Gulliver’s Travels was published in 1726 to immediate success and much controversy. Author Jonathan Swift wrote to his friend Alexander Pope that the purpose of his writing “is to vex the world rather than divert it.” Swift was a well-known Anglican priest, intellectual, historian, and political satirist. While he wrote Gulliver’s Travels about a set of political and social conflicts at the time leading to the Age of Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and wars between England and France, this novel derives its staying power from its vivid depiction of human avarice, corruption, and oppression.
Lemuel Gulliver, a sea-loving surgeon and “everyman” who travels to four lands and has numerous adventures, narrates Gulliver’s Travels in the past tense. This single point of view structurally unites the four seemingly unrelated voyages that compose the satire. In approaching the work, it helps to view Gulliver as Swift’s alter ego and to view the progression of the novel as Gulliver’s changing perception of himself and the world: Gulliver begins the journey larger than life in the land of the tiny Lilliputians, and after observing mankind’s tendency toward greed and selfishness, he finds himself most contented in a land of horses who are governed by reason. Themes and motifs throughout Gulliver’s Travels are primarily those of culture, politics, and the individual, while the lands that Gulliver visits provide vivid symbols for satire.
Swift’s satirical style has made Gulliver’s Travels important from the moment it was published to today, three hundred years later. “Satire,” Swift wrote in The Battle of the Books, “is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.” Throughout Gulliver’s Travels, Swift satirizes scientists, academics, snobs, politicians, lawyers, doctors, and women; man as a sinner— his avarice, selfishness, and folly—is also held up to ridicule. Furthermore, Swift parodies travel writers’ preoccupation with appearing to be “experts” in everything they write. It would appear, however, that despite Swift’s critique of humanity and its institutions, he felt passionately enough about mankind to hope that those who read Gulliver’s Travels would reconsider themselves and the world around them in order to help make it a better place. That said, the moral of the novel appears to be that nowhere in a world of human beings does the ideal exist.
In the subjects of its literary examination and satire, Gulliver’s Travels remains relevant and often seems even timely. The practice of economically exploiting other countries, touched upon in Gulliver’s accounts of his first and third voyages, was the policy of English and French colonial governments during Swift’s time, just as world powers today often go into underdeveloped cultures and consume their resources. Conflicts of religious ideology, as observed in the battle of the “Big-Endians” and the “Small-Endians,” were inspired by the “troubles” in Ireland during Swift’s time when England oppressed the Irish, and they are still apparent today, often reflected in political conflicts throughout the world. Even the feuds between the “High Heels” and the “Low Heels” in Lilliput, which represented the feuds between the Whigs and the Tories in Swift’s time, continue between and among current political parties.
While the novel is noted for its satire, Gulliver’s Travels engages and entertains in other ways as well. Swift’s imaginary worlds and fantastic characters draw readers into the narrative, and his exaggerated stories of Gulliver’s strange and exotic adventures hold their interest. Moreover, the literary themes, motifs, and symbols developed in the novel invite thought and lively discussion, encouraging readers to examine the observations about human nature and human society that make Gulliver’s Travels one of the most celebrated novels of all time.
By the end of the unit the student will be able to:
1. Define satire and explain through which characters and in what ways satire is employed in Gulliver’s Travels.
2. Identify and discuss the primary themes in the novel.
3. Identify the symbols developed in the novel, explain the ideas they communicate, and discuss their significance.
4. Identify the common roots of politics, culture, and the human condition and discuss how these are developed thematically in the novel.
5. Identify examples of different cultural beliefs and values as illustrated in the novel, and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of cultural differences.
6. Consider and discuss the themes related to the individual versus society, as well as the motif of people taking themselves too seriously, especially in regard to Gulliver’s character.
7. Identify examples of the motifs of languages, clothing, and base physical actions and discuss their significance within the novel.
8. Explain how, and through which characters, “might” trumps “right” throughout Gulliver’s advertures.
9. Determine and define the elements that make Gulliver’s Travels one of the most celebrated novels of all time.
This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.
