The Plot (Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature)
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...
(The entire section is 522 words.)
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*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 (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...
(The entire section is 1056 words.)
England in the 1720s
While Swift was writing Gulliver's Travels in the 1720s, England was undergoing a lot of political shuffling. George I, a Hanoverian prince of Germany, had ascended the British throne in 1714 after the death of Queen Anne ended the Stuart line. Although he was not a bad or repressive king, he was unpopular. King George had gained his throne with the assistance of the Whig party, and his Whig ministers subsequently used their considerable gains in power to oppress members of the opposition Tory party. Swift had been a Tory since 1710, and bitterly resented the Whig actions against his friends, who often faced exile or worse. Understanding how events in Europe and England led to this political rivalry can help the reader of Swift's novel better understand his satire.
The Restoration era began in 1660, a few years before Swift was born. At this time Charles Stuart (King Charles II) became king of England, restoring the Protestant Stuart family to the throne. Charles II supported a strong Church of England, also known as the Anglican Church. He was supported by the Tories, a political party made up mostly of church officials and landowning noblemen. Protestants who did not support the Anglican church teamed with Roman Catholics to form the opposing Whig party. The main source of contention between the parties was the Test Act of 1673, which forced all government employees to receive...
(The entire section is 1079 words.)
During Gulliver's stay in Lilliput, the work's most popular section, Swift depicts a common childhood fantasy—a world proportioned for very small people, the tallest being only about six inches. In Lilliput a child's fascination with dolls or toy soldiers comes to life as Gulliver plays the role of benevolent giant for a little people who have exaggerated ideas about their self-importance. In contrast, when Gulliver reaches the land of Brobdingnag he finds himself surrounded by a race of giants, making him feel like a Lilliputian. In both worlds, Gulliver finds that he must use his wits to survive. Not only does he manage to feed, clothe, and shelter himself—all of which, considering the circumstances, require ingenuity and courage—but he also learns the languages and customs and turns them to his advantage.
Gulliver's last two journeys are less popular and more disturbing than the first two. During these excursions, Swift becomes more critical of human nature, and the reader tends to lose faith in Gulliver as an anchor of reason. Even so, Swift's imagination and wit make reading these journeys fascinating and thought-provoking. For example, in the land of the Houyhnhnms, humans are subjugated by horses, a concept that turns eighteenth-century reality on its head, much like Planet of the Apes does for the twentieth century.
Through Gulliver's descriptions of these societies, Swift provides examples of a range of human traits from...
(The entire section is 338 words.)
Part I, Chapters 1-4: Questions and Answers
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 Lilliputians?
9. Who is Gulliver’s worst enemy at the Lilliputian court?
10. What are the main problems of Lilliput, as described to Gulliver by Reldresal?
1. Gulliver meets the Emperor for the first time in the house where he is being kept.
2. To feed Gulliver, the villages around the capital provide six beeves (oxen), forty sheep, and a proportionate quantity of other foods and beverages.
3. The Lilliputian government goes to great trouble to provide for Gulliver’s needs because he can be used as an ally against the enemy country, Blefuscu.
4. The inventory of Gulliver’s belongings tells the reader both about the difference of scale between the...
(The entire section is 405 words.)
Part I, Chapters 5-6: Questions and Answers
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 in his conference with the Emperor for discharging Gulliver?
10. How did Gulliver “vindicate a great lady?”
1. Gulliver removes the fleet of Blefuscu by wading and swimming there and taking the ships to Lilliput with ropes, preventing an invasion of Lilliput. He is rewarded by being made a Nardac, Lilliput’s highest title of honor.
2. Gulliver’s influence declines, despite his services, because of intrigues.
3. The first event that gets Gulliver into trouble is his refusal to cooperate in the total conquest of Blefuscu, which antagonizes the Emperor.
4. Gulliver gets into deeper trouble because he has polluted the palace by putting out the fire by...
(The entire section is 355 words.)
Part I, Chapters 7-8: Questions and Answers
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?
