Summary of the Novel
In Gulliver’s Travels, Gulliver describes his four voyages. In the first voyage, he is the only person to reach land after a shipwreck. He awakes to find himself tied down by tiny men; these are the Lilliputians. A Hurgo (official) supervises them. Gulliver agrees to cooperate, and is untied and taken to the capital where he meets Lilliput’s Emperor. He agrees to serve the Lilliputians, and is granted partial freedom in return. Gulliver prevents an invasion from Lilliput’s enemy, Blefuscu, by stealing the enemy’s ships and is given a high title of honor. He makes friends and enemies at court and learns details of Lilliputian society. After putting out a fire in the palace by urinating on it, he is accused of high treason through polluting the palace. He is sentenced to be blinded and starved. However, Gulliver escapes to Blefuscu, finds a boat, sails out to sea, and is picked up by an English ship.
Two months after his return to England, Gulliver leaves on his second voyage. He lands in an unknown country to get water and is abandoned. A giant reaper picks him up (he is in the country of the gigantic Brobdingnagians) and takes him to a farmer, who wants him to be on exhibit as a freak. He fights a gigantic cat and other monstrous animals. The Queen of Brobdingnag buys Gulliver and presents him to the King. The farmer’s daughter, Glumdalclitch, who had befriended Gulliver, is hired by the King as Gulliver’s guardian and nurse. Gulliver quarrels with the King’s dwarf, but describes England in detail to the King. Gulliver is carried around in a box and tours the kingdom. He fights birds and animals and finds the King’s Maids of Honor, who undress before him, disgusting him because of their great size. Gulliver’s box is picked up by a gigantic eagle and dropped into the sea; he is picked up by an English ship and returns to England.
Shortly after his return, Gulliver leaves on his third voyage. His ship is captured by pirates, who set him adrift in a small boat. He arrives on the flying island of Laputa, which flies over the continent of Balnibarbi. The people he meets are interested only in abstract speculations. Their king asks Gulliver only about mathematics in England. Gulliver learns that the island is kept flying by magnetism. He travels to Balnibarbi, and he is shown the Academy of Laputa, where scholars devote all their time to absurd inventions and ideas. He then goes to Glubbdubdrib, an island of magicians. The king is waited on by ghosts, and he calls up the ghosts of dead historical characters at Gulliver’s request. He then goes to Luggnagg, where the Struldbruggs who have eternal life but not eternal youth. After spending time in Japan, Gulliver returns to England.
On his fourth voyage, Gulliver is set on shore in an unknown land by mutineers. This is the land of the Houyhnhms: intelligent, rational horses who hold as servants repulsive animal-like human beings called Yahoos. A dapple-gray Houyhnhm who becomes his master is unable to understand the frailties and emotions in Gulliver’s account of England. The Assembly is distressed at the idea of a partly-rational Yahoo living with a Houyhnhm, votes to expel Gulliver. He makes a boat and is picked up by a Portuguese ship. On his return to England, Gulliver is so disgusted with human beings that he refuses to associate with them, preferring the company of horses.
The Life and Times of Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift, dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, was a major figure in literature and politics in both Ireland and England. He was famous in his own time as a witty satirist of many aspects of life. He later became world-famous as the author of a children’s classic, Gulliver’s Travels, which was not originally intended by its author as a children’s book. He was born in Dublin to a well-to-do family partly of English descent, was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, and Oxford University, and worked as secretary to the retired politician Sir William Temple. These other experiences acquainted him with the vanity and follies of leading figures in British life. Later, after difficulties in obtaining employment as a clergyman of the Church of England, he increased his acquaintance with fashionable society and acquired the tinge of bitterness that characterizes much of his literary work.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, Swift (already a fashionable satirist), received the degree of Doctor of Divinity from the University of Dublin and began to write political satires. In 1704, having already published some widely-read political works, Swift became famous with the publication of The Battle of the Books and The Tale of a Tub. Other satirical works spread Swift’s fame to London, which he visited frequently. Swift was a major figure in the Tory party as well as a journalist and writer when, in 1713, he became the dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Anglican (Episcopal) cathedral of Dublin. As dean, he was assistant to the bishop, supervising the cathedral’s day-to-day affairs.
