Study Guide

Gulliver's Travels

by Jonathan Swift

Gulliver's Travels Analysis

The Plot (Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Gulliver’s Travels, as the book is now known, first appeared anonymously. Capitalizing on the lively interest in voyages at the time, Jonathan Swift called it Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World and ascribed it to “Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships.” Swift published the book anonymously partly because of the occasional scatological references but more pressingly because of the thinly veiled political satire of England’s powerful first prime minister, Whig party leader Sir Robert Walpole, whom Swift detested and whom contemporaries would have immediately recognized in the ridiculous figure of the tightrope dancer, Flimnap, the treasurer of Lilliput, in part 1.

The first two parts of Gulliver’s Travels form a nicely balanced pair. In Lilliput, where Gulliver first is shipwrecked, he is twelve times as tall as the diminutive local inhabitants. Everything is kept to this scale except for their senseless warring and hypocrisy, which are out of all proportion to their size and therefore seem the more alarming; one, illogically perhaps, expects decent conduct from tiny people. Flimnap, however, so inflated is his ego, accuses Gulliver of having an affair with his six-inch-tall wife.

On the second island on which Gulliver is marooned, the natives are twelve times as tall as he is. He displays all the moral blindness of the Lilliputians in his dealings with the reasonable and generous Brobdingnagians. Gulliver, from his own over-inflated notion of his six-foot self, is offended that the local women do not cover themselves when undressing in front of him. Evidently, like Flimnap in part 1, believes that he is at least their equal. After two years, Gulliver escapes to sea and returns to England.

Gulliver’s third voyage, actually written by Swift after the fourth, is the most scattered in its focus. It is largely political and for this reason is usually not as well received by critics. Gulliver travels to Laputa and encounters scientists and intellectuals whose work is, for the pragmatic parish priest in Swift, altogether too far removed from real life. Attempting to distill sunlight from cucumbers is one of their projects. The Laputan Projectors, in their flying island, tyrannize the inhabitants of Balnibarbi and waste this fertile land. Visiting nearby Luggnagg, Gulliver for a moment envies the Struldbrugs, who live forever, though he quickly changes his mind when he discovers that the immortals do age in the normal way.

His fourth voyage, to the land of the Houyhnhnms (named after the whinnying sound horses make), is the climax of Gulliver’s personal regression. That he cannot approach the level of rationality of the equine race who are in control drives him insane. His much closer resemblance to the bestial, greedy, bellicose, and irrational Yahoos, who are the other native inhabitants, depresses him severely. Viewing him as a possible subversive, the Houyhnhnms invite him to leave their rational world. Finally home again in England, he prefers the stable to his home and can no longer tolerate the company of other humans. Feeling oneself superior to the entire human race, as Gulliver does, is by most definitions a position of insane pride.

Gulliver's Travels Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Bristol

*Bristol. Port town in southwestern England, where the down-on-his-luck, good-natured Lemuel Gulliver begins his travels. A solid English citizen, Gulliver represents England’s optimistic, rationalistic, and scientific philosophies, which Swift abhorred. A Church of England cleric, Swift maintained that England should look back to the ancient Greeks and Romans and to the Christian Church teachings for guidance and inspiration.

Lilliput

Lilliput (leel-lee-pewt). Island southwest of Sumatra that is the first strange land Gulliver visits after his first ship, the Antelope, is wrecked on its coast. Lilliput is Swift’s satirical representation of the pettiness and small-mindedness inherent in church and state; its inhabitants are barely six inches tall, and features of its landscape are correspondingly tiny. Because of his immense size relative to the Lilliputians, Gulliver feels like a king and becomes an important court minister. In the manner of England’s opposing political parties, two factions of Lilliputians—the Whigs and the Tories—govern the island’s capital city of Mildeno. Despite Gulliver’s enormous size, and his ability to see everything, his shortcomings and his inability to view human nature properly become clear. While attempting to explain England’s politics to the ruler of both Lilliput (and later Blefescu) Gulliver voices Swift’s hatred for humanity in general and England’s Whig Party in particular.

Blefescu

Blefescu (bleh-feh-skew). Island empire that is Lilliput’s northern neighbor and archenemy; its inhabitants, like Lilliput’s, are six inches tall. While Lilliput represents eighteenth century England, Blefescu represents eighteenth century France, England’s traditional enemy. By the eighteenth century, both England and France had been fighting wars on and off for centuries for both political and religious reasons. Reminiscent of the channel that separates England from France, a channel eight hundred yards wide separates Lilliput from Blefescu. Gulliver wades across this channel, captures Blefescu’s entire fleet of warships, and delivers them to Lilliput. He comes to understand the cruelty of the Lilliputians only after they begin using him as a war machine against Blefescu.

