Gulliver’s Travels

Gulliver’s Travels is an inspiring and magnificent tale of a man’s adventures into mythical worlds. The satirical novel was written by Jonathan Swift in 1726 and is his most famous work to date.

Even though the Gulliver’s Travels tales date back to the 18th Century the story is still relevant and popular today with both young and old. Since it was released the story has been inspiration for theatre, music, animation and film.

Summary of the plot

The author, Swift, wrote Gulliver’s travels as a first person narrative with the lead Gulliver telling the story of his adventures.  The book is divided into four parts, each part describing a different expedition:

Part 1: A Voyage to Lilliput

In the first part Gulliver introduces himself by describing his past and how he went from a surgeon to a voyager sailing the seven seas.  On one of Gulliver’s voyages he describes how his ship encounters a violent storm and Gulliver finds himself having to swim to shore.  He swims to the island the reader later finds is called Lilliput.  Gulliver is exhausted from his swim and falls asleep on the island.  When he awakes he discovers he is fastened to the ground and surrounded by the islanders who are no taller than 6 inches tall.   The islanders take Gulliver to meet their Emperor who accommodates Gulliver by providing him with a house and a bed.  After a while on the island Gulliver discovers the residents of the island are small but full of self regard.  While on the island Gulliver assists with helping the islanders defend themselves against their neighbour; the Blefuscudians.  However, after his triumph Gulliver upsets the Emperor of Lilliput and is sentenced to be blinded.  He manages to escape to a boat and sail away from the island back to England.

Part 2: A Voyage to Brobdingnag

The second part is set ten months after Gulliver has left Lilliput. He has returned home but decided to venture out to sea once more. However, his boat is caught in a storm which causes his ship to sail off track. The crew manage to steer the boat towards land and anchor in Brobdingnag. Gulliver finds himself abandoned by his crew on the island only to discover here it is he who is tiny compared to the residents of the island who are giant. A farmer discovers Gulliver and takes him home for his daughter to care for. The Queen of the island hears of Gulliver and orders for him to be kept in her court for entertainment.
Gulliver encounters many difficulties being so small on the island such as being attacked by a giant wasp and carried by a giant monkey. His adventure on Brobdingnag is cut short as on a trip to the seaside his travelling box, which he is in, is grabbed by an eagle and dropped into the sea. Luckily he is rescued by sailors and returned to England.

Part 3: A Voyage to Laputa, Balnibarbi, Luggnagg, Glubbdubdrib and Japan.

Undeterred by his previous travelling experiences Gulliver embarks on yet another adventure only 3 months after his return to England. Unfortunately while sailing his ship is attacked by pirates and he is abandoned on a rocky island. He is rescued by the flying island of Laputa. The residents of the flying island are immortal and highly intelligent but are so immersed in new science they have failed in achieving anything successful which would benefit their island. Gulliver soon realises the scientists waste their intelligence taking part in pointless experiments. Gulliver travels on from Laputa and eventually heads home.

Part 4: A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms

After returning home from his adventure in Lamputa Gulliver soon realises he cannot stay at home for long and heads off on a final adventure. On his journey his crew decide to mutiny against him leaving him abandoned and alone on a new land. Gulliver discovers creatures on this new mystical island called “Yahoos” which look like human beings but are actually deformed uncivilised creatures. On this island it is the horses (also known as “Houyhnhnms” in the novel) that rule the island. Gulliver settles in with the horse community but after a while the horses fear he is a risk to their civilisation and cast him out. He returns to England on a Portugese ship which is captained by a Yahoo. When Gulliver returns home the reader soon realises Gulliver has become unable to distinguish humans from Yahoos and becomes disgusted by even his wife and daughter’s presence. He purchases two horses and discusses how he spends most of his time conversing with the horses in the stable who he claims understand him.

The novel finishes with Gulliver writing a message directly to the reader summarising his travels.

Analysing the novel

The novel uses the characters and the different cultures Gulliver meets in his travels to represent the different aspects of humanity.  Each island possesses different characteristics to show this:

  • The Lilliputians

The islanders are small but full of self importance and quite dangerous although they are small.  It has been argued the Lilliputians represent the English,  their size represents the small size of England compared to the rest of the world but shows how powerful the English were at the time.  Swift describes the Lilliputians as pompous in the novel which some would consider an English characteristic in the 18th Century.

  • The Brobingnagians

The Brogingnagians are physically a lot larger than Gulliver, however, they are less threatening than the small Lilliputians.  They do not have gunpowder, as they do not see the point of it and the King is upset at Gulliver’s description of Europe, considering Europeans to be violent.  However, although the Brobingnagians are large they do not realise their potential power.  This could represent some of the larger countries in the world in the 18th Century who did not appreciate their power although they could have proved to be a potential threat to England.

  • The Laputans

The Laputans described in part 3 of Gulliver’s Travels were highly intelligent and spent a great deal of time studying but failed to produce anything productive.  The Laputans were so obsessed with knowledge they were oblivious to their compatriots and even their oven wives’ affairs.  This could represent the government in England at the time who Swift may have considered were removed from their people and unconcerned by the needs of the common man.  It could also represent the scientists in the 18th Century.

  • The Houyhnhnms

The Houyhnhnms represent a successful society which benefits all of the Houyhnhnms and considers them all equal.   The Houynhnms are reasonable and have decent principles, however, they are not human.  On the other hand the Yahoos represent all that is bad with human beings as they are uncivilized, greedy and violent.

  • The individual over society

On each island Gulliver meets at least one person who treats him with respect and assists him.  Even the sailor Don Pedro de Mendez, who Gulliver treats with contempt as he considers him a Yahoo, is still generous and pleasant to Gulliver.  This shows how an individual can possess all the positive aspects of human beings such as kindness, respect, selflessness and charity.  Therefore an individual can rise above politics and religion in any society.

About The Author

Jonathan Swift was born in 1667 in Dublin Ireland to an Irish father (Jonathan Swift) and English mother (Abigail Erick). Swift’s father died shortly after his birth and his mother moved to England leaving Swift in the care of his relatives in Ireland. However, the Glorious Revolution in 1688 forced Swift to move to England. In England Swift was ordained as a Priest for the Church of Ireland.

Throughout his life Swift was very interested in Politics and in 1710 he became in charge of the Tory Examiner. When the Tories lost power in England due to the accession of George I Swift returned to Ireland.

In his later years Swift suffered from deafness and an unspecified disease which lead people to consider him insane. He died in 1745 at the age of 77.

Swift’s Work

Swift produced a great deal of work throughout his life, including not only his famous novels but also great poetry and prose. His work was often influenced by his political and religious leanings.

His most popular works are as follows:

  • Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World in Four Parts by Lemuel Gulliver 1976 (aka Gulliver’s Travels)
  • Tale of a Tub and the Battle of the Books 1979
  • A Modest Proposal 1929

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