Title and Byline
was originally entitled Travels Into Remote Nations of the World.
The author was identified as Lemuel Gulliver, not Jonathan Swift. Swift
denied himself a byline not only to make the fictional Gulliver appear
to be a real person but also to protect himself from the wrath of the people
he was satirizing.
is a novel of satire and adventure which has four main sections, called
"books," divided into chapters. Preceding the first book is a message from
the publisher, Richard Sympson. It claims that Lemuel Gulliver is a real
person known to Sympson. This message is followed by a letter to Sympson
from Gulliver. Each of these prolegomena is a fabrication, of course—the
work of Swift's mischievous mind—designed to enhance the realistic characteristics
of his fictional narrator. Educated adults generally read the book as a
satire on current events and social, cultural, religious political trends.
Children generally read the book as an adventure story.
of Expurgated and Unexpurgated Editions
The book was published first
in 1726 in a shortened edition that deleted passages deemed offensive.
A second edition was published in 1735; it contained most, but not all,
of the deleted passages. A third edition containing the complete novel
was published in 1899.
The adventures in Gulliver's
Travels take place between May 4, 1699, and December 5, 1715. Between
1715 and 1720, the fictional main character, Lemuel Gulliver, readjusts
to life in England. In 1720, he begins writing an account of his voyages
and, in 1727, releases them for publication. The action in the story takes
place in England, on the seas, on many strange islands—including one that
travels in the air—and in various countries, including ones unknown and
English ship surgeon and accomplished seaman. Gulliver, the main character,
narrates the story of his voyages to strange lands with amazing creatures
and sights. He is one of five sons of a gentleman with a small estate in
Friend of Gulliver who writes an introduction to the story Gulliver tells.
Mary Burton Gulliver:
Wife of Lemuel Gulliver and daughter of Edmund Burton, a hosier. While
Gulliver travels, she remains at home.
James Gates: London
surgeon under whom Gulliver studied medicine.
Abraham Pannel: Captain
of the Swallow, a ship on which Gulliver served as surgeon for three-and-a-half
Captain of the Antelope, on which Gulliver travels to the East Indies.
of the country of Lilliput. They are no more than six inches tall. Their
size symbolizes their pettiness and the small-mindedness of many government
officials in England and other European countries.
of Lilliput: Ruler of Lilliput, who calls himself by the august name
of Golbasto Momaren Evlame Gurdilo Shefin Mully Ully Gue. He is a capricious
ruler whose physical represents the intelligence of his rule. He has been
compared with England's King George I (1698-1727), who ruled from 1714
to 1727. One of the main issues that concern the emperor and his subjects
centers on which end of an egg to open first, the big end or the small
end. Those who argue in favor of the big end symbolize Roman Catholics.
Those who argue in favor of the small end, including the emperor, symbolize
Empress of Lilliput:
Wife of the emperor. She likes Gulliver but turns against him after he
extinguishes a palace fire by urinating on it. She represents Queen Anne
(1665-1714), who ruled England from 1702 to 1714. Anne became an enemy
of Swift after he published his irreverent A Tale of the Tub in
1704. Years later, she slighted him by appointing him to a clergy position
in Ireland instead of England.
Lord High admiral of Lilliput. After Gulliver helps the Lilliputians in
their war with the Blefuscudians, Bolgolam--envious of Gulliver's success--becomes
Flimnap: Lord High
Treasurer of Lilliput, who is highly skilled at dancing on a rope (actually
a piece of white thread) stretched above the ground. Flimnap becomes Gulliver's
enemy. First, he says the cost of providing Gulliver's needs is a drain
on the state's resources. Second, he accuses Gulliver of hanky-panky with
his wife after hearing a rumor that the woman visited Gulliver in private.
Flimnap represents one of Swift's political rivals, Robert Walpole (1676-1745),
who became Britain's first prime minister. Walpole was a Whig; Swift was
secretary for private affairs. Although he pretends to be a supporter of
Gulliver, he plots against him. Reldresal symbolizes double-dealing politicians.
of the country of Blefescu. In size, they resemble the Lilliputians. They
favor opening eggs on the big end, in opposition to the position of the
Lilliputians, and declare war on Lilliput.
daughter. By the time he returns home from his first adventure in the land
of the Lilliputians, she is married and has children of her own.
son. He is in grammar school at the time that Gulliver returns to England
uncle. He leaves Gulliver an estate that yields 30 pounds a year, a sum
that helps Gulliver support his family while he goes off on another adventure
after returning home from Lilliput.
John Nicholas: Captain
of the Adventure, a ship bound for western India on which Gulliver is a
Inhabitants of the country of Brobdingnag in the Arctic region. They are
as tall as church steeples. Because they are so big, Gulliver can see all
the imperfections on their skin, which repel him. However, unlike many
rulers of Europe, they operate an effective government and live upright
lives. Their size symbolizes their government achievements.
Man who finds Gulliver in a field and hosts him at his supper table.
King of Brobdingnag:
Capable ruler who contrasts sharply with corrupt officials in Britain.
Queen of Brobdingnag:
Wife of Brobdingnag's king. She treats Gulliver kindly.
daughter of the Brobdingnagian farmer. She is small for her age—no more
than forty feet tall. She is a kindly child who cares for Gulliver during
his stay in Brobdingnag.
Captain of the Hopewell, a ship that takes Gulliver to the East
of the flying island of Laputa. They are a race of absent-minded scientists
and philosophers. Although they are knowledgeable in astronomy, mathematics,
and other subjects, they are woefully lacking in practical knowledge and
even attempt to build a house from the roof down. The Laputans represent
dreamy idealists who cannot apply the theories they propound.
King of Laputa
of the land of Balnibarbi. Balnibarbi's Academy of Projectors develop theories
to improve society and apply them without testing them. The results are
Lord Munodi: Governor
of Lagado, a town in Balnibarbi. Unlike the projectors, he applies tested
methods only. The result is that he and the people he governs thrive.