Although he never married, Swift had a long and close friendship with Esther Johnson, known to him as Stella, to whom the published diary called the Journal to Stella was addressed. After becoming dean, Swift met Ester Vanhomrigh, daughter of a wealthy merchant. He called her “Vanessa,” and they too had a close friendship. In 1723, Vanessa, hearing of Swift’s friendship with Stella, died.
Gulliver’s Travels, which Swift began writing by 1720, was published anonymously in 1726. Additional successful satirical works were written in the following years, but as Swift grew old, his health deteriorated. In 1742, after suffering several strokes, he was declared insane. He died several years later in 1745.
Swift’s numerous works, including articles as well as books, attacked many of the evils of his time, particularly political corruption and the oppression of the Irish by the English. His wit and satire attract, amuse, and educate the reader.
The age in which Swift lived is sometimes called the Augustan Age. British writers and artists of the time admired the order and sophistication of the culture of classical Rome during the reign of the Emperor Augustus, about 1,700 years earlier. Satire in Swift’s time was modeled on works translated into English satirizing the weaknesses of society and politics in Roman times. These authors, as well as later satirists, influenced Swift.
Although England first invaded Ireland in the early Middle Ages, it was only during the reign of Elizabeth, about a hundred years before Swift’s birth, that English control became complete. Most of the Irish had remained Roman Catholics after the English went over to Anglican Protestantism in the sixteenth century. Swift’s family was Anglican, and they were part of the elite living in Dublin that was known as “the Ascendancy”, because it included the most powerful people in Ireland.
During the English Civil War, radical English Protestants had oppressed the Irish Catholic, depriving them of property and civil rights. After the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660, six years before Swift’s birth, much of this oppression continued, although King James II, a Catholic, gave religious freedom to Catholics. After his overthrow in 1689, King William and Queen Mary became sovereigns of Britain and Ireland. Britain became a limited monarchy under the control of the British Parliament, and Catholics were again deprived of many of their rights. In England, religious freedom for Protestants who were not Anglicans was limited. Swift protested against many of these limitations of freedom and against commercial restrictions on Ireland.
Under the limited monarchy, two political parties began to compete in elections for Parliament—the Whigs, who represented merchants and non-Anglican Protestants called “Dissenters;” and the Tories, who wanted to strengthen Parliament who represented wealthy landowners, and also wanted to strengthen the Anglican Church and make the king more powerful. Swift, an Anglican dean, was a Tory.
Britain was modernizing. The Bank of England was established, trading in stocks and bonds became important, the cities grew, international commerce increased, and the Royal Society was established to conduct scientific research. Swift satirized many of these tendencies in Gulliver’s Travels and elsewhere.
In literature, early forms of the novel, often involving travel and adventure, were being written. Poetry and plays were often inspired by ancient Greek and Roman literature; they were carefully written and involved strict rules. Novels were often the more fanciful form of literature.
Master List of Characters
Lemuel Gulliver—(a.k.a. The Man-Mountain, The Mannikin) Narrator of the Novel; a physician, ship’s officer, and traveler.
Mary Burton—The patient wife of Lemuel Gulliver, a daughter of a London merchant who remains behind in England during his voyages.
The Hurgo—A high official of the Island of Lilliput, who feeds Gulliver after his capture and sends him to their Emperor.
Richard Sympson—Cousin of Lemuel Gulliver. The “Letter from Capt. Gulliver is addressed to him; Gulliver complains that his cousin has made alterations to the manuscript; “The Publisher to the Reader” is supposed to be written by Sympson.
James Bates—Surgeon who supports Gulliver’s career.
The Emperor of Lilliput—The proud, sometimes tyrannical, ruler of the island kingdom.
Flimnap—Treasurer of Lilliput, who owes his office to his acrobatic ability.
Reldresal—Principal Secretary of Private Affairs of Lilliput, who befriends and tries to help Gulliver.
Skyresh Bolgolam—High Admiral of Lilliput and member of the governing council, he is the chief enemy Gulliver faces in Lilliput.
The Treasurer’s Wife—Wife of Flimnap, who frequently visits Gulliver, accompanied by a retinue; Gulliver vindicates her honor by proving that they were never alone.
