Gulliver's Travels By Jonathan Swift Summary and Analysis Part II: Chapter 7

Summary

Gulliver decides that the King's lack of enthusiasm for England springs from his ignorance of the country. To remedy this, Gulliver offers to teach the King about England's magnificence. The first lesson concerns one of England's most valuable assets: gunpowder. Describing its effects graphically and at great length, Gulliver tells the King that gunpowder would be a great boon for him; with it, the King could reduce all his subjects to slavery. The King is horrified by the suggestion. He rejects such a bloodthirsty and inhumane proposal, warning the "impotent and groveling insect" (Gulliver) that he will be executed if he ever mentions gunpowder again.

Gulliver drops the subject of gunpowder and gives us an account of the customs and government of his hosts. The Brobdingnagian army is a national guard or militia; there are no professional soldiers. As for government, it is extremely simple. There are no refinements, mysteries, intrigues, or state secrets. Government depends upon common sense, mercy, and swift justice. Brobdingnagian learning consists only of morality, history, poetry, and practical mathematics. The Brobdingnagians cannot understand abstract reasoning or ideas. Their laws must contain only twenty-two words and must be absolutely clear. Their libraries are small, and their books are written in a clear style.

Analysis

Swift shows us that Gulliver's character seems to be changing for the worse. His pride is growing to enormous proportions; he becomes condescending to the King. He calls the King a nobody and says that the King's standards are not worthy of emulation: "But great allowances should be given to a king who lives wholly secluded from the rest of the world and must, therefore, be altogether unacquainted with the manners and customs that most prevail in other nations: the want of which knowledge will ever produce many prejudices, and a certain narrowness of thinking, from which we (England) and the politer countries of Europe are wholly exempted." He then waxes patriotic and political over European morality, mentioning Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Significantly, Dionysius was a partisan historian who lied when it suited his purpose. He also sneers at the King's idea that government should be compounded of common sense, justice, mercy, and understandable laws. Yet, the laws and customs that the King describes are ideal; most of all, they are sensible. They are not abstract or transcendental. They serve to keep people honest, happy, and free.

Instead of censuring the Whigs, most of Swift's allusions in this section draw attention to English intellectual follies. Gulliver remarks that he could not teach the giants to think in abstractions and transcendentals; instead their thinking was always clear. This observation anticipates Swift's ridicule of the Modern philosophers in Book III. Swift is saucy on the subject of the "Moderns." Already in his Battle of the Books, he berated certain poets, philosophers, and scientists who called themselves the "Moderns." This group cited gunpowder as evidence of Modern superiority over the Ancients and also praised Modern philosophers who used abstract and transcendental terms.

Swift's mention of the giants who preceded the smaller Brobdingnagians reminds us that the Brobdingnagians are not perfect, but they are consistently moral. They still have a remnant of their former greatness. There is prosperity and peace, morality and common sense in Brobdingnag.

Glossary

transcendentals philosophers who propose to discover the nature of reality by investigating the process of thought rather than the objects of sense experience.

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




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