In Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels, food and excrement seem to have a great deal to do with the power relationships between the eponymous character and the various civilizations he encounters on his wide-ranging journeys. In the land of Lilliput, food plays into the idea that Gulliver essentially holds all of the power over his ‘captors,’ as the Lilliputians continue feeding him despite the fact that his significantly larger appetite “might cause a famine” (25). Once he biologically processes the food into excrement, it takes two Lilliputians to haul the “offensive matter” (23) away in wheelbarrows. The fact that he literally has servants to carry his poop away is a pretty obvious statement as to who is really in charge of whom. Towards the end of Gulliver’s time in Lilliput, he extinguishes a fire in the Lilliputian palace–an act that might usually be considered heroic if it were not accomplished through urinating all over the royal quarters. Gulliver’s pissing on the palace in some ways points to at least some degree of arrogance and perceived superiority on his part in the same way that those stickers of Bill Watterson’s Calvin peeing on all manner of things do today.
When Gulliver makes it to the land of the Brobdingnagians, however, he finds that the tables have turned, and their extreme size advantage puts him at the bottom of the power scale. The inhabitants of Brobdingnag cannot “imagine how [he] should be able to support [him]self” (95) without eating tiny animals such as bugs. One real example of food as being demonstrative of his powerlessness over these giants comes as the queen’s dwarf drops Gulliver into a bowl of creme. Though he is able to swim, he is no longer in a place where his consumption might lead to a famine for the other inhabitants. In fact, the portions of the Brobdingnagians’ meals are so large that they could kill Gulliver. The same dwarf also places Gulliver into a marrow bone where he is stuck until rescued. Clearly, food is not an actual factor as to whether Gulliver is superior to the Lilliputians or inferior to the Brobdingnagians in terms of either nation’s power structure; size, for one, is a much more important factor. Food and excrement do, however, help to illustrate the ways in which these power dynamics manifest and permeate even into less significant levels.