The Empress—Another enemy of Gulliver, who favors his punishment because he put out a fire in the palace in an inappropriate way.
“A Considerable person at court”—Visits Gulliver and privately gives him a copy of the articles of impeachment against him.
The Emperor of Blefuscu—Ruler of Lilliput’s rival kingdom, who protects Gulliver after he escapes there, having been accused of treason by the Lilliputians.
The Farmer’s Servant—The giant Brobdingnagian picks up Gulliver and takes him to his master.
The Farmer—The Brobdingnagian who exhibits Gulliver as a curiosity.
The Farmer’s Wife—At first disgusted by Gulliver as though he were a spider, she is sympathetic later.
Glumdalclitch—“Little nurse” in Brobdingnagian; the farmer’s daughter makes Gulliver her pet, and continues to take care of him after he is bought by the Queen of Brobdingnag.
The Queen of Brobdingnag—Buys Gulliver from the farmer and presents him to the King.
The King—Ruler of Brobdingnag, a patron of scholarship; asks Gulliver to describe England to him.
The Queen’s Dwarf—Becomes Gulliver’s enemy because his place as the smallest person at court has been usurped.
The Maids of Honor—They play with Gulliver and undress in his presence, which he finds disgusting because of their immense size.
The Officers—Officials who search Gulliver and make an inventory of his belongings.
Thomas Wilcocks—English sea captain who rescues Gulliver and takes him back to England after the box in which he was carried in Brobdingnag falls into the sea; thinks Gulliver is crazy.
Captain William Robinson—Invites Gulliver on his third voyage.
Clustril and Drunlo—The Treasurer’s informers.
The Dutchman—One of the pirates who attack Gulliver’s ship.
The Japanese Pirate—Sets Gulliver adrift after his ship is captured.
The King of the Flying Island of Laputa—Interested only in mathematics, science, and astronomy; asks Gulliver only about these subjects.
The Court Official—Related to the King of Laputa; intervenes with him to allow Gulliver to leave the Flying Island for Balnibarbi, the continent on the ground beneath it.
The Lord Munodi—Official, former governor of Lagado; describes the continent to Gulliver; shows him the Academy.
First Scholar—Member of the Academy of Lagado; tries to extract sunbeams from cucumbers.
Second Scholar—Tries to reduce human excrement to its original food.
Architect—Tries to build houses from the top down.
Blind Artist—Leads apprentices, also blind, mixing paint colors by smell.
Projector—Tries to plow the ground with hogs.
Artist—Tries to use spiders as silkworms.
Physician—Tries to cure people by pumping them with a bellow.
Universal Artist—Tries a variety of impossible experiments.
Speculative Professor—Makes a frame with all words in the Lagadan language written on pieces of wood; composes nonsensical literary works by rearranging them at random.
Language Professors—They try to substitute images of things discussed for words, eliminating the necessity of speaking.
Mathematical Professor—Tries to teach by giving students pills containing knowledge.
Political Professor—Tries to cure politicians with medicine and violence.
Second and Third Political Professors—Propose absurd methods of taxation.
Fourth Political Professor—Tries to discover conspiracies against the government by studying people’s food.
Governor of Glubbdubdrib—Has ghosts for servants; acts as host to Gulliver; calls up spirits of famous historical figures at Gulliver’s request.
Custom-House Officer—Confines Gulliver in Luggnagg.
King of Luggnagg—Acts as Gulliver’s host; Gulliver is invited to stay permanently, but he refuses.
Struldbruggs—Immortal Luggnaggians who lack eternal youth and are therefore unable to do much or remember anything.
Emperor of Japan—Suspects Gulliver of being a Christian after he refuses to trample on a crucifix.
James Welch—Mutineer on the Adventure, who sets Gulliver adrift.
The Dapple-Grey—Houyhnhm (rational horse) who protects Gulliver and asks him about his country.
The Sorrel Nag—Servant of the Dapple-Gray.
Member of Assembly of Houyhnhms—Proposes to eliminate the Yahoos.
The Yahoos—Animal-like savage human beings in the country of the Houyhnhms.
Captain Pedro de Mendez—Takes Gulliver to Portugal after he is expelled from the land of the Houyhnhms.