Student Lesson Guide
• The Lesson Guide is organized to study the parts of the novel in chapters. Lesson Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
• Lesson Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading the chapters and to acquaint them generally with their content.
• Before Lesson Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.
(The entire section is 484 words.)
1. Compare and contrast Gulliver’s experiences in Lilliput and in Brobdingnag. How does his perception of himself and of Western society change during these first two voyages, given his physical size?
2. How does Jonathan Swift portray the women in each land? How do his portrayals of women differ? How are they similar throughout the novel? Are women generally portrayed in a positive or a negative light?
3. How does Swift use language and writing style to satirize various subjects? How do his satirical language and style change as the story progresses?
4. How, and when, does Swift develop the motif of fortune throughout the book? Is this motif presented seriously, or is it...
(The entire section is 672 words.)
degrading: causing a loss of self-respect, humiliating
intelligible: comprehensible, understandable
minced: affected fastidiousness
pious: devoutly religious
precepts: general rules meant to regulate behavior and thought
reverence: to regard, to treat with great respect
whereof: of what or of which
1. What is the primary dispute that Gulliver has with his cousin Sympson?
Gulliver contends that Sympson published an “uncorrect” version of the manuscript. Granted, Gulliver writes, he understood the manuscript to be “loose” and that a university man would edit it,...
(The entire section is 425 words.)
innumerable: too many to be counted
perused: read thoroughly and carefully
veracity: conformity to facts, accuracy
1. Why is there a letter from the publisher to the reader of Gulliver’s Travels?
This letter is written by Gulliver’s publisher in response to “A Letter from Captain Gulliver to his Cousin Sympson,” in which Gulliver complains to him about the content of his novel and the manner of its publication.
2. How does Sympson defend himself against Gulliver’s claims?
Sympson contends that much of Gulliver’s manuscript was “circumstantial.” He says he only...
(The entire section is 395 words.)
abated: to become less widespread, to lessen in intensity
clemency: mercy, leniency
conjecture: to form an opinion without complete information
countenance: a person’s face or facial expression
declivity: a downward slope; a descent
disapprobation: strong disapproval commonly based on moral grounds
durst: past tense of “to dare”
infallible: incapable of making mistakes or being wrong
intrepid: fearless, undaunted
ligature: something used to bind or to tie
lucid: expressed clearly, easy to understand
magnanimous: generous or forgiving (particularly to a rival or someone less powerful)
(The entire section is 2166 words.)
circumspect: wary and unwilling to take risks
concupiscence: strong sexual desire; lust
degenerate: decline or deteriorate physically, mentally or morally
docile: agreeable, submissive
encomiums: speeches or writings that praise someone or something highly
expostulate: to express strong disapproval
extenuation: to make guilt or sin seem less serious or offensive
judicature: the judiciary; the administration of justice
knave: a dishonest, unscrupulous man
schism: a split or division between strongly opposed sections or parties caused by differences in opinion or belief
servile: showing excessive willingness to serve and...
(The entire section is 1672 words.)
amity: a friendly relationship; friendliness
auspicious: conducive to success; favorable
cabal: a secret political clique
entreat: to ask someone earnestly or anxiously to do something
expostulations: expressions of earnest opposition or protest
ignominious: deserving or causing public disgrace or shame
incumbrance: archaic encumbrance; a mortgage or other charge on property or assets
tallow: a hard, fatty substance rendered from animal fat
veracity: conformity to facts; truth
1. Consider the opening paragraph of Chapter 7:
I had been hitherto, all my life, a stranger to Courts, for...
(The entire section is 1001 words.)
hinds: skilled farmworkers
squall: a sudden, violent gust of rain or wind
staunch: loyal and committed in attitude
stile: an arrangement of steps to allow people but not animals to climb over a wall
supplicating: asking or begging earnestly or humbly
therewith: archaic soon or immediately after
unintelligible: impossible to understand
urchin: a mischievous child, one who is poor or raggedly dressed
1. How does Gulliver end up stranded on Brobdingnag?
Out of curiosity, Gulliver had left his ship with a small crew to explore the land. While ashore, he “saw our...