Governor of Glubbdubdrib:
Ruler of a tiny island of sorcerers and magicians. He has the power to
call anyone from the dead to serve him as he pleases for twenty-four hours.
He allows Gulliver to select dead persons to be called forth and to question
them. Gulliver chooses Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Caesar, Brutus, and
humans who continue to age, suffering endless illness and infirmity.
Robert Purefoy: Surgeon
on the Adventurer, a ship on which Gulliver is the captain.
men who seize control of the Adventurer, the ship that Gulliver
crewman who informs Gulliver that the mutineers are setting Gulliver ashore.
horses who establish an exemplary society in which all members respect
one another equally. They are so morally advanced that they never lie or
hate. In fact, they do not even understand what lying and hatred are.
Yahoos: Ugly, repulsive
creatures in the land of the houyhnhmns. They live like animals but resemble
humans. They serve the Houyhnhmns as draft animals. A Houyhnhmns tells
Gulliver that "there was nothing that rendered the Yahoos more odious,
than their undistinguishing appetite to devour every thing that came in
their way, whether herbs, roots, berries, the corrupted flesh of animals,
or all mingled together: and it was peculiar in their temper, that they
were fonder of what they could get by rapine or stealth, at a greater distance,
than much better food provided for them at home. If their prey held out,
they would eat till they were ready to burst; after which, nature had pointed
out to them a certain root that gave them a general evacuation."
Don Pedro de Mendez:
Portuguese ship captain who rescues Gulliver and treats him well while
helping him to return to England.
Michael J. Cummings...©
serving three-and-a-half years as surgeon aboard the Swallow, physician
Lemuel Gulliver returns to London. There, he marries and takes on patients.
However, because his practice cannot sustain himself and his wife, he goes
to sea again to make his living, this time for six years on two different
returns home again, he opens a practice at a new location, then another.
Still his business fails to thrive. He could overcharge his patients, like
most other physicians, and enjoy a comfortable living. But because he is
honest, he refuses to do so. Instead, he signs on as surgeon on another
ship, the Antelope, and leaves Bristol, England, on May 4, 1699,
on a journey to the South Seas.
heading into the East Indies, the ship encounters a violent storm and sinks.
All are lost except Gulliver, who swims to an island. While he sleeps,
inhabitants of the island—creatures six inches high at most—bind him. After
he awakens, they give him food and convey him to the court of their emperor.
him Man-Mountain, the little people keep Gulliver a prisoner for a considerable
time. However, when they realize he poses no threat, they free him and
teach him their strange language. He learns that the island is a nation
called Lilliput. The Lilliputians have two political parties—one for those
who wear high heels and one for those who wear low heels. Once the little
people accept Gulliver, the king issues a decree on the 12th day of the
91st moon of his reign. It binds Gulliver to duties and services. For example,
to speed the arrival of dispatches during emergencies, he must convey in
his pocket the message, the messenger, and his horse to the destination.
He must also assist workmen in construction projects, measure the boundaries
of the kingdom by pacing off the distance along the coast, and serve as
an ally in Lilliput’s war with Blefescu.
and Blefescu, a neighboring country of little people, are mortal enemies
because they cannot agree on where to break an egg, on the small end or
the large end. Gulliver reports that 11,000 persons have died during the
return for his services, the king declares that the “man-mountain shall
have a daily allowance of meat and drink sufficient for the support of
1724 of our subjects, with free access to our royal person, and other marks
of our favour.” The emperor assigns 300 cooks to prepare his food and 300
tailors to make new clothes for him. In addition, the emperor later grants
Gulliver’s request to walk through their capital city, Mildendo.
meanwhile, mobilizes 50 ships for an invasion of Lilliput. In response,
Gulliver wades to Blefescu and beaches all their ships, forcing Blefescu
to surrender. The mighty hero of the Lilliputians then performs another
good deed: When the palace apartment of the empress catches fire, raging
out of control and defying efforts by the Lilliputians to extinguish it
with their thimble-size buckets of water, Gulliver urinates on the blaze.
In three minutes, it dies.
Gulliver the hero becomes Gulliver the villain when the admiral of the
Lilliputian navy, Skyresh Bolgolam, schemes against Gulliver. The admiral
is jealous of Gulliver because of his success against Blefescu. The high
treasurer, Flimnap, joins the scheme. He despises Gulliver because of rumors
that his wife had had an affair with Gulliver. Even though Gulliver proves
the rumors false. Flimnap and Bogolam, as well as several of their cronies,
bring charges of treason and other crimes against the Man-Mountain. His
crime is that he "made water" in the palace precincts. He also refused
to destroy Blefescu and annihilate its inhabitants. For these offenses,
the Lilliputians sentence Gulliver to blindness and starvation. But rather
than harming the Lilliputians to save himself, Gulliver simply leaves the
island. After obtaining a ship and provisions at Blefescu, Gulliver sets
sail and meets a merchant ship that takes him back to England. His experience
in Lilliput has a strange effect on him:
When I came to my own house
. . . I bent down to go in, like a goose under a gate, for fear of striking
my head. My wife ran out to embrace
me, but I stooped lower than her knees, thinking she could otherwise never
be able to reach my mouth. My daughter kneeled
to ask my blessing, but I could not see her till she arose, having been
so long used to stand with my head and eyes erect to above
feet; and then I went to take her up with one hand by the waist. I looked
down upon the servants, and one or two friends who
were in the house, as if they had been pigmies and I a giant.
remaining home two months, Gulliver yearns to travel again and signs on
with the Adventure, a ship bound for Surat, a city in western India
on the Arabian Sea. Before departing, he leaves 1,500 pounds with his wife
and two children (Betty, a married daughter, and, John, a boy in grammar
school). That sum, coupled with an estate he inherited from his Uncle John,
assures that his family will be well cared for.
ship sets sail in June 1702 under the command of Captain John Nicholas.