Estimated Reading Time
Three weeks should be allowed for the study of Gulliver’s Travels. Two weeks will be required to read the novel, reading four chapters at a sitting. The student should read every day from Monday to Friday. After reading the chapters, the student should answer all study questions in this guide to ensure understanding and comprehension. The essay questions may be used if needed. The fourth week is set aside for reports, projects, and testing as deemed necessary by the teacher.
Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Lemuel Gulliver, the title character of Gulliver’s Travels, is a capable, brave, and educated Englishman whose unlucky adventures drive him to sickness and madness. His simple, straightforward way of telling his story suggests that he lacks the imagination to understand what he has experienced.
Gulliver is shipwrecked off the shore of Lilliput and captured by humans only six inches tall. Practical man that he is, he promises to obey their laws controlling him. He finds Lilliput, not unlike Europe, in a state of perpetual and petty disorder. Low-heelers and High-heelers squabble over politics much as do the Whigs and Tories of Swift’s day. Courtiers compete for distinctions by leaping over sticks and other...
(The entire section is 837 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Lemuel Gulliver, a physician, takes the post of ship’s doctor on the Antelope, which sets sail from Bristol for the South Seas in May, 1699. When the ship is wrecked in a storm somewhere near Tasmania, Gulliver has to swim for his life. Wind and tide help to carry him close to a low-lying shore, where he falls, exhausted, into a deep sleep. Upon awakening, he finds himself held to the ground by hundreds of small ropes. He soon discovers that he is the prisoner of humans six inches tall. Still tied, Gulliver is fed by his captors; then he is placed on a special wagon built for the purpose and drawn by fifteen hundred small horses. Carried in this manner to the capital city of the small humans, he is exhibited as a great...
(The entire section is 1312 words.)
Chapter Summary and Analysis
Part I, Chapters 1-4: Summary and Analysis
Lemuel Gulliver: an English physician, ship’s officer, and traveler who is the narrator of the novel
Richard Sympson: cousin of the narrator; the “Letter from Capt. Gulliver” is addressed to him; Gulliver complains that his cousin has made alterations in his manuscript; “The Publisher to the Reader” is supposed to be written by Sympson, who says that the work has an air of truth
James Bates: surgeon who supports Gulliver’s career
Mary Burton: Gulliver’s wife, daughter of a London merchant
The Hurgo: Lilliputian official who supervises Gulliver’s capture, feeds him, and sends him to the Emperor
The Emperor of Lilliput: the proud...
(The entire section is 1430 words.)
Part I, Chapters 5-6: Summary and Analysis
The Empress of Lilliput: an enemy of Gulliver, who favors his punishment because he put out a fire in the palace in an inappropriate way
The Treasurer’s Wife: wife of Flimnap, who frequently visits Gulliver, but accompanied by a retinue; Gulliver vindicates her honor by proving that they were never alone
Clustril and Drunlo: the Treasurer’s informers cannot prove that anyone except the Treasurer (on the Emperor’s express orders) came to Gulliver incognito, but successfully damaged Gulliver’s reputation with the Treasurer and the Emperor
Gulliver wades and swims to the enemy island, Blefuscu, eight hundred yards at its nearest point from...
(The entire section is 715 words.)
Part I, Chapters 7-8: Summary and Analysis
“A Considerable person at Court”: visits Gulliver and privately gives him a copy of the articles of impeachment against him
The Emperor of Blefuscu: ruler who protects Gulliver after Gulliver, having been accused of treason by the Lilliputians, escapes to Blefuscu
Mrs. Gulliver: the patient wife of the narrator, who remains behind in England during his voyages; introduced earlier as Mary Burton, her maiden name
In Chapters Seven and Eight Gulliver, who “had been all my life,” as he says, “a stranger to Courts,” discovers their terrible effects. He is privately informed by “a considerable person at Court” of the Lilliputians’...
(The entire section is 765 words.)
Part II, Chapters 1-2: Summary and Analysis
The Farmer’s Servant: the giant Brobdingnagian, who picks up Gulliver and takes him to his master
The Farmer: Brobdingnagian who exhibits Gulliver as a curiosity
The Farmer’s Wife: at first disgusted by Gulliver as though he were a spider, later sympathetic to him
Glumdalclitch: meaning “little nurse” in Brobdingnagian; the farmer’s daughter, whose pet Gulliver becomes, and who continues to take care of him after he is bought by the Queen of Brobdingnag
Gulliver sails for India (specifically Surat), but his ship is blown off course by a storm; an island is discovered, and Gulliver and some other men go to the island in one of...