1. Gulliver is informed of the charges against him by “a con¬siderable person at Court” who owed Gulliver a favor.
2. The main charges brought against Gulliver by the Lilliputians are polluting the palace by urinating on it, refusing to destroy Blefuscu by taking all its ships, having conversations with its ambassadors, and planning to go there.
3. The original proposed punishment of Gulliver is death; the final punishment, to which the Lilliputians sentence him, is blinding followed by gradual starvation.
4. The Principal Secretary for Private Affairs of Lilliput, Reldresal, Gulliver’s friend, brings about the compromise by which Gulliver’s life is to be spared.
5. Gulliver escapes from Lilliput by...
(The entire section is 302 words.)
Part II, Chapters 1-2: Questions and Answers
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?
1. Gulliver gets to Brobdingnag because his ship is blown off course.
2. Gulliver’s shipmates escape without him from Brobdingnag because they are frightened by the giants there.
3. The farmer’s servant literally picks up Gulliver.
4. The farmer’s servant takes Gulliver to the farmer.
5. To Gulliver, people of gigantic size appear ugly, since their bodily flaws are immensely magnified.
6. Gulliver refuses to be frightened by the farmer’s cat and fights a bloody battle with Brobdingnagian rats.
7. The farmer’s daughter, known to Gulliver as Glumdalclitch, or “little nurse,” is the Brobdingnagian who befriends Gulliver most closely.
8. The farmer plans to publicly exhibit Gulliver for money.
9. Gulliver feels insulted by the idea of being exhibited...
(The entire section is 212 words.)
Part II, Chapters 3-4: Questions and Answers
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?
1. The farmer sells Gulliver to the Queen of Brobdingnag.
2. The King of Brobdingnag discusses the customs and institutions of England with Gulliver.
3. The Brobdingnagian philosophers think Gulliver is a sport of nature.
4. The King of Brobdingnag thinks that the small size of the English shows how contemptible human pretensions are, since they have titles of honor political parties, and the like.
5. Gulliver reacts at first with resentment at the King’s attitude toward England, but then realizes that he himself would seem ridiculous to someone so many times larger than he was.
6. Gulliver’s enemy at the court of Brobdingnag is the Dwarf, who resents no longer being...
(The entire section is 261 words.)
Part II, Chapters 5-6: Questions and Answers
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?
1. The Maids of Honor undress before Gulliver, not being ashamed any more than if he were a small animal.
2. Gulliver finds the magnified physical imperfections of the Maids disgusting.
3. Men with ladders are sent to the roof of a building to rescue Gulliver from the monkey.
4. The King thinks Gulliver’s narrow escape from death at the hands of the monkey is amusing.
5. Gulliver feels, when the King is amused at Gulliver’s account of his narrow escape, like an awkward social climber.
6. After watching the King shave, Gulliver uses some bristles of the King’s hair and some wood splinters and makes a comb.
7. Gulliver tries to play a sixty-foot-long spinet (piano-like...
(The entire section is 284 words.)
Part II, Chapters 7-8: Questions and Answers
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 return to England?
1. Gulliver is trying to help the King of Brobdingnag to defend his kingdom by telling him about gunpowder and firearms.
2. The King is shocked that brutally destructive weapons such as firearms exist.
3. Gulliver thinks that the King of Brobdingnag’s idealistic ideas about government are narrow, meaning naive.
4. Brobdingnagian books, according to Gulliver, are gigantic, direct, practical and not theoretical.
5. Gulliver tells the reader that the Brobdingnagian army is a militia, in which the commanders are local landowners.
6. The Brobdingnagians have an army, despite the lack of external enemies, to prevent civil strife....
(The entire section is 269 words.)
Part III, Chapters 1-3: Questions and Answers
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?
1. Gulliver gets to Laputa after being cast adrift on a small boat by pirates who have captured his ship.
2. Laputa is a flying or floating island, moving above the ground.
3. The Laputans are almost totally absorbed in abstract spec¬ula¬tion, to the neglect of practical activities.
4. The better-off Laputans have servants called “flappers.” Their servants gently hit them with balloon-like objects filled with dried peas or pebbles so they will not be totally distracted in thought from the outside world.
