The Lilliputians in Gulliver's Travels | Shmoop (2023)

The Lilliputians

The Lilliputians inhabit the first island Gulliver visits. They all stand about six inches tall, with proportionally tiny buildings and trees and horses. The Lilliputians are ruled by an Emperor who appoints his high court officials according to their skills with rope dancing rather than their actual abilities. In other words, they're not exactly governed according to rational principles. The court of Lilliput mostly seems to spend its time plotting against one another. Gulliver, unfortunately, forms one of the primary targets of these plots. His enormous size makes him both expensive and dangerous for the Emperor to keep, so, even though he has made himself useful in Lilliput's wars against Blefuscu, Gulliver eventually has to flee the country to avoid having his eyes put out.

Gulliver as a Lilliputian

Gulliver is enormous and the Lilliputians are tiny, so obviously Gulliver is not literally a Lilliputian. However, there are hints that Gulliver shares more with the Lilliputians than he is fully willing to admit. Gulliver comments on their great mechanical abilities: they have "arrived to a great perfection in mechanics" (1.1.8). Many of the engines that they have constructed run towards weaponry.

As for Gulliver, in addition to being pretty flexible with class and language, Gulliver also has "a head mechanically turned" (1.6.19). He offers to turn this mechanical ability to the advantage of the King of Brobdingnag by making gunpowder, but is refused. This kind of practical mechanical ability is (a) better than what the Laputians do, but (b) completely despised by the brilliant, beautiful, rational horses of the Houyhnhnms. For all of his giant size, Gulliver's mind works mechanically and in terms of profit, like a Lilliputian – but it takes his exposure to the men of Brobdingnag and the horses of the Houyhnhnms to see it.

The High Heels and the Low Heels

If Gulliver, an Englishman, is similar to the Lilliputians, it stands to reason that the place he's from, England, is a lot like Lilliput. Swift makes England physically tiny to introduce a new perspective on its politics and partisanship in the Lilliput chapters of Gulliver's Travels.

One example of this new take on English politics is the deadly differences between the high heels and the low heels. In Lilliput, political affiliation splits between men who wear high-heeled shoes and men who wear low-heeled shoes. The high heels, a.k.a. the Tramecksans, support Lilliput's constitution and the Emperor. However, the low heels, a.k.a. the Slamecksans, are in power. The Emperor will only put low heels into high office in his government, regardless of the abilities or qualifications of the high heels. And the Emperor's son is even harder to pin down: he wears one high and one low heel, so no one knows where he stands.

Basically, this is a jab at the Tories and the Whigs, prominent political parties in early eighteenth century England (source: Robert Greenberg, Editor, Gulliver's Travels. New York: Norton, 1961, 30). The Tories were political conservatives who supported a consolidation of royal authority and the restriction of the power of English Parliament (which is something like the American Senate). The Whigs were relatively liberal and wanted more power to go to the Parliament.

Following England's 1689 Glorious Revolution (about which, check out our "Detailed Analysis" of Part 4, Chapter 5), in which Parliament essentially installed a new king on the throne, the Whigs were really riding high. And they began riding even higher when George I came to the throne after the death of Queen Anne. George was pro-Whig, and his Parliament was entirely Whig-dominated. Does this sound familiar to you at all? Yep, the Whigs are like the low heels, the only men who have any power in the Lilliputian government. And as you might have guessed from the sour grapes feel of this section of the book, Swift was a Tory (or in Lilliputian terms, a high heel). He had to return from England to Ireland once George I came to power (source).

The shallowness of the nature of this division – high heeled versus low heeled shoes – emphasizes what the Emperor is not thinking about: actual ability. In fact, Gulliver claims that the Lilliputians prefer to choose fools for office over wise men, because they want to avoid corruption. Their logic is that it's less evil for guys to make mistakes in office out of gross stupidity than for guys to make mistakes in office because of bribery and favoritism. Of course, the assumption underlying this idea is that the same mistakes have to be made either way. Hey Lilliputians, here's a crazy idea: why not appoint people to office who are both smart and good?