(The entire section is 623 words.)
Part II, Chapters 3-4: Summary and Analysis
The Queen of Brobdingnag: buys Gulliver from the farmer and presents him to the King
The King: ruler of Brobdingnag, a patron of scholarship; asks Gulliver to describe England to him
The Queen’s Dwarf: becomes Gulliver’s enemy because he is no longer the smallest person at court
A gentleman usher commands Gulliver’s master to bring him to the royal court for the entertainment of the Queen of Brobdingnag and the royal ladies. Gulliver expresses willingness to be sold to the Queen, and the farmer sells him to her. Gulliver then asks that Glumdalclitch continue as his nurse, and this is agreed to. Gulliver meets the King of Brobdingnag, a great...
(The entire section is 639 words.)
Part II, Chapters 5-6: Summary and Analysis
The Maids of Honor: play with Gulliver and undress in his presence, which he finds disgusting because of their immense size
Gulliver continues to be tormented by the Dwarf, is pelted by Brobdingnagian hailstones, is picked up by a dog but rescued by a gardener, and is attacked again by birds.
Glumdalclitch and Gulliver are frequently invited by the Maids of Honor of the court to their rooms. They would strip him naked and lay him full length on their bosoms. Gulliver is offended by their odor; similarly a Lilliputian had once told him that he was offended by Gulliver’s odor. The Maids of Honor undress in Gulliver’s presence, which Gulliver finds...
(The entire section is 709 words.)
Part II, Chapters 7-8: Summary and Analysis
Thomas Wilcocks: English sea captain who rescues Gulliver and takes him back to England after the box in which he was carried in Brobdingnag falls into the sea; at first thinks Gulliver is crazy
Gulliver continues to describe England, answering the King of Brobdingnag’s questions; despite Gulliver’s efforts to present England in the best possible light, the King sees the bad features. Gulliver tells the King about gunpowder, trying to instruct the king to have it made, together with firearms, but the Brobdingnagian King is aghast at the existence of so terrible a weapon. Gulliver thinks that the King is unnecessarily cautious. The King is unfamiliar with European...
(The entire section is 967 words.)
Part III, Chapters 1-3: Summary and Analysis
Captain William Robinson: invites Gulliver on his third voyage
The Dutchman: one of the pirates who attack Gulliver’s ship; proposes that Gulliver be set adrift
The Japanese Pirate: sets Gulliver adrift
The King of the Flying Island of Laputa: interested only in mathematics, science, and astronomy; asks Gulliver only about these subjects
Ten days after his arrival in England from his second voyage, Gulliver is asked by Captain William Robinson to be ship’s surgeon, on a voyage to the East Indies, in two months. He persuades his wife, after some difficulties, to allow him to go. After spending time in India and Tonquin (part of...
(The entire section is 901 words.)
Part III, Chapters 4-6: Summary and Analysis
The Court Official: related to the King of Laputa; intervenes with the King to allow Gulliver to leave the Flying Island for Balnibarbi, the continent on the ground beneath it
The Lord Munodi: official, former governor of Lagado; describes the continent to Gulliver; shows him the Academy
First Scholar: member of the Academy of Lagado; tries to extract sunbeams from cucumbers
Second Scholar: tries to reduce human excrement to its original food
Architect: tries to build houses from the top down
Blind Artists: leads apprentices, also blind, trying to mix paint colors by smell
Projector: tries to plow the ground with hogs
(The entire section is 1139 words.)
Part III, Chapters 7-9: Summary and Analysis
Governor of Glubbdubdrib: has ghosts for servants; acts as host to Gulliver; calls up spirits of famous historical figures at Gulliver’s request
Custom-House Officer: confines Gulliver in Luggnag
King of Luggnag: acts as Gulliver’s host; invites Gulliver to stay permanently, but he refuses
Gulliver travels to the port of Maldonada, to get a ship to Luggnag, a country which trades with Japan. There being no ship available for some time, Gulliver makes a side-trip to the small island of Glubbdubdrib, the island of sorcerers or magicians. The people are all magicians, and when Gulliver is received by the Governor of the island, he finds that, as...