After it rounds the Cape of Good Hope and passes the Straits of Madagascar
and then the Moluccas, a storm blows it to unfamiliar waters. At an island,
when crewmen go ashore for a new supply of fresh water, Gulliver accompanies
them. They go in one direction and he in another. After a short time, he
sees the other men rowing back to the ship, chased by a gigantic creature.
After they scramble aboard, the ship sails—without Gulliver.
he explores the island, he discovers extraordinary sights: corn 40
feet tall, a hedge 120 feet high, trees reaching to the sky. He arrives
at a farm worked by giants as tall as church steeples. When a worker finds
him, he takes Gulliver to the house of the farmer, who has a wife, three
children, and a grandmother. They treat him kindly and feed him in a dish
measuring 24 feet in diameter.
of the farmer’s children, a nine-year-old girl, looks after Gulliver during
his stay at the farm. She is small for her age, not more than 40 feet tall,
but proves a loving companion for him. She and her mother provide a cradle
for Gulliver to sleep in, placing it on a high shelf so Gulliver will be
safe from rats. Over time, the little girl teaches Gulliver the rudiments
of her language and makes him new clothes of fine cloth. She calls him
Grildrig (a word which means doll or toy in her language),
and he calls her Glumdalclitch (which means little nurse).
Gulliver in a box with windows and a hammock, the farmer takes Gulliver
to a nearby town to show him off. Soon, he is the talk of the land, and
everybody wants a glimpse of the strange little man. When people come to
the farmhouse to look upon Gulliver, the farmer charges them a viewing
fee—and he realizes what a treasure he has. Eventually, he takes him on
a tour and ends up in the court of the rulers of the land, Brobdingnag,
and the queen buys him for a thousand gold pieces as a present for the
king. At Gulliver’s request, she agrees to take Glumdalclitch into her
service so she can continue to look after Gulliver.
times, Gulliver perceives the Brobdingnagians as a repulsive people, but
this perception appears to result from his point of view. Because they
are so big and he is so small, he can see inside their pores and the folds
of their flesh.
There was a fellow with
a wen in his neck, larger than five wool-packs; and another, with a couple
of wooden legs, each about twenty feet high. But the most hateful
sight of all, was the lice crawling on their clothes. I could see distinctly
the limbs of these vermin with my naked eye, much better than those of
a European louse through a microscope, and their snouts with which they
rooted like swine.
the king’s request, Gulliver tells the history of his native land, England.
The recitation stupefies the king, for he did not realize that a country
could engage in so many abominations—murder, hypocrisy, greed, political
conspiracies, etc. The king is especially shocked to hear Gulliver discuss
the advantages of a powerful weapon, gunpowder, which can be used to lay
two years in Brobdingnag, the king and queen take Gulliver and Glumdalclitch
with them to the southern coast of their realm, where they all stay in
a royal palace at the city of Flanfasnic, near the sea. The long journey
takes its toll on Gulliver and Glumdalclitch, the former catching a cold
and the latter a nasty infection that confines her to her room. Longing
to see the ocean once again, Gulliver persuades a page whom he trusts to
take him to the ocean so that he may breathe fresh air and thereby alleviate
the symptoms of his illness. When they leave, Glumdalclitch bursts into
tears, so attached has she become to Gulliver.
the beach, the page sets the box down, and Gulliver opens one of the windows
on his box and looks out with “wistful melancholy.” Feeling a bit weak
from his illness, he tells the page that he will take a nap in his hammock,
and the boy closes the window against the cold air. While Gulliver is sleeping,
a giant Eagle swoops down, picks up the box, and carries it off. Gulliver,
awakened by the movement of the box, surmises that the eagle plans to drop
the box on rocks, as it would a turtle, to smash it and eat the contents.
But the eagle instead drops the box on the sea—apparently, Gulliver thinks,
because he had to defend his catch against other eagles closing in to share
in it. Luckily, an English ship happens by and rescues him. Once more,
he returns to England.
days after his arrival, the captain of a ship called the Hopewell
invites Gulliver to serve as surgeon on a voyage to the East Indies in
two months. The captain, William Robinson—under whom Gulliver had served
on a previous voyage on another ship—promises him double the usual pay
and a share in command of the Hopewell. Gulliver accepts the offer.
The ship sets sail on Aug. 5, 1707, and arrives at Fort St. George in April,
1707, then moves on to Tonquin three weeks later. There, while the captain
conducts business, he puts Gulliver in charge of a sloop and 14 men to
sail to neighboring islands to do additional business. But after a storm
blows Gulliver far off course, pirates capture his sloop. A Dutchman wants
to kill him. But a Japanese—showing him more mercy than Gulliver’s “brother
Christian,” the Dutchman—allows him to paddle off in a canoe with a sail
his journey, Gulliver encounters an airborne island from which people are
fishing. When he cries out for help, inhabitants of the island lower a
chain and draw him up. His saviors are singularly odd in their appearance:
Their heads were all reclined,
either to the right, or the left; one of their eyes turned inward, and
the other directly up to the zenith. Their outward garments were
adorned with the figures of suns, moons, and stars; interwoven with those
of fiddles, flutes, harps, trumpets, guitars, harpsichords, and many other
instruments of music, unknown to us in Europe.
Several of them escort him to
the king’s palace at the top of the island. Inside, where the king sits
enthroned, are all kinds of calculating devices. The king addresses him
in a strange language. Gulliver replies in all the language he knows—and
cannot be understood. He is then taken to an apartment for dinner with
four distinguished persons.
We had two courses, of three
dishes each. In the first course, there was a shoulder of mutton cut into
an equilateral triangle, a piece of beef into a rhomboides, and a pudding
into a cycloid. The second course was two ducks trussed up in the form
of fiddles; sausages and puddings resembling flutes and hautboys, and a
breast of veal in the shape of a harp. The servants cut our bread
into cones, cylinders, parallelograms, and several other mathematical figures.
learns that the island—which is 4½ miles wide, 300 yards thick,
and 7,737 yards in circumference—is called Laputa. The Laputians navigate
their island by means of a lodestone, a magnetic rock with the ability
to attract and repel. By manipulating the stone, they can raise and lower
the island or make it move horizontally in any direction.
residents of Laputa spend their time doing theoretical mathematics and
playing music. Their language is based entirely on these two disciplines.