5. Laputan food is shaped like geometrical figures or musical instruments and their clothing is similarly decorated. Their clothing is also decorated with astronomical figures. Clothing is made and fitted using navigational instruments and mathematical...
(The entire section is 294 words.)
Part III, Chapters 4-6: Questions and Answers
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 Gulliver propose to the Academy of Lagado?
1. Gulliver leaves the Floating Island by getting a court official, related to the King, to intervene.
2. The Academy of Lagado originated when some people from the continent of Balnibarbi spent some months on the Floating Island, learning a little mathematics but filling themselves with “volatile spirits,” meaning impractical, theoretical orientation (not liquor).
3. The consequence of the Academy is poverty, caused by the neglect of practical work in favor of visionary, impracticable, schemes.
4. The Academy of Lagado comes up with a variety of visionary, impracticable schemes that have not yet been perfected (and presumably...
(The entire section is 343 words.)
Part III, Chapters 7-9: Questions and Answers
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?
1. Gulliver visits Glubbdubdrib because he is delayed on the way to Luggnag.
2. Glubbdubdrib is a country of magicians.
3. The Governor’s servants are ghosts.
4. Gulliver is allowed to call up the ghosts of whomever he pleases and ask them questions.
5. In Glubbdubdrib, Gulliver sees the ghosts of many famous people, including Homer, Aristotle, and Roman Emperors.
6. Gulliver learns from the philosophers at Glubbdubdrib (or rather from their ghosts) that commentators have misinter¬pret¬ed their writings.
7. Gulliver learns that kings and rulers are corrupt, and were usually of humble origin a few generations back.
8. The sympathetic figures among the ghosts in Glubbdubdrib are the destroyers of tyrants and...
(The entire section is 236 words.)
Part III, Chapters 10-11: Questions and Answers
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?
1. The Struldbruggs are people in Luggnag who have eternal life but not eternal youth.
2. Gulliver does not realize that the Struldbruggs lack eternal youth.
3. Gulliver thinks that the Struldbruggs are able to use their wisdom and experience to enlighten younger generations.
4. The Struldbruggs, lacking eternal youth, are unable to do much or remember anything.
5. Other people hate and despise the Struldbruggs.
6. The Struldbruggs are hated and despised partly because they have to be supported at public expense.
7. Gulliver goes to Japan by sea after receiving a letter of recom¬mendation from the King of Luggnag to the Emperor of Japan.
8. In Japan, Gulliver is taken to the Emperor.
9. In Japan, Gulliver asks not to have to trample on the crucifix. The...
(The entire section is 233 words.)
Part IV, Chapters 1-2: Questions and Answers
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?
1. On his fourth voyage, Gulliver is the captain of a ship.
2. Gulliver’s crew mutinies and puts him ashore at the first land they reach.
3. At first, Gulliver meets disgusting, repulsive animals.
4. The Yahoos are extremely degraded, animal-like human beings. They are the first forms of animal life Gulliver sees in the land of the Houyhnhms. Some of them serve the Houyhnhms.
5. The Houyhnhms are intelligent, rational, horses, and they are the most advanced form of life in their country.
6. Gulliver is amazed that horses are able to communicate in a language that Gulliver can learn. They live in buildings, and are generally intelligent.
7. The Houyhnhms at first think Gulliver is not exactly the same form of life as the Yahoos, because of his clothing.
8. The Houyhnhms treat...
(The entire section is 248 words.)
Part IV, Chapters 3-5: Questions and Answers
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 think when Gulliver explains weapons?
1. “The thing which is not” is the way Gulliver characterizes a lie or falsehood, a concept unknown to the Houyhnhms.
2. When Gulliver is accidentally seen naked, the Houyhnhms discover that he differs in few major respects from a Yahoo. They had previously been misled by his clothes.
