Gulliver obtains the Emperor's permission to visit Mildendo, the capital city of Lilliput, where he visits the royal palace.
One morning, Reldresal, the Secretary of Private Affairs, visits Gulliver. He tells him that there are two sources of conflict in Lilliput, internal and external. The internal dissent is due to the two political parties in Lilliput which constantly fight each other. They are called Tramecksan and Slamecksan, and are distinguished from one another by the high or low heels worn by their adherents. The Emperor is a low heel and has decided to employ mostly low heels at court, but the heir to the throne is thought to incline more towards the high heels.
The external threat to Lilliput is that of invasion from the Island of Blefescu. Lilliput has long been at war with Blefescu as a result of disagreement over the correct way to break an egg: at the smaller end or the big end. Originally, Lilliput was a Big-Endian nation, but the present Emperor's grandfather once cut his finger while breaking his egg at the big end, and passed a decree ordering all his subjects to break their eggs at the smaller end. Since then, there have been rebellions around this issue in Lilliput, and these have been fomented by Blefescu, still a Big-Endian nation. Now, Blefescu is about to send its fleet to invade Lilliput, and the Emperor, who is convinced of Gulliver's valor and strength, wishes him to understand the situation. Gulliver sends a message back saying that although as a foreigner, it is not fitting for him to interfere in political parties, he is ready to risk his life in defense of the Emperor and his country.
Gulliver wades and swims to Blefescu, armed with a cable and iron bars. He finds the enemy fleet. The Blefescudians are so afraid when they see him that they leap out of their ships and swim to shore. Enemy soldiers fire arrows at Gulliver, but he puts on his spectacles to protect his eyes and, using the cable and iron bars, ties the ships together and drags them back to Lilliput. The Lilliputians greet him as a hero and the Emperor confers upon him the highest title of honor. The Emperor, emboldened by this victory, wants to invade Blefescu and govern it as his province, forcing the people to break the smaller end of their eggs. Gulliver refuses to support this notion, which he believes to be the equivalent of enslaving the Blefescudians. The Emperor cannot forgive Gulliver, and he and a group of ministers begin plotting against him.
Ambassadors from Blefescu arrive and offer a peace agreement, which the Emperor agrees with conditions favorable to himself. Gulliver uses his influence at court to help the Blefescudians with regard to the treaty, and they invite him to visit their country. Gulliver asks the Emperor's permission to go, and he agrees, but coldly. Gulliver learns that Flimnap, the Lord High Treasurer, and Bolgolam have represented to the Emperor Gulliver's dealings with the Blefescudian ambassadors as disloyalty. For the first time, Gulliver thinks that courts and ministers may not be perfect.
One night, Gulliver is awakened by people milling around his door. Courtiers arrive and beg Gulliver to come immediately to the palace, where the Empress's apartment is on fire. Gulliver puts the fire out by urinating on the palace. It is an offense punishable by death for anyone to urinate in the palace grounds. The Emperor promises Gulliver a pardon, which, however, does not arrive. Gulliver hears that the Empress is so offended by his action that she has moved into another part of the palace, ordering that the apartments on which Gulliver urinated must never be repaired.
Gulliver describes Lilliput. Everything, including trees and livestock, is tiny, in proportion with the people. He goes on to describe some of the customs of the Lilliputians. Some he views as absurd, such as their practice of burying their dead with their heads downward, because they believe that by the time of the resurrection, the earth will have turned upside down, and thus the dead will be standing on their feet. Other customs seem more valuable, such as their harsh treatment of those informers who falsely denounce an innocent man. If the accused makes his innocence clear in court, the informer is put to death and his estate is used to compensate the innocent person. Fraud is considered to be worse than theft, as honest people have no defense against deceit.
Lilliputians believe that justice should be used not only to punish the guilty but to reward the law-abiding, who are given money and titles of honor. In employing people, they think that good morals are more important than extraordinary ability, since mistakes committed by a virtuous person would never be as serious as fraud committed by a corrupt person.
Atheists are banned from holding public office, since the head of state, the Emperor, draws his authority from God and anyone who disowns that authority cannot make a good servant to the state.
