Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 815
Gulliver sails to Luggnagg and is confined there for two weeks while the customs officers await orders as to whether he is to be permitted to proceed on his journey to Japan. He is given leave to travel to Trildrogdrib, where the court of Luggnagg is located, and has an audience with the king, where he is required to lick the dust before the king’s footstool. It turns out that this is not a mere figure of speech, though the king has been gracious enough to have the floor cleaned, which he does only as a great honor. Sometimes nobles are put to death by sprinkling the floor of the throne room, which they are required to lick, with poison. Despite the oddity of these customs, the king receives Gulliver hospitably, and he stays three months before continuing with his journey.
While Gulliver is staying among the Luggnaggians, one of them asks him if he has ever seen any of their struldbrugs, or “immortals.” The struldbrugs are marked by a red spot on the forehead, which changes color as they grow older. Gulliver is very excited by the idea of meeting an immortal and remarks expansively on how fortunate these people are to be freed from the apprehension of death. The gentleman to whom he is speaking asks Gulliver what he would have done with his life if he had been born a struldbrug. Gulliver replies that he would first become rich, reckoning that after about two hundred years of amassing wealth, he might expect to be the richest man in the kingdom. Then he would study the arts and sciences. Lastly, he would keep an historical record. In this way, he would eventually become “a living treasure of knowledge and wisdom.” He would travel and continue learning all his life, surrounding himself with the most estimable companions and passing his wisdom on to them.
The gentleman, however, says that struldbrugs are not nearly so fortunate as Gulliver imagines. They behave like other people until they are about thirty, but after this they become increasingly melancholy. They do not remain youthful and vigorous, but grow ever more decrepit, exaggerating the characteristic faults of old age and envying both the young, who can satisfy their desires, and the old, who can die peacefully. The only ones who are not completely miserable are those who become senile.
As soon as they reach the age of eighty, the struldbrugs are held to be dead as a matter of law, and all their property passes to their heirs. They continue to eke out a miserable existence in poverty, growing ever more feeble and incoherent. By the time they are two hundred years old, no one can understand them, and they are like foreigners in their own country. When Gulliver does actually encounter some struldbrugs, they are every bit as horrifying as the gentleman told him they would be. Gulliver says that there is no kind of death he would not willingly embrace rather than be condemned to such a fate. The king jocularly suggests that Gulliver should take a couple of them home with him, to cure people there of any fear of death. This, however, is forbidden by the laws of Luggnagg.
The King of Luggnagg wishes Gulliver to remain at court and accept some employment there but, on finding him determined to leave, provides him with a letter of recommendation to the Emperor of Japan, 444 gold pieces, and a red diamond. Gulliver makes the fifteen-day voyage to Japan, and when he arrives, the letter from the king of Luggnagg has its intended effect. He is treated as a public minister, provided with carriages and servants, and granted an audience with the emperor in Edo (Tokyo). Gulliver pretends to be a Dutch merchant, since the Dutch are, at this time, the only Europeans permitted to enter Japan. The emperor grants him a free passage to Nagasaki, where he finds a Dutch ship and makes up a story to convince them that he is one of their countrymen (a feat made easier by the fact that he has lived in the Netherlands and pursued his medical studies at the University of Leiden). Through special dispensation of the emperor, Gulliver manages to avoid the ceremony of “trampling the crucifix,” a test the Japanese used to discover if any of their European visitors were Christians. The Dutch, apparently, had no scruples about performing this ceremony, but other Christians had, and even the emperor himself comments that Gulliver’s unwillingness to trample the crucifix casts doubt on his Dutch nationality. Despite arousing such suspicions, Gulliver is able to embark on the Amboyna and enjoys an uneventful voyage to Amsterdam. From there he makes the brief voyage to England, and on April 16th, 1710, after an absence of five years and six months, Gulliver finally returns to his native land.
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