Brobdingnag

Brobdingnag (brohb-deeng-nag). Long peninsula off California in the North Pacific that is the second strange land visited by Gulliver. In book 2 he continues his satire on Enlightenment ideals and English society in Brobdingnag, a land that accentuates human grossness because of the inhabitants’ stupendous size. After a short return to England, Gulliver boards the ship Adventure bound for India, but it is blown off course and winds up on Brobdingnag, whose people are twelve times larger than ordinary human beings. Rats are the size of lions and eat grain that grows forty feet high. Gulliver becomes a sort of pet to the giant queen. Through their dialogues, Gulliver begins to see the foolhardiness of the English court and England in general which Brobdingnag represents.

Laputa

Laputa (lah-pew-tah). Circular-shaped floating island about ten thousand acres in area that hovers over the terrestrial island of Balnibari; also called the Flying Island by Gulliver. His experience in this land makes obvious just how dangerous are his rationalistic, scientific, and progressive views. On another of his ocean voyages, pirates from a Chinese vessel attack his ship and place him on a rocky island, from which intellectuals who inhabit Laputa rescue him. In their free-floating domain, these scholars literally have their heads in the clouds and do not stand on solid ground.

Balnibari

Balnibari (bal-nee-BAR-ee). Island between Japan and California in the North Pacific over which Laputa floats. It is ruled by an absent-minded king who endorses impractical projects put forth by his Grand Academy.

Glubbdubdrib

Glubbdubdrib (glahb-DUHB-drehb). Also known as the Island of Sorcerers, a small island, about fifteen hundred miles southwest of Balnibari, that Gulliver reaches by boat. The island is ruled by magicians, who have the power to bring back the dead. There a magician introduces Gulliver to Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar.

Luggnagg

Luggnagg (lahg-nag). Large island located about three miles southeast of Japan, with which its people conduct trade. This island’s king shows Gulliver the immortal Struldbrugs, who represent the ultimate outcome of the Enlightenment’s theory of the perfectibility of man. After a short trip to Japan—another real land then little known in Europe—Gulliver heads home to England.

Houyhnhnm-land

Houyhnhnm-land (wheen-num-land). Island in the South Seas on which Gulliver is marooned by the crew of the ship that he captains. Swift’s satire, established in the land of the little people and the giant people in books 1 and 2, is continued in the land of the Houyhnhnms in book 4, in which the author demonstrates the eventual results of the rationalistic philosophy that permeated English thought during the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

While everything in Houyhnhnm-land is in correct human proportions, the setting is that of the familiar English countryside. Thus, its impact on the English reader was greater. After Gulliver leaves Portsmouth in 1710, destined for the South Seas, he is cast adrift during a mutiny and washes up on a land where intelligent horses—the Houyhnhnms—are the masters, and slow-witted silent humans—Yahoos—the beasts of burden.

The land of the Houyhnhnms is presented as a utopia with decency, benevolence, and civility ruling every horse’s actions. Here, Gulliver finds no wars and no courts and passes his time in contemplation and light labor. However, love of family is also unknown because the Houyhnhnms regard it as unnecessary, though marriage is regarded as rational, necessary purely to maintain the population. The birth rate is maintained impeccably and scientifically so there is no poverty, but the Houyhnhnms’ overwhelmingly rationalistic ethos results in life being dull and meaningless.

The land of the horses exemplifies the eighteenth century philosopher John Locke’s philosophy that argues that the human mind is a blank slate controlled and developed entirely by impressions made by the environment. Ashamed of being thought a Yahoo, the rational-minded Gulliver lives in perfect contentment among the Houyhnhnms until his master, a horse, throws him out: Gulliver is, after all, in the horses’ estimation, nothing but a filthy Yahoo, and his existence as a talking, thinking human among them is entirely irrational. By now a miserable and bitterly disillusioned misanthrope, Gulliver sails back to England, where he has no chance of ever finding a truly rational man. He lives out the rest of his life in misery, forced forever, he believes, to live among filthy Yahoos.

Gulliver's Travels Historical Context

England in the 1720s
While Swift was writing Gulliver's Travels in the 1720s, England was undergoing a lot of political...

(The entire section is 1079 words.)

Gulliver's Travels Setting

During Gulliver's stay in Lilliput, the work's most popular section, Swift depicts a common childhood fantasy—a world proportioned for very...

(The entire section is 338 words.)

Gulliver's Travels Quizzes

Part I, Chapters 1-4: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Where does Gulliver meet the Emperor?

2. How is Gulliver fed?

3. Why does the Lilliputian government go to such trouble to feed and shelter Gulliver if he is so dangerous because of his size?

4. What does the inventory of Gulliver’s belongings tell the reader about the differences between Lilliput and England?

5. How does Gulliver ingratiate himself to the Emperor?

6. Why does Gulliver cooperate with the Lilliputians?

7. What are some of the shows Gulliver sees and participates in, and how do high government officials participate in them?