Gullliver adds he is describing the original institutions rather than the current reality, which has degenerated into such corruptions as leaping and creeping.
The education of children is not entrusted to parents, who, it is believed, produce children only as a result of lust. Children of both sexes, except those of laborers, are taken from their parents at an early age and brought up in public nurseries. They are taught virtues such as honor and justice, and are always kept busy. Parents are allowed to visit them only twice a year. Which school a child attends depends on the social status of his or her parents. Children from upper-class families attend different nurseries from those for the children of gentlemen and tradesmen. Upper-class boys continue in education until they are fifteen. Girls from upper-class families have almost the same education as their male counterparts. When the girls are twelve years of age, they are considered ready for marriage and their parents take them home. Boys from trading families are put out to apprenticeships at eleven years old, and girls from such families are apprenticed at nine. Each family pays for its own children's education, as it is not considered fair to give way to one's appetites and conceive children and then expect the burden of looking after them to fall upon the state. However, the fee is graded according to what the family can afford. Laborers keep their children at home, as their business is to cultivate the earth. Old and sick people are looked after in hospitals, and beggars are unknown.
Flimnap has been complaining to the Emperor that Gulliver is costing the Treasury vast sums of money for his keep, and that he should be sent away. Gulliver believes that Flimnap was acting out of jealousy over his wife, who was rumored to have visited Gulliver at his house in secret. Gulliver insists that that her visits were always public and that she always came in company. Though Flimnap and his wife made up their disagreement, he never forgave Gulliver and influenced the Emperor against him.
In this section, Swift satirizes what he sees as the petty differences and disagreements between political parties and religions. The Tramecksan or high heels represent the Tories, and the Slamecksan or low heels represent the Whigs, the two political parties in eighteenth-century England.
Lilliput represents England and Blefescu is France; the Big-Endians are Catholics and the Small-Endians are Protestants. England, in common with the rest of Europe, was originally a Catholic country, viewing the Pope as the spiritual authority. But in the 1520s and 1530s, King Henry VIII of England wanted to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, with whom he had been unable to produce an heir, and to marry Anne Boleyn. This episode is referred to in Gulliver's Travels as the Emperor's grandfather cutting his finger while trying to break an egg at the big end. The Pope refused to annul Henry's marriage to Catherine, and in the 1530s Henry broke with Rome and made himself Supreme Head of the Church of England. The English Church became progressively more Protestant until Henry's successor, Edward VI, made England officially a Protestant nation. However, conflict between Catholic and Protestant factions in England, and between Protestant England and Catholic France, persisted for centuries.
In reducing the differences between Tories and Whigs, Catholics and Protestants, and England and France, to the trivial level of heel height and manner of breaking eggs, Swift portrays the defining conflicts of English and European history as petty and meaningless. Just as it does not matter how anyone breaks an egg, Swift is suggesting that differences in the ways in which people worship God do not matter, and are not a cause for war.
The episode in Chapter V in which Gulliver urinates on the Empress's apartment to put out a fire, only to be repudiated by her, may be a satirical reference to an incident in his own life. Many critics believe that the urination refers to Swift's publication in 1704 of his satirical work A Tale of a Tub, and that the Empress's disgust at his action refers to Queen Anne of England's disapproval of the work and her subsequent attempt to restrict his career prospects in the Church of England. Swift claimed, both in "The Apology for the &c." which is one of his prefaces to A Tale of a Tub, and symbolically in this chapter of Gulliver's Travels, that he wrote the work in order to protect the monarchy against the factions that threatened it.
Chapter VI presents many Lilliputian practices that are presented without the satirical tone of the rest of Part I. Gulliver, and Swift, appear to believe that these are sensible ideas that should be adopted in real society. Many modern readers will agree that it seems fair to treat fraud as a more serious crime than theft, to which many people were driven in Swift's time by poverty, and to educate girls in much the same way as boys (a revolutionary idea in Swift's time). Other ideas are more contentious, such as taking children away from parents and having them brought up in public nurseries. Swift appears to have believed that the only reason that people have children is as an unwanted side-effect of gratifying their sexual appetites. Based on this assumption, he mistrusted parents and did not believe that they were capable of bringing up children well.