(The entire section is 1240 words.)
abhorred: regarded with horror or loathing
bemired: covered or stained with mud
discompose: to disturb, to agitate
malefactor: a person who commits a crime or some other wrong
nettled: irritated, annoyed
odious: unpleasant, repulsive
rabble: a disorderly crowd, a mob
rogue: a dishonest, unpleasant man
scurvy: a disease caused by lack of vitamin C
vexed: annoyed, irritated
viscous: of a thick, sticky consistency between liquid and solid
1. After working six days a week, Gulliver’s health deteriorates. How does the farmer respond to...
(The entire section is 1790 words.)
august: respected, impressive
bulwark: a defensive wall; person, institution, or principle that acts as defense
Cicero: a Roman orator and writer
cudgels: short, thick sticks used as weapons
Demosthenes: an Athenian orator
erudition: profound, scholarly knowledge
laudable: deserving praise
panegyric: a public speech or published text in praise of someone or something
perfidiousness: exhibiting betrayal or distrust
Phaethon: son of Helios, the sun god
pippin: an apple grown from seed
raillery: good-humored teasing
repine: to feel or express discontent; to fret
sagacity: wisdom, acumen...
(The entire section is 1464 words.)
cadence: a modulation or inflection of the voice
cogitation: carefully considered thought
defray: to provide for the payment of an expense
derivation: obtained or developed from its source or origin
etymology: the study of the origin of words and how they have changed throughout history
obtrude: to become noticeable in an unwelcome way
perihelion: the point in the orbit of a planet, asteroid, or comet at which it is closest to the sun
precipice: a steep rock face or cliff
reprobate: an unprincipled person
sloop: a one-masted sailboat
zenith: the highest point reached by a celestial object
(The entire section is 1029 words.)
adamant: a legendary rock or mineral
chasm: a deep fissure in the earth
circumference: the perimeter of a circle
declivity: a downward slope
demesne: land attached to a manor and retained for the owner’s use
illustrious: well known, respected, admired
oblique: slanted, inclined
tenure: a condition by which land or buildings are occupied
1. How is the island of Laputa able to move about?
The island is able to rise and fall, and move from one place to another, “by means of a lodestone [sic].” Like a magnet, the stone has negative power on one side and positive power on the...
(The entire section is 1358 words.)
apothecary: archaic a person who prepares and sells medicines and drugs
bolus: a small rounded mass
brevity: concise use of words in speech or writing
Chimera: Greek mythological character a fire-breathing woman
colic: pain caused by gas or intestinal obstruction
diminution: reduction in size
ebullient: cheerful, full of energy
irreconcilable: so different as to be incompatible
licentiousness: lewdness, lasciviousness
occiput: the back of the head, the skull
petulant: childishly sulky, bad tempered
tincture: be tinged with a slight amount of something in...
(The entire section is 892 words.)
Agesilaus: king of Sparta
Alexander the Great: king of Macedonia
antic: a ludicrous or extravagant act or gesture
Antony: Roman politician and soldier
Arbela: an ancient city in Jordan
Aristotle: ancient Greek philosopher and scientist
Augustus: Roman emperor
Brutus: Roman politician and soldier
Caesar: Roman emperor, statesman, and writer
consummate: to accomplish, to complete
Descartes: 16th-century French philosopher and mathematician
diadems: jeweled crowns or headpieces worn as a sign of sovereignty
Epicurus: ancient Greek philosopher
Eustathius: Byzantine philosopher
(The entire section is 867 words.)
appellation: the act of calling by a name or title
calamity: an act that brings terrible loss or lasting distress; a disaster
clemency: a disposition to show mercy
gradation: a system of gradual steps; a progression
imbecile: a silly or foolish person
infallible: incapable of making a mistake, unerring
malicious: deliberately harmful, spiteful
sages: ones venerated for wisdom and justice
sublunary: situated below the moon; of this Earth, earthly
1. Gulliver leaves Glubbdubdrib and sails to Luggnag. How does one approach the King of Luggnag?
One is expected to lick the...