3. They are unable to understand why horses, being larger and stronger, can be compelled to serve humans.
4. The Houyhnhms are unable to understand the concepts of power, war, law, government, or punishment.
5. Gulliver, in speaking to the Houyhnhms, characterizes religious disputes as trivial.
6. Gulliver characterizes soldiers...
(The entire section is 268 words.)
Part IV, Chapters 6-8: Questions and Answers
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?
1. Gulliver characterizes doctors as needed because of the diseases resulting from the complexity and artificiality of human civilization; they cause death more often than they prevent it.
2. According to Gulliver, great ministers of state are totally exempt from any human emotion except for a violent desire for wealth, power, and titles.
3. Gulliver says that noblemen are bred from childhood in idleness and luxury and thus have weak, deformed, bodies.
4. Gulliver claims to have extenuated human faults as much as he could while addressing the Houyhnhms.
5. The dapple-gray says that the main defect of human beings as described by Gulliver is their lack of reason. As a result, they lack virtue....
(The entire section is 311 words.)
Part IV, Chapters 9-10: Questions and Answers
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?
1. At the grand assembly of the Houyhnhms, the question debated is whether to exterminate the Yahoos.
2. The dapple-gray proposes gradual elimination of the Yahoos through castration.
3. The Houyhnhms are neither glad nor sorry when one of them dies. They do not allow a death to distract them from other business for more than a few hours.
4. The assembly of the Houyhnhms decides to either treat Gulliver like other Yahoos or expel him from their land. They are afraid that he might, if treated like other Yahoos, organize them to steal the Houyhnhms’ cattle, so they decide on expulsion.
5. The Houyhnhms think that is contrary to reason to treat a Yahoo almost like a Houyhnhm.
6. Gulliver’s initial reaction is to faint....
(The entire section is 267 words.)
Part IV, Chapters 11-12: Questions and Answers
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?
1. The sorrel nag says when Gulliver is leaving, “Take care of yourself, gentle Yahoo.”
2. Gulliver plans to spend the rest of his life contemplating the virtues of the Houyhnhms alone on an island.
3. The first human beings Gulliver meets after leaving the country of the Houyhnhms are savages who wound him with an arrow.
4. The second group of human beings Gulliver meets are Portuguese sailors, who say that their captain will take him back to Europe for free.
5. Gulliver utterly opposes the idea of returning to Europe; he has to be tied up and taken by force to the ship.
6. Captain Mendez treats Gulliver with great kindness and generosity.
(The entire section is 260 words.)
Point of View
Lemuel Gulliver himself narrates the story of Gulliver's Travels, but this first-person narrator is not completely reliable. Though Gulliver is very exact with the details of his travels, and we know him to be honest, sometimes he doesn't see the forest for the trees. Swift deliberately makes Gulliver naive and sometimes even arrogant for two reasons. First, it makes the reader more skeptical about the ideas presented in the book. Second, it allows the reader to have a good laugh at Gulliver's expense when he doesn't realize the absurdity of his limited viewpoint. He certainly sounds foolish when extolling the qualities of gunpowder to the peaceful Brobdingnagians, for example. Also, at the end of the novel, the reader can see that Gulliver has turned into a misanthrope (hater of humanity), but can hear in his voice both here and in the introductory letter to his publisher that he is proud and arrogant in his belief that humans are Yahoos. Because by the end of the book readers are accustomed to being skeptical of Gulliver's perceptions, one can guess that his misanthropy has something to do with his arrogance. Humans simply can't be perfect, and if we hold ourselves to that ideal we will hate humanity, but Gulliver can't see this truth. Swift claimed that it was not he that was misanthropic, but Gulliver, the narrator he created.
Although the fantastic lands that provide the setting for Gulliver's...
(The entire section is 1083 words.)