The Big-Endians, the Little-Endians, and Blefuscu

Similarly shallow is the difference between the Big-Endians and the Little-Endians. The story goes that, apparently, when this Emperor's grandfather was a child, he cut himself when he cracked a boiled egg on its big, rounded end. Following this accident, the current Emperor's great-grandfather laid down the law: no more cracking eggs at the big end. Now, the entire island of Lilliput can only crack eggs at the little end. This change completely outrages some Lilliputians, who raise rebellions and flee to the neighboring island of tiny people, Blefuscu, a haven for Big-Endians.

The cause of the Little-Endians versus the Big-Endians is an allegory of the long (long) wars between Protestants (Little-Endians) and Catholics (Big-Endians) in England. During Jonathan Swift's lifetime, battles between Catholics and Protestants provided at least some of the fuel for the Glorious Revolution, Scottish Jacobite rebellions, and the War of the Spanish Succession between England, France, Austria, and Spain. The accusations that Lilliput makes against its neighboring island across the channel, that they are sheltering Big-Endian exiles and plotting against Lilliput, is a reference to the French harboring Catholic exiles following Henry VIII's break with Rome to found the Anglican Church (source: Robert Greenberg, Editor, Gulliver's Travels. New York: Norton, 1961, 31.).

Swift was himself a prominent Irish Anglican minister, and he believed strongly in the national church. However, despite his own religious views, Swift very clearly dismisses the use of differences of opinion, be it religious (Big-Endians vs. Little-Endians) or political (high heels vs. low heels), as pretexts for warfare. He also criticizes these differences being used as excuses to persecute honest, upstanding public servants. This is a theme that recurs throughout Gulliver's Travels. For other examples, see Lord Munodi in Part 3 and Gulliver's discussion of war with the Master Horse in Part 4.

(However, we'd like to note – even though Swift doesn't seem too fond of religious warfare, he still thinks states should have a religion. For more on this point, check out "Why Does Swift Seem to Hate the Dutch So Much?" under our "Character Analysis" of Japan.)

Courtly Manners

You remember, a while back, we mentioned that high positions in the Lilliputian government are staffed with rope dancing competition winners. This game has two meanings. First, this game indicates that being at court means literally dancing attendance to people of higher station than you. It's all about impressing the big boss, and not about substantial contributions to, well, anything. Secondly, being in court is dangerous: these dancing ropes are a foot high – potentially fatal for the tiny Lilliputians. As Gulliver learns when he gets the Articles of Impeachment written by Skyresh Bolgolam, depending on the favor of a single powerful man like the Emperor can result in the downfall of innocent people. These falls are just a little more literal in Lilliput. (There are also some pretty illuminating examples of courtly manners in Luggnagg – check out our "Character Analysis" for more.)


The Lilliputians in Gulliver's Travels | Shmoop? ›

The Lilliputians inhabit the first island Gulliver visits. They all stand about six inches tall, with proportionally tiny buildings and trees and horses. The Lilliputians are ruled by an Emperor who appoints his high court officials according to their skills with rope dancing rather than their actual abilities.

What do the Lilliputians represent in Gulliver's Travels? ›

Lilliputians. The Lilliputians symbolize humankind's wildly excessive pride in its own puny existence. Swift fully intends the irony of representing the tiniest race visited by Gulliver as by far the most vainglorious and smug, both collectively and individually.

What is the story behind Lilliputian? ›

The word lilliputian comes from Jonathan Swift's 1726 novel, Gulliver's Travels. Lilliput is the name of a fictional island whose people, the Lilliputians, stand only about six inches high.

How was Gulliver treated by the Lilliputians? ›

In Gulliver's Travels, the Lilliputians treat Gulliver as a prisoner for a while, slow to trust him fully enough to liberate him. When they do, strict limitations are placed on his movements by Skyresh Bolgalam, because Gulliver is gargantuan and can't just go anywhere without causing some fear or other troubles.

What is unusual about the Lilliputians? ›

When Gulliver arrives in Lilliput, what is the unusual physically about the Lilliputian people? They are tiny, 6 inches. Only $35.99/year.