"If they would, for example, praise the beauty of a woman, or any other
animal, they describe it by rhombs, circles, parallelograms, ellipses,
and other geometrical terms, or by words of art drawn from music," Gulliver
says. However, they despise practical geometry. Consequently, their homes
are poorly built, having not a single right angle. They are quick to put
forth their opinions about politics and public affairs even though, as
in Europe, mathematicians have little knowledge of such matters. All of
the residents of Laputa live in constant fear that the earth and their
island will one day crash into the sun—or that the sun will burn out, resulting
in destruction of everything that depends on its light.
requesting to leave the island, Gulliver is lowered to the continent of
Balnibari and enters its metropolis, Lagado, where the crops are poorly
managed, people wear ragged clothing, and the houses are in bad condition—except
for the house of the governor of Lagado. He tells Gulliver that 40 years
before, some Lagado residents visited Laputa and came away with a smattering
of mathematics that caused them to undertake bold scientific projects and
other heady enterprises. They even built an academy in which to carry out
their projects. Now every town in Balnibari has an academy, and the people
spend most of their time conducting experiments. For example, at the Academy
of Lagado, scientists are attempting to extract sunbeams from cucumbers,
turn human feces back into food, erect buildings from the roof down, plow
farmland with pigs, make marbles soft enough to stuff pillows and pincushions,
breed sheep whose entire bodies are bald, and have students learn mathematics
by swallowing wafers on which formulas are written.
absorbed in these enterprises are the inhabitants that they avoid taking
part in almost all other activities.
leaving Lagado, Gulliver visits the nearby islands of Glubbdubdrib and
Glubbdubdrib, he meets magicians who conjure up figures from history, such
as Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Brutus, with
whom Gulliver converses. The magicians even fulfill Gulliver’s request
to conjure up the whole Senate of ancient Rome. But it is not illustrious
generals or statesmen who impress Gulliver the most, as he explains: "I
chiefly fed mine eyes with beholding the destroyers of tyrants and usurpers,
and the restorers of liberty to oppressed and injured nations."
Luggnag, he encounters a rare sort of person called a Struldbrug, who is
blessed with immortality. However, Struldbrugs, who have a red mark on
their foreheads above the left eyebrow, do not stay eternally young. Instead,
they grow old and develop infirmities. "Whenever they see a funeral, they
lament and repine that others have gone to a harbour of rest to which they
themselves never can hope to arrive."
eventually ends up in Japan. From there, he sails on a Dutch ship to the
Netherlands and then returns to England on a small vessel sailing out of
five months, Gulliver again answers the call of the ocean, this time accepting
an offer to become captain of a merchant ship called The Adventurer.
A young man named Robert Purefoy serves as the surgeon. The ship sets sail
from Portsmouth in September of 1710 on a mission to trade with Indians
in the South Seas. Many months into the voyage, the crew mutinies and sets
Gulliver adrift in a longboat in unfamiliar climes. After reaching the
shore of an unknown land, he sees in the soil imprints of the hoofs of
horses, cows, and human feet. He discovers later that he is the land of
the Houyhnhmns, a race of intelligent horses. In the wilds are repulsive
creatures called Yahoos that walk on all fours. Gulliver encounters the
Their heads and breasts
were covered with a thick hair, some frizzled, and others lank; they had
beards like goats, and a long ridge of hair down their backs, and the fore
parts of their legs and feet; but the rest of their bodies was bare, so
that I might see their skins, which were of a brown buff colour.
a herd of these ugly beasts swarm around Gulliver, some of them climb a
tree and begin defecating on him. However, they flee when two horses appear,
one a dappled gray and the other a brown bay. They observe him cautiously,
then feel his clothes and touch him gently. All the while, they seem to
communicate with each other. Their behavior is so rational that Gulliver
wonders whether they are magicians who changed themselves into horses.
When he hears them converse, he repeats some of their words. Before long,
he begins to pick up their language. One of them takes him to his house.
Inside, in a large room, sat three nags and two mares. Several cows were
performing domestic chores. Gulliver concludes that these horses must be
wondrously intelligent, for they have trained brute beasts.
host then leads him into a courtyard in which several Yahoos—tied to a
beam at their necks—are feeding on the the flesh of dead dogs, asses, and
cows. When Gulliver observes one of the Yahoos close up, he discovers to
his horror that it has the face and figure of a human.
of the horses offers Gulliver a root, which he politely refuses; then he
offers him some smelly flesh of an ass, which he also refuses. He likewise
declines to partake of hay and oats. However, when Gulliver points to a
cow passing by and conveys the idea that he wants to milk it, they take
him into the house and a mare gives him a bowlful of milk.
his stay with the Houyhnhmns, Gulliver learns to make pastes and cakes
from oats, as well as butter and whey from milk. He also hunts rabbit and
makes salads from herbs. In time, he learns to converse with the Houyhnhmns,
telling them to their astonishment that in his land people like himself,
whom they believe to be a Yahoo, are the rulers; horses are used to carry
them on their backs, pull wagons, and race for sport.
day comes, however, when the Houyhnhmns forbid Gulliver from remaining
with them, fearing that he might attempt to become a Yahoo leader. He then
builds a canoe with a sail made of Yahoo skins and travels to a rocky island,
where he finds fresh water and shellfish. While there, he spies a Portuguese
ship in the distance. After crewmen go ashore to replenish their water
supply, they take Gulliver back to the ship. The captain, Don Pedro de
Mendez, treat Gulliver kindly agrees to take him to Lisbon. From
there, Gulliver finds his way back to England. But this time, he is not
happy to see his native land, for its inhabitants are too much like the
Yahoos. During the first year after his return, he says, "I could not endure
my wife or children in my presence; the very smell of them was intolerable;
much less could I suffer them to eat in the same room."
