Gulliver's giant feet walking in the diminuative forest of the lilliputians

Gulliver's Travels

by Jonathan Swift
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 Why was the king of Brobdingnag horrified when Gulliver described war? What innate characteristics of the king can we infer from his reaction?

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After many pleasant discussions with the King of Brobdingnag, Gulliver one day decides to repay the king's kindness by offering to tell him the secret of gunpowder. As a preface to his offer, he describes the amazing powers of firearms and cannons. He describes how England uses them regularly to...

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After many pleasant discussions with the King of Brobdingnag, Gulliver one day decides to repay the king's kindness by offering to tell him the secret of gunpowder. As a preface to his offer, he describes the amazing powers of firearms and cannons. He describes how England uses them regularly to sink ships or lay waste cities, "dashing out the brains of all who [come] near."

The king, rather than showing interest in the "terrible engines" that could wreak such havoc or being tempted by the power they would give him, is appalled. First, he is dismayed that Gulliver could describe the effects of warfare with such absence of emotion or sympathy for those killed.

Second, he asserts that the inventor of such weapons must have been "some evil genius, enemy to mankind." He declares that he would rather lose half his kingdom than learn the secret of such destruction, and he commands Gulliver on pain of death to never speak of it to him again.

The king's reaction reveals several things about his character. He is a man who values life and feels sorrow and grief over unnecessary death. This shows his compassion and human kindness. He isn't tempted by the power and absolute control that such weaponry would give him over his citizens. This shows his lack of greed, his lack of ambition, and his contentment with his role.

He doesn't need to dominate, so he must be somewhat egalitarian in his principles. Since he doesn't want to hear more about guns and weapons and commands Gulliver to never bring the subject up again, he must be a sensitive person who does not like to think about gruesome or violent matters.

Gulliver scoffs at the king's "narrow principles and views," which is Swift's way of satirizing his society which doesn't just tolerate but reveres weapons, wars, and violence.

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Gulliver tries to do the King of Brobdingnag a "favor" by revealing to him the secrets of gunpowder, which he explains will make him all-powerful and able to crush his enemies. Gulliver also describes the effects of gunpowder, such as its use in cannonballs:

which would rip up the pavements, tear the houses to pieces, burst and throw splinters on every side, dashing out the brains of all who came near.

The king reacts to these kinds of graphic descriptions of destruction and carnage with horror and forbids Gulliver to tell him any more about gunpowder or to reveal the secret of how to produce it.

We can infer from his reactions that the king is innately a compassionate individual who does not want to subject his people or country to the kind of destruction Gulliver describes. Gulliver's argument that he could become an absolute dictator with such weapons also holds no appeal for the king, suggesting that, unlike the European rulers, this king rules for the benefit of his people, not himself.

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The king of Brobdingnag is horrified when Gulliver describes how gunpowder and cannons can aid in defeating one's enemies. He is further incensed when Gulliver offers to teach the king and his people how to fashion such instruments of warfare. Far from being grateful, the king actually rebukes Gulliver for his blood-thirsty ways.

The king contends that Gulliver must be inhuman indeed if he can contemplate the 'scenes of blood and desolation' caused by 'such destructive machines' with any sort of acceptance. The king reassures Gulliver that he is not opposed to any ' new discoveries in art or in nature,' but he is absolutely against hearing any more about the machinations of war.

From the king's reaction, one can infer (conclude from evidence and reasoning), that the king is a conscientious ruler who is as adverse to political intrigue as he is to war. From the chapter, we are told that the king despises 'all mystery, refinement, and intrigue, either in a prince or a minister.' Later, Gulliver makes an important discovery about Brobdingnag through conversation and the reading of Brobdingnag history books. It appears that the country was once besieged by its own civil wars caused by a 'nobility often contending for power, the people for liberty, and the king for absolute dominion.'

It was the king's grandfather who put an end to the Brobdingnag civil wars; since then, the militia has been retained to keep the peace in the isolated kingdom. Because of its history of civil wars, the king is not especially enthusiastic about the prospect of any of his countrymen mastering the art of making gunpowder. Based on evidence in the text, we can also infer that the king is an idealist: he believes that suffering can be prevented by depriving his enemies of the means of warfare.

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