Why did the Lilliputians bury their dead head down? ›

The dead are buried with their heads pointing directly downward, because the Lilliputians believe that eventually the dead will rise again and that the Earth, which they think is flat, will turn upside down. Gulliver adds that the better-educated Lilliputians no longer believe in this custom.

What are the Lilliputians description and what do they actually find? ›

The Lilliputians inhabit the first island Gulliver visits. They all stand about six inches tall, with proportionally tiny buildings and trees and horses. The Lilliputians are ruled by an Emperor who appoints his high court officials according to their skills with rope dancing rather than their actual abilities.

Why did Lilliputians think of killing Gulliver? ›

Why do the Lilliputians consider killing Gulliver? While the Lilliputians debate on what to do with Gulliver, they consider killing him because he could break free and cause violence and damage to the kingdom and the people. Also, they are worried that the amount of food he eats will lead to a famine nationwide.

Why did the Lilliputians tie up Gulliver? ›

Ans) The tiny Lilliputians were able to tie Gulliver because he had been very tired after swimming safely and had fallen into a deep sleep for hours.

What is a Lilliputian hallucination? ›

Introduction. Lilliputian hallucinations, also known as microptic or diminutive hallucinations, are tiny human, animal or fantasy figures perceived during wakefulness in the absence of corresponding stimuli from the outside world.

Did the Lilliputians feed Gulliver? ›

Gulliver is granted limited freedom on certain conditions. In return for abiding by the conditions, he will receive food sufficient for 1,728 Lilliputians. Gulliver swears to the articles in proper form, and the Emperor frees him.

What is the punishment for the Lilliputians who bother Gulliver? ›

The emperor of Lilliput eventually orders that those who bother Gulliver should be punished. The punishment given to the Lilliputians who bother Gulliver is that they are handed over to him. This means that Gulliver is allowed to do whatever he wants with them.

What are 3 punishments that the Lilliputians are considering giving Gulliver? ›

What are 3 punishments that the Lilliputians are considering giving Gulliver? 1) Set fire to Gulliver's house at night. 2) Have 20,000 men shoot him with poisoned arrows on his face and hands. 3) To strew a poisonous juice onto Gulliver's shirts and sheets, which would make him tear his flesh and die.

What is the main conflict in Lilliput? ›

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.

What was being satirized with the story of Lilliput? ›

For Swift, Lilliput is analogous to England, and Blefuscu to France. With this event of the story Swift satirizes the needless bickering and fighting between the two nations. Also vehicles of Swift's satire were the peculiar customs of the nation of Lilliput.

What are the two evils that threaten Lilliput? ›

What are the "two might evils" that pose threats to the Lilliputians, according to Reldresal? (i) a "violent faction" at home/rebel group (Tramecksan), and (ii) the danger of an invasion "by a most potent enemy from abroad."

Who raises the Lilliputian children? ›

Gulliver goes on to describe other aspects of life in the Lilliputians' society. Children are raised by professors and servants in public nurseries away from their parents. The nurseries are organized based on gender and social class.

What is the irony of Gulliver's Travels? ›

The irony of situation is to be found in all the four divisions of Gulliver's Travels. In Lilliput, Gulliver finds himself in the midst of people who are no more than six inches in height. In Brobdingnag, Gulliver finds himself in the midst of people of a giant size by comparison with whom he himself is a pigmy.

How did the Lilliputians feed him? ›

Gulliver sent signals to the Lilliputians when he wanted food and drink. In turn, the Lilliputians brought baskets of meat and several loaves of bread, which he ate three at a time because they were tiny to him.

What language did the Lilliputians speak? ›

Long thought to have spoken “nonsense” languages, the Lilliputians and other creatures from Jonathan Swift's 1726 work Gulliver's Travels may in fact have been speaking variations of Hebrew.

Who are the enemies of the Lilliputians? ›

The Skyresh Bolgolam were the enemy of the Lilliputians .

What did Lilliputians give Gulliver to eat? ›

The Lilliputians made Gulliver promise that he will behave well and that he will not harm them. Then they promised to get him some food. They brought many baskets full of meat, small loaves of bread and two barrels of drink.