8. What is the purpose of the agreement between Gulliver and the...

(The entire section is 405 words.)

Part I, Chapters 5-6: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What is the great service performed by Gulliver to the Emperor of Lilliput, and what is his reward?

2. Does Gulliver’s influence continue to increase?

3. What is the first event that gets Gulliver into trouble?

4. How does putting out the fire in the palace get Gulliver into deeper trouble?

5. How does Gulliver interrupt the narrative in Chapter Six?

6. How does Gulliver explain the difference between the ideal laws of Lilliput and its present corrupt condition?

7. How are children brought up in Lilliput?

8. What was Gulliver’s daily life like in Lilliput?

9. What was the specific reason Flimnap gave...

(The entire section is 355 words.)

Part I, Chapters 7-8: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. How does Gulliver hear of the charges against him?

2. What are the main charges brought against Gulliver by the Lilliputians?

3. What is the original proposed punishment of Gulliver, and what is the final punishment?

4. Who brings about the compromise regarding Gulliver’s punishment?

5. How does Gulliver escape from the Lilliputians?

6. How does the Emperor of Blefuscu receive Gulliver?

7. How does Gulliver leave Blefuscu?

8. How does Gulliver get to England?

9. How long does he stay in England?

10. What enables him to go on his second voyage?

Answers
1. Gulliver is...

(The entire section is 302 words.)

Part II, Chapters 1-2: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. How does Gulliver get to Brobdingnag?

2. Why is he abandoned by his shipmates there?

3. Who picks him up?

4. Where is he taken?

5. How do people of gigantic size appear to Gulliver?

6. How does Gulliver struggle with Brobdingnagian animals?

7. Who in Brobdingnag befriends him most closely?

8. What does the farmer plan to do with Gulliver?

9. Why does Gulliver dislike the farmer’s plans?

10. Where is Gulliver taken toward the end of Chapter Two?

Answers
1. Gulliver gets to Brobdingnag because his ship is blown off course.

2. Gulliver’s shipmates escape...

(The entire section is 212 words.)

Part II, Chapters 3-4: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. To whom does the farmer sell Gulliver?

2. What does the King of Brobdingnag discuss with Gulliver?

3. What do the Brobdingnagian philosophers think Gulliver is?

4. What does the King of Brobdingnag think of England?

5. How does Gulliver react to the King’s comments on England?

6. Who is Gulliver’s enemy at the court of Brobdingnag?

7. How large is the palace of Brobdingnag, according to Gulliver?

8. How is Gulliver transported around the kingdom?

9. What is the most hateful sight in Brobdingnag, according to Gulliver?

10. What insects bother Gulliver in Brobdingnag?

...

(The entire section is 261 words.)

Part II, Chapters 5-6: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What do the Maids of Honor do in front of Gulliver and why?

2. How does their action affect him?

3. How does Gulliver escape from a monkey?

4. What is the King’s reaction to Gulliver’s escape?

5. How does Gulliver react to the King’s reaction?

6. What does Gulliver do after watching the King of Brobdingnag shave?

7. How does Gulliver try to perform musically in Brobdingnag?

8. What does the King of Brobdingnag think of Gulliver’s description of England?

9. Why does he hold this attitude?

10. What is the King’s attitude to religious freedom?

Answers
1. The...

(The entire section is 284 words.)

Part II, Chapters 7-8: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why does Gulliver tell the King of Brobdingnag about gunpowder?

2. What is the King’s reaction to what Gulliver tells him about gunpowder and firearms?

3. What does Gulliver think of the King of Brobdingnag’s ideas about government?

4. What are the Brobdingnagian books like according to Gulliver?

5. What is the Brobdingnagian army like according to him?

6. Why do they have an army, since there are no external enemies?

7. Why is Gulliver unhappy at the beginning of Chapter Eight?

8. Where is Gulliver when he is about to leave Brobdingnag?

9. How does he leave Brobdingnag?

10. How does he...

(The entire section is 269 words.)

Part III, Chapters 1-3: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. How does Gulliver get to Laputa?

2. How does Laputa differ from a normal country?

3. How do the people differ from those in most countries?

4. What unusual kind of servants do the better-off Laputans have?

5. What is unusual about Laputan food and clothing?

6. What does the King of Laputa ask Gulliver about England?

7. What makes the island fly?

8. How do the Laputans put down rebellions?

9. What have Laputan astronomers discovered?

10. How were rebels successful in one case against Laputa?

Answers
1. Gulliver gets to Laputa after being cast adrift on a small boat by...

(The entire section is 294 words.)

Part III, Chapters 4-6: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. How does Gulliver leave the Floating Island?

