine, etc.

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Gulliver’s visit to Lilliput allows Swift to satirize what sort of rulers?




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