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.
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.