2. How did the Academy of Lagado originate?

3. What are the consequences of establishing the Academy?

4. What, generally, does the Academy of Lagado do?

5. What is the first scholar Gulliver sees at the Academy of Lagado trying to do?

6. What is the architect Gulliver sees at the Academy trying to do?

7. What is the first physician Gulliver sees at the Academy attempting?

8. What is the first activity Gulliver sees in the more theoretical¬ly oriented part of the Academy?

9. What are the political professors doing to cure politicians?

10. What does...

(The entire section is 343 words.)

Part III, Chapters 7-9: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why does Gulliver visit Glubbdubdrib?

2. What kind of place is it?

3. Who are the Governor’s servants in Glubbdubdrib?

4. What is Gulliver allowed to do in Glubbdubdrib?

5. Who are some of the famous people Gulliver sees in Glubbdubdrib?

6. What does Gulliver learn from the philosophers there?

7. What does Gulliver learn about kings and rulers there?

8. Who are the sympathetic figures in Glubbdubdrib?

9. What does Gulliver have to do in the Court of Luggnag?

10. How are people sometimes punished there?

Answers
1. Gulliver visits Glubbdubdrib because he is delayed on...

(The entire section is 236 words.)

Part III, Chapters 10-11: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Who are the Struldbruggs?

2. What misconception does Gulliver have about them?

3. Why does Gulliver, under a misconception, think of the Struldbruggs?

4. What are the Struldbruggs really like?

5. What is the attitude of other people toward them?

6. What is one of the reasons for this attitude?

7. How does Gulliver get to Japan?

8. To whom is Gulliver taken in Japan?

9. What does Gulliver ask not to have to do?

10. How does Gulliver get back to England?

Answers
1. The Struldbruggs are people in Luggnag who have eternal life but not eternal youth.

2. Gulliver...

(The entire section is 233 words.)

Part IV, Chapters 1-2: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. In what capacity does Gulliver go on his fourth voyage?

2. How does he get to the land of the Houyhnhms?

3. Who does he first meet there?

4. What are the Yahoos?

5. What are the Houyhnhms?

6. What amazes Gulliver in this country?

7. What do the Houyhnhms think of Gulliver at first?

8. How do they treat him?

9. What does Gulliver do about food in the land of the Houyhnhms?

10. What is the attitude of the Yahoos to Gulliver in these chapters?

Answers
1. On his fourth voyage, Gulliver is the captain of a ship.

2. Gulliver’s crew mutinies and puts him ashore...

(The entire section is 248 words.)

Part IV, Chapters 3-5: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What is the significance of the phrase “the thing which is not” in these chapters?

2. What do the Houyhnhms discover about Gulliver’s physical appearance?

3. What are they unable to understand about a country where horses serve humans?

4. What political concepts are the Houyhnhms unable to understand?

5. How does Gulliver characterize religious disputes in speaking to the Houyhnhms?

6. How does he characterize soldiers?

7. How does he characterize lawyers?

8. How does he characterize judges?

9. Why, according to Gulliver, are learned lawyers not teachers?

10. What does the dapple-gray...

(The entire section is 268 words.)

Part IV, Chapters 6-8: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. How does Gulliver characterize doctors in speaking to the dapple-gray?

2. How does he characterize great ministers of state?

3. How does he characterize noblemen?

4. How does Gulliver characterize his own explanations of society in his own country in these chapters?

5. What is the main defect of humans as described by Gulliver, according to the dapple-gray?

6. Why do the Yahoos hate one another?

7. Why are they the most unteachable of all animals?

8. What is the main belief of the Houyhnhms?

9. How is their family life organized?

10. How are they governed?

Answers
1....

(The entire section is 311 words.)

Part IV, Chapters 9-10: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What is the question debated at the grand assembly of the Houyhnhms?

2. What is the proposal made by the dapple-gray at the assembly?

3. What is the Houyhnhms’ attitude to death?

4. What does the assembly of the Houyhnhms decide about Gulliver?

5. What is the reason for this decision?

6. What is Gulliver’s initial reaction?

7. Why does Gulliver leave the country of the Houyhnhms?

8. What are the circumstances of his departure?

9. What does he do immediately before his departure?

10. Where does he go at first?

Answers
1. At the grand assembly of the Houyhnhms, the...

(The entire section is 267 words.)

Part IV, Chapters 11-12: Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What is the last thing a Houyhnhm says to Gulliver when he departs?

2. What does Gulliver plan to do after leaving the land of the Houyhnhms?

3. Who are the first human beings Gulliver meets after leaving the country of the Houyhnhms?

4. Who are the next human beings Gulliver meets?

5. How does Gulliver react to their offer to take him back to Europe?

6. How does Captain Mendez treat Gulliver?

7. What is Gulliver’s reaction to his rescue?

8. What happens to Gulliver when he returns to his family?

9. What does Gulliver insist in Chapter 12?

10. What does Gulliver say about colonization?

...

(The entire section is 260 words.)