However, after five years,
he begins to adjust to them.
I began last week to permit
my wife to sit at dinner with me, at the farthest end of a long table;
and to answer (but with the
utmost brevity) the few
questions I asked her. Yet, the smell of a Yahoo continuing very
offensive, I always keep my nose well stopped with
rue, lavender, or tobacco leaves. And, although it be hard for a
man late in life to remove old habits, I am not altogether out of hopes,
in some time, to suffer a neighbour Yahoo in my company, without the apprehensions
I am yet under of his teeth or his
may read Gulliver's Travels as a satire and as an adventure story.
general theme of the satire is that serious defects afflict society.
Politicians, religious leaders, social planners, military tacticians, educators—indeed,
all of society’s elite—often hamper progress through political machination,
aggression, misguided science and art, and out-and-out stupidity.
general theme of the adventure story is that strange and wondrous exploits
await people willing to take risks. Gulliver goes to sea again and
again—risking the perils of angry weather, pirates, and unfriendly cultures—to
escape the familiar and experience the exotic.
The argument between Lilliput
and Blefescu over how to break an egg satirizes the often-petty bickering
between people and nations that leads to religious intolerance, war, and
other types of conflict.
The Academy of Lagado's ridiculous
experiments, such as extracting sunbeams from cucumbers and turning human
feces into food, represents (1) time- and money-wasting scientific projects
and (2) prideful attempts to take on godlike powers. An example of the
former was the allocation of several million dollars by the U.S. Congress
in 2009 to study the odor of pig urine. An example of the latter is the
attempt by scientists in some societies to clone human beings.
The Yahoos’ behavior represents
corrupt and repulsive human behavior, such as deviant sexuality, gluttony,
college hazing rituals, habitual drunkenness, staging of dog fights, and
other shameful activity.
The novel frequently centers
on scatological acts, such as defecation and urination, to satirize Enlightenment
thinkers who took undue pride in their intellectual and rational powers.
(The Enlightenment, which began in the middle 1600s and ended in the late
1700s, stressed the pre-eminence of human reason and science in efforts
to advance civilization and discover new frontiers of knowledge.) In effect,
Swift was telling the elite thinkers that they are no better than the common
man. Like a carpenter or a shoemaker, a philosopher farts, sweats, and
Coping With Alienation
On his visits to various
lands, Gulliver is an alien among strange and sometimes fearful creatures.
Fortunately, he manages to cope. For example, in Brobdingnag-- where every
person, animal, and thing are gigantic--he uses his wits to keep himself
safe in the presence of domesticated animals.
I have been always
told, and found true by experience in my travels, that flying or discovering
fear before a fierce animal, is a certain way to make it pursue or attack
you, so I resolved, in this dangerous juncture, to show no manner of concern.
I walked with intrepidity five or six times before the very head of the
cat, and came within half a yard of her; whereupon she drew herself back,
as if she were more afraid of me: I had less apprehension concerning the
dogs, whereof three or four came into the room, as it is usual in farmers’
houses; one of which was a mastiff, equal in bulk to four elephants, and
another a greyhound, somewhat taller than the mastiff, but not so large.
(Part II, Chapter 1)Relativity
Gulliver is gigantic in Lilliput
but minuscule in Brobdingnag. After arriving in the latter country, Gulliver
are in the right, when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise
than by comparison. It might have pleased fortune, to have let the Lilliputians
find some nation, where the people were as diminutive with respect to them,
as they were to me. And who knows but that even this prodigious race of
mortals [Brobdingnagians] might be equally overmatched in some distant
part of the world, whereof we have yet no discovery. Oddly, Gulliver's observation
calls to mind the principles behind the relativity theories of science.
For example, suppose a passenger is walking in the aisle of a train traveling
at fifty miles an hour. Suppose further that a seated passenger in the
train measures the walker's speed at three miles an hour and that a stationary
observer outside the train measures the walker's speed at fifty-three miles
an hour. (The walker passes the outside observer at the speed of his walk
plus the speed of the train). So how fast is the walker moving? The answer
depends on whether the speed is measured relative to what is inside the
train or measured relative to what is outside the train.
Gulliver's observation also
implies that the value of such things as a government system, a gem, a
human behavior, a musical technique, and so on can be assessed only in
relation to something else. A king or an emperor may claim he is generous
to his people, but a comparison of his generosity to that of other kings
or emperors could reveal him as miser.
Exploration and Discovery
Like the real explorers from
Columbus onward, the fictional Gulliver discovers new worlds. Though his
adventures are perilous, they are also exciting, providing him glimpses
of different customs, cultures, and peoples. His experiences expand his
knowledge and help to enlighten, by way of comparisons, about his own world.
By learning the languages of the people he encounters, he also realizes
the importance of communicating with foreigners in their native tongue.
Love and Kindness: Their
Absence and Presence
Love and kindness are conspicuously
absent in many of the lands that Gulliver visits. However, Glumdalclitch,
the nine-year-old daughter of the Brobdingnagian farmer, is a major exception.
She cares for Gulliver all the while he stays in Brobdingnag and sees to
his every need. For example, when Gulliver goes to town with the farmer's
family, "She carried me on her lap, in a box tied about her waist," Gulliver
says. "The girl had lined it on all sides with the softest cloth she could
get, well quilted underneath, furnished it with [a] bed, provided me with
linen and other necessaries, and made everything as convenient as she could."
Her treatment of Gulliver is untainted by the kind of selfish ulterior
motives harbored by adults in both Gulliver's fictional world and the real
world in England and other European countries.
Gulliver narrates his story
in first-person point of view.
