Summary and Analysis
On this voyage, Gulliver goes to the sea as a surgeon on the merchant ship, Antelope. The ship is destroyed during a heavy windstorm, and Gulliver, the only survivor, swims to a nearby island, Lilliput. Being nearly exhausted from the ordeal, he falls asleep. Upon awakening, he finds that the island's inhabitants, who are no larger than six inches tall, have captured him. After the inhabitants examine Gulliver and provide him with food, the Emperor of this country orders his subjects to move Gulliver to a little-used temple, the only place large enough to house him.
In this first chapter, Swift establishes Gulliver's character. He does this primarily by the vast amount of details that he tells us about Gulliver. Clearly, Gulliver is of good and solid — but unimaginative — English stock. Gulliver was born in Nottinghamshire, a sedate county without eccentricity. He attended Emmanuel College, a respected, but not dazzling, college. The neighborhoods that Gulliver lived in — Old Jury, Fetter Lane, and Wapping — are all lower-middle-class sections. He is, in short, Mr. British middle class of his time.
Gulliver is also, as might be expected, "gullible." He believes what he is told. He is an honest man, and he expects others to be honest. This expectation makes for humor — and also for irony. We can be sure that what Gulliver tells us will be accurate. And we can also be fairly sure that Gulliver does not always understand the meaning of what he sees. The result is a series of astonishingly detailed, dead-pan scenes. For example, Gulliver gradually discovers, moving from one exact detail to another, that he is a prisoner of men six inches tall.
Concerning the political application of this chapter, note that Gulliver is confined in a building that was emptied because a notorious murder was committed there. The building probably represents Westminster Hall, where Charles I was tried and sentenced to death.
to alter my condition to marry.
hosier a haberdasher, a person whose work or business is selling men's furnishings, such as hats, shirts, neckties, and gloves.
four hundred pounds for a portion The part of a man's money or property contributed by his bride; here, meaning Gulliver's dowry.
East and West Indies East: Malay Archipelago; especially, the islands of Indonesia; West: the large group of islands between North America and South America; it includes the Greater Antilles, Lesser Antilles, and the Bahamas.
Van Diemen's Island former name for Tasmania.
declivity a downward slope or sloping, as of a hill.
several slender ligatures the ropes used to tie Gulliver to the ground.
buff jerkin a short, closefitting, sleeveless jacket or vest made of soft brownish leather.
hogshead a large barrel or cask holding from 63 to 140 gallons.
retinue a body of assistants, followers, or servants attending a person of rank or importance.
Signet Royal an official seal.
express a special messenger; courier.
soporiferous medicine medicine that causes or tends to cause sleep.
latitude angular distance, measured in degrees, north or south from the equator.