Introductory Lecture and Objectives

Gulliver's Travels eNotes Lesson Plan content

Introductory Lecture

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.

Instructional Focus: Teaching With an eNotes Lesson Plan

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.

• Lesson...

(The entire section is 484 words.)

Essay and Discussion Questions

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 developed...

(The entire section is 672 words.)

Prologue One A Letter from Captain Gulliver to his Cousin Sympson Written in the Year 1727


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

Study Questions

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, but Gulliver...

(The entire section is 425 words.)

Prologue Two The Publisher to the Reader


innumerable: too many to be counted

perused: read thoroughly and carefully

veracity: conformity to facts, accuracy

Study Questions

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 cut...

(The entire section is 395 words.)

Part One Chapters 1, 2, and 3


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)

malign: to speak about...

(The entire section is 2166 words.)

Part One Chapters 4, 5, and 6


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 to please...

(The entire section is 1672 words.)

Part One Chapters 7 and 8


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 which I was...

(The entire section is 1001 words.)

Part Two Chapters 1 and 2


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

Study Questions

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 men already...

(The entire section is 1240 words.)

Part Two Chapters 3, 4, and 5


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

mirth: amusement

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

Study Questions

1. After working six days a week, Gulliver’s health deteriorates. How does the farmer respond to Gulliver’s...

(The entire section is 1790 words.)

Part Two Chapters 6, 7, and 8


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

spinet: a small...

(The entire section is 1464 words.)

Part Three Chapters 1 and 2


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.)

Part Three Chapters 3 and 4


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

Study Questions

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 other. If...

(The entire section is 1358 words.)

Part Three Chapters 5 and 6


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

peccant: offensive

petulant: childishly sulky, bad tempered

tincture: be tinged with a slight amount of something in the mixture...

(The entire section is 892 words.)

Part Three Chapters 7 and 8


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

Gassendi: 16th-century...

(The entire section is 867 words.)

Part Three Chapters 9, 10, and 11


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

Study Questions

1. Gulliver leaves Glubbdubdrib and sails to Luggnag. How does one approach the King of Luggnag?

One is expected to lick the floor when...

(The entire section is 911 words.)

Part Four Chapters 1, 2, and 3


antipathy: a deep-seating feeling of dislike, an aversion

buccaneers: pirates

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

Study Questions

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 at home....

(The entire section is 1088 words.)

Part Four Chapters 4, 5, and 6


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.)

Part Four Chapters 7 and 8


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

Study Questions

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, academic or...

(The entire section is 883 words.)

Part Four Chapters 9 and 10


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

Study Questions

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 they...

(The entire section is 850 words.)

Part Four Chapters 11 and 12


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

Study Questions

1. What do the Houyhnhnms seem to symbolize?


(The entire section is 1245 words.)

Multiple-Choice Test and Answer Key

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 as smaller...

(The entire section is 1398 words.)

Essay Exam Questions With Answers

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 can...

(The entire section is 3401 words.)