Swift's major writing tools
are irony and satire. As to the former, he relies mainly on situational
irony rather than verbal or dramatic irony. In situational irony, a development,
a result or an ending is the opposite of what one expects. For example,
one would expect scientists and philosophers to be wise. But on the flying
island of Laputa, they are woefully lacking in practical knowledge and
even attempt to build a house from the roof down. Satire attacks or pokes
fun at vices and imperfections. Throughout the novel, Swift satirizes kings,
queens, politicians, military leaders, scientists, and thinks of the real
world by implying or directly stating that they are like their counterparts
in his fictional world.
Sometimes Swift directly
attacks humankind, without the subtlety of satire or allusion, as he does
in the following passage when Gulliver answers a question posed by a Houyhnhmns
He asked me, “what
were the usual causes or motives that made one country go to war with another?”
I answered “they were innumerable; but I should only mention a few of the
chief. Sometimes the ambition of princes, who never think they have land
or people enough to govern; sometimes the corruption of ministers, who
engage their master in a war, in order to stifle or divert the clamour
of the subjects against their evil administration. Difference in opinions
has cost many millions of lives: for instance, whether . . . whistling
be a vice or a virtue; whether it be better to kiss a post, or throw it
into the fire; what is the best colour for a coat, whether black, white,
red, or gray; and whether it should be long or short, narrow or wide, dirty
or clean; with many more. Neither are any wars so furious and bloody, or
of so long a continuance, as those occasioned by difference in opinion,
especially if it be in things indifferent.The Great
Egg Controversy: How It Began
In Chapter 3 of Part 1, "A
Voyage to Lilliput," Reldresal, the principal secretary for private affairs
in Lilliput, explains to Gulliver how the the great egg controversy began.
Here is what Reldresal says:
It began upon the
following occasion. It is allowed on all hands, that the primitive way
of breaking eggs, before we eat them, was upon the larger end; but his
present majesty’s grandfather, while he was a boy, going to eat an egg,
and breaking it according to the ancient practice, happened to cut one
of his fingers. Whereupon the emperor his father published an edict, commanding
all his subjects, upon great penalties, to break the smaller end of their
eggs. The people so highly resented this law, that our histories tell us,
there have been six rebellions raised on that account; wherein one emperor
lost his life, and another his crown. These civil commotions were constantly
fomented by the monarchs of Blefuscu; and when they were quelled, the exiles
always fled for refuge to that empire. It is computed that eleven thousand
persons have at several times suffered death, rather than submit to break
their eggs at the smaller end. Many hundred large volumes have been published
upon this controversy: but the books of the Big-endians have been long
forbidden, and the whole party rendered incapable by law of holding employments.
During the course of these troubles, the emperors of Blefusca did frequently
expostulate by their ambassadors, accusing us of making a schism in religion,
by offending against a fundamental doctrine of our great prophet Lustrog,
in the fifty-fourth chapter of the Blundecral (which is their Alcoran).
This, however, is thought to be a mere strain upon the text; for the words
are these: ‘that all true believers break their eggs at the convenient
end.’ And which is the convenient end, seems, in my humble opinion to be
left to every man’s conscience, or at least in the power of the chief magistrate
to determine. Now, the Big-endian exiles have found so much credit in the
emperor of Blefuscu’s court, and so much private assistance and encouragement
from their party here at home, that a bloody war has been carried on between
the two empires for six-and-thirty moons, with various success; during
which time we have lost forty capital ships, and a much a greater number
of smaller vessels, together with thirty thousand of our best seamen and
soldiers; and the damage received by the enemy is reckoned to be somewhat
greater than ours. However, they have now equipped a numerous fleet, and
are just preparing to make a descent upon us; and his imperial majesty,
placing great confidence in your valour and strength, has commanded me
to lay this account of his affairs before you.
Swift writes the first part
of his novel with playful satire that casts the half-inch-tall Lilliputians
as tolerable bumblers. After all, they are almost endearing in the way
that they maintain petty rivalries. For example, some Lilliputians wear
high-heeled shoes to make them appear more formidable to their political,
low-heeled rivals. However, as Swift proceeds further into his story, his
satire darkens until finally—when he describes the repulsive Yahoos, who
represent the worst of humanity—he becomes a bit of a pessimist and misanthrope.
However, Swift always seems to keep in mind the goal of reforming society.
Even at the end, when Gulliver loses all hope in humankind, Swift seems
to be saying, “This is what will happen to you if you do not change your
ways.” Therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that Swift was not a
cynic who gave up on society and humankind but instead a gadfly who bit
the carcass of the complacent in order to force it to rise and act.
Importance of Measurements
Swift uses measurements to
unify and support the plot of Gulliver's Travels. For example, Books
1 and 2 focus on physical measurements: The Lilliputians are tiny compared
to Gulliver, and the Brobdingnagians are gigantic. Books 3 and 4 focus
on intellectual measurements: The Laputians are tiny in intellectual achievement
compared to Gulliver, and the Houyhnhmns are gigantic. Thus, the story
becomes an adventure is size.
Swift also imparts chronological
flow to the novel by informing the reader at the beginning and end of each
book of the exact date that Gulliver leaves England and the exact date
that he returns.
In addition, Swift provides
detailed statistics on such diverse topics as how many crewmen serve a
ship, how many cooks prepare Gulliver's meals, how many citizens inhabit
a certain city, how tall or small a person is, and so on.
In a work of fantasy, a writer
creates impossible characters, places, and situations and asks the reader
to pretend that they are real. To help the reader in this task, the writer
tells his tale in such a way that he makes it seem credible—that is, he
gives it “verisimilitude.” Verisimilitude is derived from the Latin
words veritas (truth) and similis (similar).