(The entire section is 411 words.)
Part III, Chapters 10-11: Summary and Analysis
Struldbruggs: immortal Laggnagians who lack eternal youth and are therefore unable to do much or remember anything.
Emperor of Japan: suspects Gulliver of being a Christian after he refuses to trample on a crucifix.
At Luggnag, Gulliver is told that some people born there are Struldbruggs or Immortals. Gulliver is, at first, impressed by the idea of people who live forever and are therefore able to bring the experience of the ages to each generation. Then he discovers that they have only eternal life and not eternal youth, and are thus unable to do much or remember anything. They are despised and hated, having to be supported at public expense.
(The entire section is 426 words.)
Part IV, Chapters 1-2: Summary and Analysis
James Welch: Mutineer on the Adventure, who sets Gulliver ashore on an island
The Yahoos: animal-like, savage human beings in the country of the Houyhnhms
The Dapple-Gray: Houyhnhm (rational horse) who protects Gulliver and asks him about his country
The Sorrel: servant of the Dapple Gray
Gulliver spends about five months at home in England. With his wife pregnant, he accepts the captaincy of the Adventure, a merchant ship. New sailors to replace those who die of disease are taken on at Barbados. They turn out to be pirates and mutiny against Gulliver, who is held prisoner by them. James Welch, a mutineer, tells Gulliver that...
(The entire section is 441 words.)
Part IV, Chapters 3-5: Summary and Analysis
Gulliver learns the language of the Houyhnhms. His master is amazed at his ability, so uncharacteristic of the Yahoos, and is curious about Gulliver’s origin. Gulliver explains his origin, having difficulties because certain human concepts can be explained only with great difficulty in the Houyhnhms’ language. Gulliver has to say “the thing which is not” because there is no word for “lie” or “falsehood.” When Gulliver is accidentally seen naked, the Houyhnhms realize that he is of the same species as the Yahoos, but differs only in walking on the two hind feet. The Houyhnhms have great difficulty in believing that Gulliver comes from a country in which human beings are rational beings.
(The entire section is 796 words.)
Part IV, Chapters 6-8: Summary and Analysis
Gulliver continues to describe English society to the dapple-gray, and continues to have difficulty explaining human concepts such as money. The Houyhnhm is amazed at human inequality, and at the use by humans of luxuries such as wines and liquors, some of which have to be imported. Gulliver then explains that the bad habits of human beings cause illness, which in turn requires the services of physicians and pharmacists, who often cause rather than prevent death, making them “of special use to husbands and wives who are grown weary of their mates, to eldest sons, to great ministers of state, and often to princes.” Gulliver explains that a minister of state is a creature totally exempt from any human emotion...
(The entire section is 1468 words.)
Part IV, Chapters 9-10: Summary and Analysis
Member of Assembly of Houyhnhms: proposes to eliminate the Yahoos
The Houyhnhms hold a grand assembly about three months before Gulliver’s departure; the dapple-gray is a representative. The members debate (the only debate they ever held) whether to eliminate the Yahoos. The Yahoos had not always been in the country of the Houyhnhms; two appeared together on a mountain long ago, produced by mud or by the sea, and proceeded to multiply. To control them, the Houyhnhms killed some and tamed the rest. Asses would make better domestic animals. The dapple mentions Gulliver, and suggests that the first Yahoos to arrive in the land of the Houyhnhms came by sea like Gulliver and...
(The entire section is 756 words.)
Part IV, Chapters 11-12: Summary and Analysis
Captain Pedro de Mendez: takes Gulliver to Portugal after he is expelled from the land of the
Gulliver sails away from the land of the Houyhnhms in his boat. He hears the sorrel nag, who always loved him, crying out, “Take of yourself, gentle Yahoo.” Gulliver plans to go to some uninhabited island with the means to support life and spend the rest of his life alone there, thinking of the virtues of the Houyhnhms. He would rather do this than hold the highest office in the politest court of Europe, so disgusted is he with human beings. He decides to sail to New Holland (Australia). He lands there, but is attacked by naked savages who injure him...
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