The Tyranny of Monarchy in “A Voyage to Lilliput”

As I was reading “A Voyage to Lilliput,” I was struck by Gulliver’s easy acceptance of the world around him. The fact that he was surrounded by thousands of six-inch tall people did not seem to surprise him; he was merely curious about their way of life. However, this “go with the flow” attitude made more sense when I considered the story as an allegory for Jonathan Swift’s political feelings. The notes describing who each character was theorized to represent oriented me toward that interpretation. And in considering Gulliver’s travels as an indicator of Swift’s political feelings, I was struck by his initial approval turned uneasiness toward the monarch of Lilliput. At the beginning of the voyage (in chapter II), Gulliver takes great pains to describe the emperor of Lilliput, with a tone of admiration. Gulliver notes his fashionable helmet and his fair way of financing his empire (25-27). He seems impressed by the lengths they go to make Gulliver comfortable, feeding him six oxen, forty sheep, and more every morning. However, as he begins to understand the inner workings of the Lilliputian court, his perspective changes.

The first doubt we see in Gulliver’s mind appears when describing the rope-dancing. Gulliver writes: “ … for by contending to excel themselves and their Fellows, they strain so far, that there is hardly one of them who hath not received a Fall, and some of them two or three” (32). Evidently, the lengths one goes to prove himself to the emperor are extreme, and Gulliver begins to wonder if they are too extreme. But Gulliver does not seriously doubt the monarch’s power until his own loyalty is questioned. He believes that he has acted entirely justly—even when he is forced to pee on the royal estate to put out a fire—so the emperor’s distrust turns him away. However, Swift makes it plain that this is not a personal distaste for this particular emperor of Lilliput. Rather, it is an inevitable outcome of a too-powerful monarch. When Gulliver first disobeys the emperor, he notes that “Of so little weight are the greatest Services to Princes, when put into the Ballance with a Refusal to gratify their passions” (44). By the end of his voyage to Lilliput, it is clear that Gulliver finds fault in princes, i.e. those with royal authority, as a whole. This implies that Jonathan Swift is dubious of complete royal power; even the best royals, even the clever emperor of Lilliput, can be easily swayed by dubious ministers or their own self-indulgence.

One Reply to “The Tyranny of Monarchy in “A Voyage to Lilliput””

  1. I fully agree that it is strange of how accepting of the world around him that Gulliver is. Even though he seemed to be relatively constrained by the Lilliputians, it seemed as though Gulliver could have somewhat easily overtaken them and escaped.
    I think that it is meant to be confusing because it is unlike the behavior of other Englishmen of the time period. The behavior of the 18th century English was to colonize countries that they visited without care for the culture that they were destroying.
    Gulliver is different because rather than dominating the people and culture of the lands he visits, he chooses to learn about them and live in cohabitation with them rather than destroying them. The fact that the Lilliputians were merely inches tall and Gulliver did not attempt to hold any power over them is reflective of that.

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