Thus, a literary work with verisimilitude is similar to the truth or has
the appearance of truth. In Gulliver’s Travel’s, Swift achieves
verisimilitude in several ways:
(1) He tells the story in
first-person point of view, assuming the persona of Lemuel Gulliver, to
present the tale as though it were an eyewitness account. (2) He gives
Gulliver a real-world background. (3) He gives imaginary characters, places,
and things at least some real-world characteristics. (4) He infuses many
passages with statistics, which—like encyclopedias and almanacs—suggest
objectivity and truth. (5) He frequently addresses the reader directly,
as if the latter is sitting across the table from him. (In fact, Swift
speaks to the reader 48 times during his novel.) This trick helps to make
the reader an intimate friend, or confidant, of the author. As we all know,
a good friend accepts the word of his comrade. (6) He follows each voyage
to an unreal world with a voyage back to the real world.
In the opening paragraph of
Chapter 1, Book 1, Swift works hard to establish the fictional Gulliver
as a flesh-and-blood Englishman and thus invest him with verisimilitude.
Here is that paragraph, with references to real places underlined and statistical
or numerical information boldfaced:
My father had a small estate
in Nottinghamshire: I was the third of five sons. He sent me to Emanuel
College in Cambridge at fourteen years old, where I resided three years,
and applied myself close to my studies; but the charge of maintaining me,
although I had a very scanty allowance, being too great for a narrow fortune,
I was bound apprentice to Mr. James Bates, an eminent surgeon in London,
with whom I continued four years. My father now and then sending me small
sums of money, I laid them out in learning navigation, and other parts
of the mathematics, useful to those who intend to travel, as I always believed
it would be, some time or other, my fortune to do. When I left Mr. Bates,
I went down to my father: where, by the assistance of him and my uncle
John, and some other relations, I got forty pounds, and a promise of thirty
pounds a year to maintain me at Leyden: there I studied physic two years
and seven months, knowing it would be useful in long voyages.
And here is a paragraph that
appeals to the reader and uses statistics to suggest verisimilitude:
The reader may please to
observe, that, in the last article of the recovery of my liberty, the emperor
stipulates to allow me a quantity of meat and drink sufficient for the
support of 1724 Lilliputians. Some time after, asking a friend at court
how they came to fix on that determinate number, he told me that his majesty's
mathematicians, having taken the height of my body by the help of a quadrant,
and finding it to exceed theirs in the proportion of twelve to one, they
concluded from the similarity of their bodies, that mine must contain at
least 1724 of theirs, and consequently would require as much food as was
necessary to support that number of Lilliputians. By which the reader may
conceive an idea of the ingenuity of that people, as well as the prudent
and exact economy of so great a prince.
Here is still another passage
that addresses the reader:
But at the same time the
reader can hardly conceive my astonishment, to behold an island in the
air, inhabited by men, who were able (as it should seem) to raise or sink,
or put it into progressive motion, as they pleased.
Ridicule of Travel Writers
Gulliver frequently says
he will not “trouble the reader” with detailed descriptions of a particular
episode in his travels. Such statements are jibes at travel writers of
Swift's day, who tended to inflate their descriptions with a prolixity
of insignificant details. The words "I will not trouble the reader" (or
similar locutions) occur nine times in the novel to convey the idea that
Swift will not trouble the reader with wordiness as travel writers do.
Gulliver appears to have
two personas, or identities. On the one hand, he is a bystander observing
the follies and vices of cultures that symbolize England, sometimes intervening
to correct those vices and follies. In Lilliput, for example, he reports
on the follies and vices of the Lilliputians and then intervenes to stop
a war. In other lands, however, he sometimes becomes England itself, advocating
questionable practices. For example, in Brobdingnag, he becomes the observed,
rather than the observer, and seemingly promotes the use of gunpowder as
a way to destroy enemies.
Jonathan Swift was born on
November 30, 1667, in Dublin, Ireland. His father—an Englishman who had
moved to Ireland—died earlier that year. Receiving financial assistance
from relatives, Swift attended a good school for his basic education and
graduated from Trinity College in Dublin in 1686. He lived off and on in
England, became an Anglican clergyman, and eventually was appointed dean
of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, although he had lobbied for a position
in England. His writing—especially his satires—made him one of the most
prominent citizens in Great Britain, and he worked for a time on behalf
of Tory causes. His most famous work is Gulliver's Travels, a book
of satire on politics and society in general. Swift died in Dublin on October
Study Questions and Essay
Identify modern government
leaders whom you believe to be Lilliputian in their thinking.
Write an essay informing
the reader of foolhardy scientific experiments (boondoggles) that the U.S.
government (or any other government) is considering or has approved.
Can Gulliver's Travels
be compared in any way with the TV series Star Trek?
In your opinion, which episode
in Gulliver's Travels was the most entertaining? Explain your answer.
In your opinion, which episode
in Gulliver's Travels was the most effective in enlightening you about
the flaws and follies of governments and their leaders? Explain your answer.
Write a satirical essay
or short story on a subject of your choice.
Gulliver's facility for
learning new languages serves him well on his voyages. Write an essay that
explains how important linguistic skill is in today's world. In your essay,
you may wish to consider how knowledge of foreign languages promotes success
in business and commerce, military endeavors, and diplomacy. You may also
wish to consider how it helps people to understand other cultures (ancient
as well as modern), learn the meaning of legal and scientific terms, and
act in plays or sing in operas,
Abstracts of Each Chapter
each chapter in Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift provides a capsule
summary, or abstract, of the events in the chapter. Following are his summaries,
quoted directly from the novel.
I. A Voyage to Lilliiput.
The author gives some account
of himself and family. His first inducements to travel. He
is shipwrecked, and swims for his life. Gets safe on shore in the
country of Lilliput; is made a prisoner, and carried up the country.
The emperor of Lilliput,
attended by several of the nobility, comes to see the author in his confinement.
The emperor’s person and habit described. Learned men appointed to
teach the author their language. He gains favour by his mild disposition.
His pockets are searched, and his sword and pistols taken from him.
The author diverts the emperor,
and his nobility of both sexes, in a very uncommon manner. The diversions
of the court of Lilliput described. The author has his liberty granted
him upon certain conditions.
