Gulliver's Travels eNotes Lesson Plan

Jonathan Swift


Gulliver's Travels eNotes Lesson Plan

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Excerpt From this Document

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.

About this Document

eNotes lesson plans have been written, tested, and approved by working classroom teachers. The main components of each plan are the following:

  • An in-depth introductory lecture
  • Discussion questions
  • Vocabulary lists
  • Chapter-by-chapter study questions
  • A multiple-choice test
  • Essay questions

Each plan is divided into a teacher and a student edition. The teacher edition provides complete answer keys.