Please summarize and analyze Book 1 of Gulliver's Travels

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Stephen Holliday eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lemuel Gulliver, the ship's doctor on a ship called the Antelope, swims ashore after the ship is wrecked near Tasmania and encounters a race of people who are six inches tall but who appear to have a society much like that of 18thC. England's, with a capital city called Mildendo.  When Gulliver agrees to abide by Lilliput's laws, he's allowed to become part of society, and when he carries off the entire naval fleet of Lilliput's enemy, Blefescu, he's elevated to the rank of nobleman.  When Lilliput's king asks him to completely destroy Blefescu, Gulliver brokers a peace that satisfies both the Lilliputians and Blefescues, but Gulliver soon incurs the disfavor of the nobility when he puts out a fire in the queen's quarters by urinating on the fire.  He then visits Blefescu, finds the remains of one of the Antelope's boats, repairs it and sails away.

One of the recurring themes in the Travels is political satire, an instance of which is the way the king in Lilliput chooses his court officials: ignoring their actual abilities, the king chooses them based on their ability to dance on a tightrope--a not-so-subtle comment on 18thC. British politics where ability is secondary to position in society.

Swift continues the satire on the two parties in England--the Whigs and Tories--by implicitly comparing them to the two parties in Lilliput: those who wear high-heeled shoes (Tories) and those who wear low-heeled shoes (Whigs), with no consideration given to actual ability.

Continuing the satire against English politics and society, Swift describes the Little-Endians and Big-Endians in Lilliput, that is, those who open the small end of a boiled egg and those who open the large end first, representing the struggle in England between the Protestants (Little-Endians) and the Catholics (Big-Endians).  Swift is trying to emphasize the pointless persecution of worthy people of different faiths simply on the basis of their religious beliefs, an issue that Swift discusses throughout the Travels.

Swift even gets in several digs at the English sovereign, King George I, by implicitly comparing him with the Lilliputian king, who loves to persecute his enemies for inconsequential differences and get Lilliput into wars.  The same criticisms had been leveled at George I, and there is no doubt Swift is taking advantage of the cover of Gulliver's imaginative travels.