Swift's masterful use of satire is what has made Gulliver's Travels the delightfully enduring work that it is. Satire has the advantage of allowing the readers to feel that the ridicule is aimed at everyone but themselves. What normally would be tedious and uncomfortable as a lesson can be enjoyable and satisfying when dished out as satire. This is not to say that Gulliver's Travels is a completely comfortable literary work; readers will most likely be disturbed when they see their own flaws subject to ridicule. Swift's use of the literary genre of a travelogue is well suited to his satirical observations. Travel accounts were especially popular during the eighteenth century when parts of the world were still unexplored and could conceivably be inhabited by the exotic creatures and cultures that Gulliver encounters. Thus, Swift was free to intermingle reality, fantasy, and satire with relative impunity.
The first two books of Gulliver's Travels are tightly structured, as Gulliver first looks through the wrong end of a telescope at humanity and then finds himself the subject of microscopic scrutiny. The third book, however, is rambling and episodic, bearing no obvious relationship to the other three. Even though Gulliver is among his own race in this book, he is more the observer and less of a participant than in the other three books. The fourth book, while the most disturbing, follows the pattern of the first two in that Gulliver...
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Since any attack on human nature can be disturbing, some readers may have problems with Swift's pessimistic view of humankind. Only a few admirable examples of humanity are presented in Gulliver's Travels, and these characters do not receive any kind of recognition or praise from Gulliver. The Brobdingnagian king is kind and sensible, but Gulliver scorns his understanding. The people of Laputa and Balnibarbi, and especially Gulliver's host in Lagado, are friendly, kind and generous, but Gulliver seems unaware that they are acting in an admirable manner. Don Pedro de Mendez, the kindest and most generous of all the characters, at best is tolerated by Gulliver. The Houyhnhnms, whom he admires beyond all reason, seem to us lifeless, ruled only by cold reason. Gulliver himself becomes an object of our scorn as he turns away from his fellow man. The reader, then, is left with a most depressing view of humankind.
Swift avoids any overt mention of religion, but he does ridicule religious controversies in a veiled manner. The reader who expects to find Christian virtues promoted as a way of elevating humanity will be disappointed. Also, Swift was fascinated with bodily functions, odors, and anatomical parts. This fascination is not expressed in vulgar terms, but the issue is not avoided, and some may feel that Swift deals with it more than necessary. Gulliver graphically describes his own problems related to answering the call of nature when he becomes the...
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Compare and Contrast
1720s: Robert Walpole is England's first prime minister, and German-born King George I gives him a great deal of authority to run the country.
Today: Britain's ruler is only a figurehead and the prime minister is the leader who wields real power. The House of Lords and House of Commons still make up the Parliament.
1720s: The Great Awakening begins to sweep the American colonies, as people are converted to Protestantism by charismatic evangelists. In England, John Wesley, an Anglican priest, begins to form the Evangelical Methodist movement in 1729.
Today: Worldwide, of 1.9 billion Christians, almost half (968 million) are Roman Catholic, 70 million are Anglican (Episcopalian), 218 million are Eastern Orthodox, 395 million are Protestant, and 275 million belong to other denominations.
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Topics for Discussion
1. What characteristics of the Lilliputians and their society does Swift present for ridicule?
2. In what ways does Gulliver act as the benevolent giant when he is among the Lilliputians?
3. Although Gulliver makes very few judgments, what parts of the Lilliputian society can we assume Swift views as admirable?
4. Point out the inappropriateness and irony of Gulliver's fastidiousness in Brobdingnag and the lack of it in Lilliput.
5. In what ways does Gulliver become the observed in Brobdingnag, instead of the observer as he was in Lilliput?
6. Gulliver claims to be a strong proponent of England and English ways. Either defend or refute this claim, based on what he tells the Brobdingnagian king.
7. What characteristics of the Brobdingnagians and their society does Swift present for the reader's admiration?
8. Point out the ways in which Gulliver's role in book three is different from his role in the other three books.
9. How does Swift continue to promote the Ancients over the Moderns in book three?
10. Explain which characteristics of the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos could be combined to form an admirable, well rounded person.
