Gulliver's Travels Summary

Gulliver's Travels is a satirical novel narrated by Lemuel Gulliver, who travels the world and encounters a series of strange and fantastical cultures.

  • On his first voyage, Gulliver encounters the Lilliputians, who are miniature people. He is initially welcomed but is forced to escape after being accused of treason.
  • Next, Gulliver meets the gigantic, humanoid Brobdingnagians, who exhibit him as a sideshow attraction.
  • Gulliver then visits the flying city of Laputa, the country of Balnibarbi, and the island of Glubbdubdrib.
  • On his fourth voyage, Gulliver visits the Houyhnhnms, a race of sentient horses. They view the Yahoos, a species almost identical to humans, as savages.

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Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1295

Part 1

Lemuel Gulliver, ship’s surgeon of the Antelope, escapes from shipwreck in a storm during a voyage to the East Indies. He swims to land and falls asleep, awaking hours later to find himself tied down to the ground. He is in Lilliput, a country where the people are about six inches tall. The Lilliputians take him to their capital city, where he is housed in an abandoned temple and initially treated kindly by the emperor, though he remains a prisoner. After impressing the emperor with his gentleness and ingenuity, and swearing an oath of allegiance to Lilliput, Gulliver is freed from his chains.

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Gulliver assists the Lilliputians by wading across the channel that separates Lilliput from Blefuscu, a rival power which has been planning an invasion, and capturing fifty ships from the enemy fleet. The emperor of Lilliput is delighted but soon becomes angry when Gulliver will not help him to subdue and enslave Blefuscu entirely. An embassy arrives from Blefuscu to conclude a peace treaty, and Gulliver agrees to pay a visit to the island. Soon afterward, a fire breaks out at the palace. Gulliver saves the day but incurs the animosity of the empress when he extinguishes the blaze by urinating on it.

One night, Gulliver is informed that a hostile faction at court intends to have him impeached for high treason. He flees to Blefuscu, where the emperor welcomes him, despite his capture of the Blefuscudian warships for Lilliput. After a few days in Blefuscu, he sees a boat out at sea and drags it back to shore so that he can repair it and sail home. He does so all the more quickly when he discovers that an envoy has come from Lilliput to take him prisoner. The emperor of Blefuscu sends the envoy back with an equivocal answer, and Gulliver finishes his preparations and departs. After a few days, he is picked up by an English merchant ship, and a little more than six months later, he is back in England. Here he makes a substantial sum of money by exhibiting, then selling, some miniature cows he brought from Blefuscu. Having left plenty of money with his wife and children, he sets sail again.

Part 2

Gulliver sets sail on a ship called the Adventure and, after a year, finds himself in a part of the world unknown to all the sailors. They find land and go ashore for fresh water, whereupon Gulliver is separated from his shipmates and sees a man of monstrous size chasing them back to the ship. He walks through a cornfield where the corn is forty feet high and is discovered by a reaper, who brings him to the farmer. The farmer and his family treat Gulliver kindly and share their meal with him, though he is frightened by the animals in their house: a cat and dogs larger than elephants. He is attacked by rats and kills one with his sword.

The farmer decides to make money by exhibiting Gulliver in a nearby town and, when this is a success, takes him on a national tour, concluding in the capital. By this time, Gulliver is exhausted, and the farmer thinks he will soon die, so he is delighted when the Queen sees Gulliver and offers to buy him. The queen purchases Gulliver for a thousand gold pieces, and he becomes a favorite at court, except with the queen’s dwarf, a monster thirty feet in height who is always playing malicious tricks on him. Even when the dwarf is not involved, he suffers many misadventures: being pelted with falling apples and hailstones, and whisked up onto the palace roof by a monkey.

Gulliver has long conversations with the king of Brobdingnag, in which he explains the government and customs of England. The king is horrified, describing the English as a “pernicious race of little odious vermin,” a characterization for which Gulliver apologizes to the reader. He says that the remoteness of Brobdingnag prevents the king from having a proper understanding of Europe. He offers to share the secret of making gunpowder with the king, who is horrified by the idea of such a destructive substance and refuses.

At the beginning of his third year in Brobdingnag, Gulliver is by the sea when the box in which he always travels is seized by an eagle, which drops him in the sea. He is rescued by an English ship and returns to England, where everything now appears very small to him.

Part 3

On a third voyage, Gulliver’s ship is attacked by pirates, who set him adrift in a canoe. He lands on a rocky island, where he soon perceives a huge opaque object hovering in the air between him and the sun. This is the flying island of Laputa, and its inhabitants let down a chain to haul him up onto it.

Gulliver visits the palace, and tours Laputa, with the permission of the king. It is a disc four and a half miles in diameter, with an iron base and a coating of soil. Its inhabitants are enthralled by abstract learning, particularly in mathematics, music, and the sciences. However, they scorn all practical application of these disciplines, and their architecture and agriculture are at a very low level. This is also the case with Balnibarbi, the country below the flying island, which is ruled by its own king and contains the capital city, Lagado.

Gulliver spends several days in visiting the Grand Academy of Lagado, where scientists make various strange experiments in such matters as extracting sunbeams from cucumbers and separating human excrement into the various foods from which it came. He is soon eager to leave, returning home by way of Glubbdubdrib, an island of magicians who summon up for him the spirits of various great men from history, including Alexander the Great and Brutus. He also passes through Luggnagg, home of the wretched struldbrugs, who never die, and Japan, where he finds a Dutch ship to convey him back to Europe.

Part 4

After five months in England, Gulliver takes command of the Adventurer and sails to the Caribbean. However, his ship is captured by buccaneers, who put him ashore in an unknown country, where he encounters a group of filthy creatures who attack him and pelt him with their excrement. The creatures flee when a horse appears on the scene. The horse inspects Gulliver closely, attempts to communicate with him and, finding that he can understand simple signals, leads him to a house about three miles away.

There are more horses living inside the house, and more of the filthy creatures living chained up in a courtyard there. Gulliver realizes with horror that the creatures almost exactly resemble human beings, though they have no clothes and a wild, unkempt appearance. These are the Yahoos. The country is ruled by the horses, who are known as “Houyhnhnms,” a word which means “the perfection of nature” in their language. Gulliver stays with the Houyhnhnm who first delivered him from the Yahoos, to whom he now refers as his master. They spend much time in conversation, though Gulliver’s master, who has no experience of any society but his own, finds it difficult to believe much of what Gulliver tells him about humankind. Gulliver has lived among the Houyhnhnms for less than a year when he decides to stay in their country forever, so impressed is he with their wisdom and virtue. However, he is forced to leave when the general assembly of the Houyhnhnms exhorts his master not to keep a creature so like a Yahoo in his household. Gulliver reluctantly returns home, where he cannot help regarding all the human beings around him, including his own family, as filthy, evil, foul-smelling Yahoos.

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