What was the main problem in Gulliver's Travels? ›

Major conflict On the surface, Gulliver strives to understand the various societies with which he comes into contact and to have these societies understand his native England. Below the surface, Swift is engaged in a conflict with the English society he is satirizing.

What are the 4 charges against Gulliver? ›

Summary and Analysis Part I: Chapter 7

His crimes include putting out the fire in the palace, refusing to devastate Blefuscu, speaking to the peace embassy from Blefuscu, and preparing to take advantage of the Emperor's permission to visit Blefuscu.

Was Gulliver sleeping when the Lilliputians found him? ›

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.

How did the Lilliputians hurt Gulliver when they first find him? ›

Lilliputians hurt Gulliver by shooting tiny arrows at him.

What is the most rare hallucination? ›

Gustatory Hallucinations

Gustatory (taste) hallucinations are rare. Like olfactory hallucinations, they sometimes happen in conjunction with brain damage and seizures. Like olfactory hallucinations, they can pose particular distress when coupled with delusions.

What is Charles Bonnet syndrome? ›

Charles Bonnet syndrome refers to the visual hallucinations caused by the brain's adjustment to significant vision loss. It occurs most often among the elderly who are more likely than any other age group to have eye conditions that affect sight, such as age-related macular degeneration.

What is the Alice in Wonderland syndrome? ›

Alice in wonderland syndrome (AIWS) describes a set of symptoms with alteration of body image. An alteration of visual perception is found in that way that the sizes of body parts or sizes of external objects are perceived incorrectly. The most common perceptions are at night.

What can Gulliver still not tolerate at the end of the film? ›

In the falling action, Gulliver reluctantly returns to England and becomes further alienated. He can barely tolerate the presence of his family and retreats into madness by spending his days talking to the horses in an attempt to recreate Houyhnhnmland.

What is the rope dancing in Gulliver's Travel? ›

Answer and Explanation: When Gulliver travels to Lilliput, he encounters many strange practices among the citizens and the government. The Emperor of Lilliput uses rope dancing as an interview process for hiring new government officials.

Who is Gulliver's enemy in Lilliput? ›

In the novel, Gulliver washes up on the shore of Lilliput and is captured by the inhabitants while asleep. He offers his services to the Emperor of Lilliput in his war against Blefuscu, and succeeds in capturing the (one-twelfth sized) Blefuscudian fleet.

Who is the rude person in Gulliver's Travels? ›

Swift describes Yahoos as filthy with unpleasant habits, "a brute in human form," resembling human beings far too closely for the liking of protagonist Lemuel Gulliver. He finds the calm and rational society of intelligent horses, the Houyhnhnms, greatly preferable.

Why were the Lilliputians surprised when they saw Gulliver eating? ›

The feeding process had to be done quickly, as the food was too small for Gulliver's mouth. Gulliver made signs for wanting food or drink and the Lilliputians would oblige. They were impressed by Gulliver's size, especially with the size of his mouth.

What was the funniest thing about the people of Lilliput? ›

Answer. Answer: The Lilliputians were so tiny as compared to the giant-sized Gulliver, yet they thought that their thread-like ropes could hold Gulliver for long.

How long did Gulliver stay in Lilliput? ›

Gulliver stays home for five months, but he then leaves his pregnant wife to set sail again, this time as the captain of a ship called the Adventure.

How does Gulliver's Travels end? ›

Eventually Gulliver is picked up by an eagle and then rescued at sea by people of his own size.

What does the Lilliputian king represent? ›

Swift is definitely playing with fire with this one: the Lilliputian Emperor represents the King of England at the time of the publication of Gulliver's Travels, George I. George was a strongly pro-Whig king.

What do Lilliput and blefuscu represent? ›

Lilliput and Blefuscu represent England and France. The violent conflict between Big-Endians and Little-Endians represents the Protestant Reformation and the centuries of warfare between Catholics and Protestants.

What is the theme of Lilliput? ›

The Limits of Human Understanding.

What is ironic about the Lilliputians feeding Gulliver? ›

. In one instance, the Lilliputians treat Gulliver as if he is a god. They appease his wants and needs, despite the fact that such provisions may cause a famine, due to his substantially larger consumption needs.


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