(The entire section is 911 words.)
antipathy: a deep-seating feeling of dislike, an aversion
calentures: tropical fevers
debauch: to destroy moral purity, to debase
execrable: extremely bad, wretched, detestable
orthography: the conventional spelling system of a language
prodigy: a person endowed with special abilities
slacken: to relax, to loosen
1. What does Gulliver write about in regard to embarking on a fourth voyage?
Gulliver is happily at home with his wife for five months and remarks that “if [he] could have learned the lesson of knowing when [he] was well,” he would have stayed...
(The entire section is 1088 words.)
abominable: worthy of moral revulsion, detestable
clamour: (British spelling) a loud, persistent outcry from many people
disquiet: a feeling of worry, anxiety
drudgery: hard and menial work
embroiled: involved deeply in an argument or conflict
iniquity: sin, immoral behavior
insuperable: impossible to overcome
interpose: to introduce between parts
obsequious: excessively obedient or attentive, servile
perplex: to complicate, to confuse
portend: a sign or warning
precipitate: to cause an event, usually negative, to happen suddenly and unexpectedly
tractable: easy to control or influence...
(The entire section is 995 words.)
dubious: not to be relied upon, suspect
extenuate: to make guilt or offense less serious
libidinous: having or exhibiting lustful desires
parity: state or condition of being equal
propensity: inclination, tendency toward
rapine: the violent seizure of someone’s property
repast: a meal
replete: completely filled, satisfied
venerate: regard with great respect
1. How is Gulliver’s stay in the country of the Houyhnhnms different from the time he spent in other countries?
Living among the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver is not a prisoner or a guest of humans small or large,...
(The entire section is 883 words.)
asunder: apart, divided
exhortation: an address or communication emphatically ordering someone to do something
indocible: incapable of being taught; dull in intellect
pravity: from depravity, perversion
tallow: a hard, fatty substance made from rendered animal fat (used in making soap and candles
1. How do the Houyhnhnms explain the human history of the Yahoos?
The Houyhnhnms believe that two Yahoos appeared together upon a mountain: “Whether produced by the heat of the sun upon corrupted mud and slime, or from the ooze and froth of the sea, was never known.” Their brood grew so numerous that...
(The entire section is 850 words.)
accoutred: clothed or equipped (typically in an impressive way)
defile: to sully, to mar, to spoil
depose: to remove from office suddenly
execrable: extremely bad or unpleasant
idolatrous: characterized by worshipping idols
inquisition: a period of prolonged investigation; a judicial inquiry
inviolable: never to be broken, infringed, or dishonored
recluse: a person who lives a solitary life and avoids other people
rue: an evergreen shrub with bitter-smelling lobes
zeal: great energy and enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or objective
1. What do the Houyhnhnms seem to...
(The entire section is 1245 words.)
1. How tall is the average Lilliputian?
A. four inches
B. six inches
C. seven inches
D. five inches
E. eight inches
2. Why is the way that the Lilliputians perceive themselves satirical?
A. because they are small and yet they view themselves as powerful and strong
B. because they are small and yet they view themselves as weak
C. because they are small and yet they view themselves as tiny
D. because they are small and yet they view themselves as larger than Gulliver
E. because they are small and yet they view themselves...
(The entire section is 1398 words.)
1. Discuss how females in the novel are portrayed and identify specific examples to support your assertions.
Viewing women as powerless, intellectually weak, and neurotic in their roles of wife and mother was the pervasive cultural perception at the time Swift wrote the novel, and these eighteenth-century views are displayed throughout Gulliver’s Travels. Women are routinely ridiculed, insulted, or dismissed out of hand. During his third voyage, Gulliver quips with derisive humor that women are the same regardless of nationality or habitat: “But he (the reader) may please to consider, that the caprices of womankind are not limited by any climate or nation, and that they are much more uniform than...
(The entire section is 3401 words.)