The Butter Side Down

30 Aug

So, I’m reading along in Chapter 4 of Gulliver’s Travels, when I start thinking that this is all sounding very familiar.   Where have I heard this nonsense before?   Oh, I remember!   It’s the Dr. Seuss “classic”, The Butter Battle!   For those of you not so familiar with children’s literature, in The Butter Battle, two factions (I forget the names – perhaps “Zooks” was one) have an escalating fight stemming from the all-important question:  On which side should we butter our bread?   Butter side up or butter side down?  I always suspected this book was an allegory of sorts, and perhaps a comment on society in general, but I had no idea he STOLE the whole idea from Jonathan Swift!

In chapter 4 Gulliver tells us that not only is there one kingdom of tiny people out there, but two.  The neighboring kingdom of Blefuscu (pronunciation anyone?   I have no idea…) is made up of former Lilliputians who fled and formed a new society.  You will never believe what very important issue caused the separation.   Maybe their nickname will give you a clue – they were also called the “Big-endians.”   No?  This doesn’t help?  OK, I’ll tell you.  They have been arguing for years over which end of an egg should be broken before eating – the big end or the little one!   Apparently, the Lilliputians used to break their eggs big end first, but someone suffered an unfortunate accident involving fingers, so a law was passed forbidding eggs to be cracked big end first.   Many rebellions followed, and the law breakers fled for refuge to Blefuscu.   Here’s a quote:  “It is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death rather than submit to break their eggs at the smaller end.”   This act even took on religious implications:  “…all true believers shall break their eggs at the convenient end.”  Wait!  “Convenient” might mean different things to different people.

Well, all the silliness made me chuckle a bit, but I figured Swift was probably poking fun at something literal –  perhaps the perpetual squabbling between England and France at the time?   However, since my 1939 edition (thanks, Christina!), has not a single note, I was wondering what other critical thinkers make of this?   Anyone?  Oh, and if I knew how to find the saved picture I’d like to import here, I’d have inserted a nice photo of The Butter Battle Book at the beginning.  I’m so hopeless – I really need a blogging tutorial.  (Update:  My wonderful husband showed me how!  Now maybe my posts can be more colorful.  Thanks, David!)


Posted by on August 30, 2011 in Gulliver's Travels, The Blog


3 responses to “The Butter Side Down

  1. Christine

    August 30, 2011 at 10:32 am

    I shall reserve The Butter Battle from the library immediately.

  2. Christina

    August 30, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    We have the book AND an animated video! Yikes. And I think it is the Zooks and the Yooks, possibly?

    Great observation. I always did question Dr. Suess’s creative talents.

    I believe that the Big End vs. Little End debate is an allegory over the Real Presence and the debates between English Anglicans (a bit redundant) and French Catholics (possibly also redundant.) I’ll have to check with Jerry’s Critical Edition to make sure.

  3. Jeannette

    September 1, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    So, did you check yet? What do the really smart people say? (And I’m definitely including Jerry in that…)


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