Gulliver's Travels | Study Guide

Jonathan Swift

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Gulliver's Travels | Part 1, Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

Mr. Lemuel Gulliver, the narrator of Gulliver's Travels, describes his career, education, and family. Gulliver is a surgeon in London. He has always wanted to travel, however, and becomes a surgeon traveling aboard different merchant ships. During this time, he reads extensively and learns many new languages.

Gulliver grows tired of sea travel. He takes a job on the Antelope, anticipating it will be his final voyage. But a violent storm causes the Antelope to crash into a rock. As the sole survivor of the wreck, Gulliver swims to safety, landing on the island of Lilliput and falls asleep. When he wakes, his body has been tethered to the beach by the island's six-inch-tall residents, the Lilliputians. The Lilliputians climb on Gulliver and shoot tiny arrows at him. Gulliver could escape, but he is impressed by his captors' bravery and remains still. The Lilliputians bring Gulliver a meal, including a drugged drink that puts him to sleep, and transport his body on an "engine" (a giant cart) to meet the emperor. Gulliver is chained to an abandoned temple, which is the only building large enough to hold him.

Analysis

Gulliver's wanderlust speaks to both the spirit of exploration and colonization that continued to dominate European culture in the early 18th century, following the "Age of Discovery," in which Europeans traveled to Asia, Africa, the Americas, and the Middle East. Gulliver's desires also resonate with the type of adventure novel that had become popular around the time of publication; the shipwreck references Robinson Crusoe, the most famous of these novels. Gulliver feels no moral conflict about leaving his wife and his business in London to pursue his travels. His decision reflects a sense of opportunity, because his business on land is failing.

Although he planned his journey on the Antelope as his last, Gulliver expresses no regret about being stranded on Lilliput. Instead, he seems to relish the adventure and expresses curiosity and goodwill toward his captors, even though they have injured and restrained him. Having few alternatives—he has no boat in which to escape the island and, although he knows he could crush the Lilliputians, also acknowledges their greater numbers as a threat to his safety—he chooses to make the best of the situation.

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