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

Gulliver's Travels

by Jonathan Swift

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In Gulliver's Travels, what problems does Gulliver pose to the Lilliputians?

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In Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Gulliver causes all kinds of problems for the Lilliputians. At first, they are terrified of him. Then they have to figure out ways to feed him, transport him, house him, and clothe him. They are also appalled by his behavior, especially when he urinates on the palace to put out a fire.

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Gulliver's large size is the biggest problem the Lilliputians have with him. When he falls asleep on their shores and they come across his huge body, they are naturally terrified. After all, if he is malicious, then he could easily kill them without much effort. Even when Gulliver proves rather docile, he still poses a problem since he needs to eat. Being many times larger than the average Lilliputian, Gulliver eats a great quantity of food, the amount that precisely 1,724 Lilliputians would consume. This appalls the royal treasurer since even a single meal for Gulliver is outrageously expensive. The waste he produces also poses an issue: Gulliver has to relieve himself early in the morning so servants will be able to clean it up before it can bother anyone.

On another level, Gulliver's actions bother the Lilliputians. After he repels an attack by the Blefuscuans, the Lilliputians want him to decimate Blefuscu completely, but Gulliver refuses to do so, suggesting they try to make peace instead. If this were not enough to anger many of the Lilliputians, Gulliver urinating on a fire to prevent it from consuming the palace outrages many even more. It is a crime to urinate in the royal presence, though the Emperor elects to forgive Gulliver. Unfortunately, several members of the court, such as the Empress and the treasurer, have come to resent Gulliver. Some have him successfully charged with treason. Luckily, Gulliver is able to escape before the Emperor can carry out his plan to have him blinded and slowly starved to death.

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In Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Gulliver is quite literally a huge problem for the Lilliputians. First off, they are frightened of this giant that has just landed in their midst. Luckily for them, Gulliver is sleeping when they first find him, and they are able to tie him down. Indeed, Gulliver relates that he could easily pick up several dozen and dash them to the ground if he so chooses (and he is rather tempted a few times).

The second major problem Gulliver poses to the Lilliputians is in the realm of food. This huge man (from their perspective) eats and eats and eats! And then he drinks and drinks and drinks. Gulliver consumes cartloads of meats and many hogsheads filled with wine. In fact, the Emperor designates a “daily allowance of meat and drink sufficient for the support of 1,724 of our subjects” for Gulliver's personal consumption. Just think about how many animals had to be raised, slaughtered, prepared, and cooked day after day and how much wine had to be spared (for wine is only prepared for consumption over time). Indeed, three hundred cooks spent nearly all their time preparing Gulliver's food. We might wonder if the Lilliputians were left with anything food or drink for themselves.

Third, Gulliver must be transported (while he is still a prisoner) and housed. The cart built to carry him moves on twenty-two wheels, and just getting him onto it requires a feat of engineering. Fifteen hundred horses pull together to bring Gulliver into the Lilliputian city. He is then housed in an old temple that he has to crawl into, although he can lie stretched out to his full length.

Fourth, the Lilliputians have great difficulty clothing Gulliver. Three hundred tailors are employed to make him a suit of clothing. Think about all the fabric that would need to be woven and stitched just to accommodate Gulliver's massive size. Further, measuring him is a gargantuan task requiring great creativity and high ladders.

Finally, Gulliver's behavior also creates some problems for the Lilliputians. Of course, Gulliver is only trying to help when he urinates on the fire that has broken out at the palace, but the Lilliputians fail to appreciate the gesture and accuse Gulliver of being a traitor.

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Gulliver is a giant among the tiny Lilliputians. They initially see him as threat, so they tie him up and shoot arrows at him (which have no effect). But even as he is integrated by the Lilliputians into their society, his great size continues to cause problems. He has, for example, to discreetly defecate only in the early morning so that there is time for two Lilliputian servants to remove his excrement in wheelbarrows before members of the royal court come to visit him. He needs a vast house by their standards, and providing him with a bed means sewing together six hundred ordinary beds. Gulliver must also be fed, which requires a huge amount of food: the same amount as consumed by 1724 Lilliputians.

Gulliver is a resource drain, but the Lilliputians are not the type to give something for nothing. They use him to move large stones for building, exact a promise that he will provide a survey of their lands, and expect him to destroy the enemy fleet of the island of Blefuscu. The royal court also uses him for entertainment.

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Because of his size, Gulliver requires a great deal of problem-solving from the Lilliputians that they never considered. For example, in their first encounter, they use ropes and stakes to tie Gulliver to the ground, thinking that he might be dangerous; they never consider that his strength is equal to his size, and it is only his hunger and inherent goodwill that keeps him from ripping free and causing damage. Another big problem is that of food; Gulliver needs far more food than the Lilliputians to survive, and they calculate that he needs as much food as 1,724 of their citizens.

I had three hundred cooks to dress my victuals... A dish of their meat was a good mouthful, and a barrel of their liquor a reasonable draught... Their geese and turkeys I usually eat at a mouthful, and, I must confess, they far exceed ours. Of their smaller fowl, I could take up twenty or thirty at the end of my knife.
(Swift, Gulliver's Travels, eNotes eText)

Although this use of food must have been an enormous drain on the Lilliputian resources, it is never mentioned if they suffer from food shortages because of Gulliver, or if they took greater measures to raise livestock which need time to grow to maturity. The background of the problem is not addressed, only the actions taken, and so there is little indication if Gulliver's presence caused a strain on the Lilliputian economy.

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