Mildendo, the metropolis
of Lilliput, described, together with the emperor’s palace. A conversation
between the author and a principal secretary, concerning the affairs of
that empire. The author’s offers to serve the emperor in his wars.
The author, by an extraordinary
stratagem, prevents an invasion. A high title of honour is conferred
upon him. Ambassadors arrive from the emperor of Blefuscu, and sue
for peace. The empress’s apartment on fire by an accident; the author
instrumental in saving the rest of the palace.
Of the inhabitants of Lilliput;
their learning, laws, and customs; the manner of educating their children.
The author’s way of living in that country. His vindication of a
The author, being informed
of a design to accuse him of high-treason, makes his escape to Blefuscu.
His reception there.
The author, by a lucky accident,
finds means to leave Blefuscu; and, after some difficulties, returns safe
to his native country.
II. A Voyage to Brobdingnag.
A great storm described;
the long boat sent to fetch water; the author goes with it to discover
the country. He is left on shore, is seized by one of the natives,
and carried to a farmer’s house. His reception, with several accidents
that happened there. A description of the inhabitants.
A description of the farmer’s
daughter. The author carried to a market-town, and then to the metropolis.
The particulars of his journey
The author sent for to court.
The queen buys him of his master the farmer, and presents him to the king.
He disputes with his majesty’s great scholars. An apartment at court
provided for the author. He is in high favour with the queen.
He stands up for the honour of his own country. His quarrels with
the queen’s dwarf.
The country described.
A proposal for correcting modern maps. The king’s palace; and some
account of the metropolis. The author’s way of travelling.
The chief temple described.
Several adventures that
happened to the author. The execution of a criminal. The author
shows his skill in navigation.
Several contrivances of
the author to please the king and queen. He shows his skill in music.
The king inquires into the state of England, which the author relates to
him. The king’s observations thereon.
The author’s love of his
country. He makes a proposal of much advantage to the king, which
is rejected. The king’s great ignorance in politics. The learning
of that country very imperfect and confined. The laws, and military
affairs, and parties in the state.
The king and queen make
a progress to the frontiers. The author attends them. The manner
in which he leaves the country very particularly related. He returns
III. A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib, and
The author sets out on his
third voyage. Is taken by pirates. The malice of a Dutchman.
His arrival at an island. He is received into Laputa.
The humours and dispositions
of the Laputians described. An account of their learning. Of
the king and his court. The author’s reception there. The inhabitants
subject to fear and disquietudes. An account of the women.
A phenomenon solved by modern
philosophy and astronomy. The Laputians’ great improvements in the
latter. The king’s method of suppressing insurrections.
The author leaves Laputa;
is conveyed to Balnibarbi; arrives at the metropolis. A description
of the metropolis, and the country adjoining. The author hospitably
received by a great lord. His conversation with that lord.
The author permitted to
see the grand academy of Lagado. The academy largely described.
The arts wherein the professors employ themselves.
A further account of the
academy. The author proposes some improvements, which are honourably
The author leaves Lagado:
arrives at Maldonada. No ship ready. He takes a short voyage
to Glubbdubdrib. His reception by the governor.
A further account of Glubbdubdrib.
Ancient and modern history corrected.
The author returns to Maldonada.
Sails to the kingdom of Luggnagg. The author confined. He is
sent for to court. The manner of his admittance. The king’s
great lenity to his subjects.
The Luggnaggians commended.
A particular description of the Struldbrugs, with many conversations between
the author and some eminent persons upon that subject.
The author leaves Luggnagg,
and sails to Japan. From thence he returns in a Dutch ship to Amsterdam,
and from Amsterdam to England.
IV. A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms.
The author sets out as captain
of a ship. His men conspire against him, confine him a long time
to his cabin, and set him on shore in an unknown land. He travels
up into the country. The Yahoos, a strange sort of animal, described.
The author meets two Houyhnhnms.
The author conducted by
a Houyhnhnm to his house. The house described. The author’s
reception. The food of the Houyhnhnms. The author in distress
for want of meat. Is at last relieved. His manner of feeding
in this country.
The author studies to learn
the language. The Houyhnhnm, his master, assists in teaching him.
The language described. Several Houyhnhnms of quality come out of
curiosity to see the author. He gives his master a short account
of his voyage.
The Houyhnhnms' notion of
truth and falsehood. The author’s discourse disapproved by his master.
The author gives a more particular account of himself, and the accidents
of his voyage.
The author at his master’s
command, informs him of the state of England. The causes of war among the
princes of Europe. The author begins to explain the English constitution.
A continuation of the state
of England under Queen Anne. The character of a first minister of
state in European courts.
The author’s great love
of his native country. His master’s observations upon the constitution
and administration of England, as described by the author, with parallel
cases and comparisons. His master’s observations upon human nature.
The author relates several
particulars of the Yahoos. The great virtues of the Houyhnhnms.
The education and exercise of their youth. Their general assembly.
A grand debate at the general
assembly of the Houyhnhnms, and how it was determined. The learning
of the Houyhnhnms. Their buildings. Their manner of burials.
The defectiveness of their language.
The author’s economy, and
happy life, among the Houyhnhnms. His great improvement in virtue
by conversing with them. Their conversations. The author has
notice given him by his master, that he must depart from the country.
He falls into a swoon for grief; but submits. He contrives and finishes
a canoe by the help of a fellow-servant, and puts to sea at a venture.
The author’s dangerous voyage.
He arrives at New Holland, hoping to settle there. Is wounded with
an arrow by one of the natives. Is seized and carried by force into
a Portuguese ship. The great civilities of the captain. The
author arrives at England.
The author’s veracity.
His design in publishing this work. His censure of those travellers
who swerve from the truth. The author clears himself from any sinister
ends in writing. An objection answered. The method of planting
colonies. His native country commended. The right of the crown
to those countries described by the author is justified. The difficulty
of conquering them. The author takes his last leave of the reader;
proposes his manner of living for the future; gives good advice, and concludes.