11. Although Gulliver tries to become a Houyhnhnm after he returns to England, he has adopted only their hatred for the Yahoos. What characteristic which he so admires has he not acquired?
12. What type of progression...
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Even though Gulliver is an accurate and honest reporter, he is not a reliable narrator. In what ways is he unreliable, and how do readers know when not to accept his judgment?
2. Book three does not fit many patterns of the other three books. Explain how it is different, and either defend its presence in Gulliver's Travels or argue that it should not have been included by Swift.
3. Carefully explain how Swift uses book one to both satirize and champion particular political events and people of eighteenth-century England. Explain the historical events that inspired much of what we see in Gulliver's visit to Lilliput.
4. Book four has caused critics and readers problems ever since Gulliver's Travels was published. Based on the first three books, defend the opinion that Gulliver is not speaking for Swift in his complete admiration of the Houyhnhnms and his subsequent detestation of the human race.
5. Both Gulliver's Travels and Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719) have become popular travel adventures. Explain how the two books are alike and different.
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Topics for Further Study
Discuss how Gulliver's Travels change him and the way he perceives his fellow man.
Research actual historical explorers of the 1600s and early 1700s. Compare and contrast their voyages with Gulliver's journeys, and quote from actual historical accounts if you can find them.
Based on having read Gulliver's Travels, would you say Jonathan Swift was a misanthrope (a person who hated mankind)? Support your argument with quotes and examples from the text.
Investigate philosophical thought of the 1600s and early 1700s regarding the nature of man. Compare the analyses of philosophers such as René Descartes, Thomas Hobbes, Gottfried Leibniz, and John Locke with Gulliver's opinions as expressed in the novel.
Explain why Swift gave Gulliver the habit of describing people, places, items, and events in specific, sometimes almost scientific, detail.
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There are no other prose works by Swift that are actually connected with Gulliver's Travels. Both A Tale of a Tub and The Battle of the Books are difficult reading and require a substantial background in political, literary, and religious history. The most readable of Swift's other prose satires is A Modest Proposal Swift's poetry is enjoyable for any perceptive reader who is not offended by scatological references.
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A live-action miniseries Gulliver's Travels was made for television in 1996 by Charles Sturridge from a screenplay by Simon Moore. The film starred Ted Danson as Gulliver, as well as Mary Steenburgen, Peter O'Toole, Ned Beatty, Alfre Woodard, Geraldine Chaplin, Ned Beatty, John Gielgud, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Omar Sharif. Longer and containing more of the book's plot than other film versions of Gulliver's Travels, this version nevertheless takes some big liberties, adding a secondary plot featuring Gulliver's wife (Steenburgen) and son. However, much of Swift's satire is maintained and the special effects are far superior to those in earlier versions (much of the work was done by Jim Henson Productions). Available on two videos from Hallmark Home Entertainment.
The 1939 animated film Gulliver's Travels, directed by Dave Fleischer with screenplay by Dan Gordon, Ted Pierce, Isidore Sparber, and Edmond Seward, featured the voices of Lanny Ross and Jessica Dragonette. Nominated for two Academy Awards, for Best Score and Best Song (for the song "Faithful Forever"). The film cuts several episodes from the plot and eliminates most of Swift's satire, but the animation is of exceptionally high quality for the era. Available from Congress Entertainment, Moore Video, and Nostalgia Family Video.
The partially animated Gulliver's Travels (1977), directed by Peter Hung from a screenplay by Don Black, starred Richard Harris (as...
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What Do I Read Next?
Many have said that A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift (1729) is the best satirical essay ever written. In it, he suggests that the problem of poverty among the Irish (which Swift, incidentally, blamed on British policies) would be solved if Irish babies were treated as food and fed to the wealthy. Many of Swift's contemporaries who read the essay were horrified, missing the irony. Swift's real message was that the upper classes ought to change their deplorable callousness toward the poor.
