Thoughts on Cultural Comparison in “A Voyage to Lilliput”

In the section of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift titled “A Voyage to Lilliput,” the main character, Gulliver, becomes shipwrecked on an island inhabited by what appears to be very tiny people, the Lilliputians, whom he estimates are about 6 inches tall. During this time, Gulliver is captured and brought to the emperor, and there is an exchange of culture for both parties. I noticed that Gulliver often compares Lilliputian ways to those with which he is more familiar. For example, he describes one Lilliputian as having “an Austrian Lip and arched Nose” (Swift 24). In another instance, Gulliver describes Lilliputian clothes by saying, “the Fashion of it between the Asiatick and the European” (Swift 25). These are only a few moments of cultural comparisons made by Gulliver.

Gulliver rarely passes judgment on cultural norms in Lilliput, with the exception of commenting on differences between his knowledge of home and this new territory. In fact, he often mentions the existence of laws and social customs in Lilliput, and he praises the work of the Lilliputians. When the Lilliputians mathematically determine how much food is necessary for Gulliver to not starve, he goes so far as to write, “By which, the Reader may conceive an Idea of the Ingenuity of that People” (Swift 37). This hints at the underlying respect that Gulliver seems to have for the people who took him in. However, there are instances where the actions and values of the Lilliputians seem ridiculous enough to be satirical, such as when divisions among citizens arise because of laws regarding the way in which they crack their eggs (Swift 41). 

This makes me wonder if Gulliver’s Travels is mocking the dynamic between Europeans and Native Americans, likening native traditions and customs to over exaggerated, fictional social norms. The fact that Gulliver is so much larger in size than the Lilliputians alone seems to suggest that any power that the Lilliputians believe they have over him is merely an illusion, and Gulliver is just playing along. Thus, although “A Voyage to Lilliput” has a significantly different ending than historical colonialism, it seems to model the European mentality at the time.