Swift's A Tale of a Tub (1704) is a religious allegory featuring three brothers who represent the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and dissenting Christians (who believe in a personal, non-institutional form of Christianity). Swift uses his satire and fiction-writing abilities to make his point that Anglicism is the happy medium between the egotistic individualism of other Protestants and the rigid institutionalism of the Catholic church.
Swift's The Battle of the Books (1704), published along with A Tale of a Tub, is a satire about the purpose of history, which Swift believed was not to pile up facts and events but to develop a moral philosophy. Swift pits ancient books against modern ones in a war that takes place in a library.
Utopia by Thomas More (1516) is a classic work of western philosophy. Saint Thomas More wrote this blueprint for an ideal human society in the form of a dialogue between More and a fictional...
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For Further Reference
Case, A. E. Four Essays on "Gulliver's Travel's." Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1945. This informative collection is a good place to start for critical essays on Swift. Of special note is the essay, "Personal and Political Satire in Gulliver's Travels."
Foster, Milton P. A Casebook on Gulliver Among the Houyhnhnms. New York: T. Y. Crowell, 1961. A collection of essays that deal with the problematic fourth book.
Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver's Travels. Edited by Robert A. Greenberg. New York: W. W. Norton, 1970. This is an excellent edition, containing notes on the text, extracts from Swift's correspondence, critical essays, and a bibliography.
Tuveson, Ernest. Swift: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1964. Essays suitable for a more advanced study of Swift and Gulliver's Travels.
Ward, David. Jonathan Swift: An introductory Essay. London: Methuen, 1973. Two essays in this collection are especially helpful: one describes the modes of satire and the other is complete discussion of Gulliver's Travels.
Williams, Kathleen. Swift: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1970. Essays suitable for more advanced students of Swift.
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Erskine-Hill, Howard. Swift, Gulliver’s Travels. (Landmarks of World Literature) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Michael Foote, Introduction to Gulliver's Travels (includes quotes from early reviews), Penguin Books, 1985.
William Hazlitt, "On Swift, Young, Gray, Collins, Etc.," in his Lectures on the English Poets, 1818, reprinted by Oxford University Press, 1924, pp. 160-89.
Samuel Holt Monk, "The Pride of Lemuel Gulliver," in Gulliver's Travels: A Norton Critical Edition, 2nd Edition, edited by Robert A. Greenberg, 1961 and 1970, pp. 312-330.
Probyn, Clive T. Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels. (Penguin Critical Series) London: Penguin Books, 1989
Sir Walter Scott, extract from The Works of Jonathan Swift, D.D., Dean of St. Patrick's Dublin: Life of Swift, Vol. 1, 2nd edition, A. Constable & Co., reprinted in Swift: The Critical Heritage, edited by Kathleen Williams, Barnes & Noble, 1970.
Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. Edited by Peter Dixon and John Chalker; with introduction by Michael Foot. Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1967.
William Makepeace Thackeray, in his English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century, Smith, Elder & Co., 1853, reprinted in his The English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century: The Four Georges, Etc., Macmillan, 1904, pp....
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Bloom, Harold, ed. Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels.” New York: Chelsea House, 1986. A collection of criticism from the second half of the twentieth century, arranged in chronological order. Essays range from investigations of philosophical context and literary genre to psychoanalytic and deconstructionist approaches.
Brady, Frank, ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of “Gulliver’s Travels”: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968. A selection of essays examining the philosophical, religious, and scientific background of the work. Examines the literary sources and traditions the book reflects.
Carnochan, W. B. Lemuel Gulliver’s Mirror for Man. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968. Relates Swift’s satiric intention to the epistemology of John Locke to illustrate his theory of Augustan satire. An epilogue examines how Gulliver’s Travels anticipates later satirists Lewis Carroll, James Joyce, and Vladimir Nabokov.
Erskine-Hill, Howard. Jonathan Swift: “Gulliver’s Travels.” Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993. A concise, accessible introduction. Final chapter surveys the work’s influence on fiction from Herman Melville to Nathaniel West.
Smith, Frederik N., ed. The Genres...
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