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Gulliver's Travels | Study Guide

Jonathan Swift

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Part 3, Chapter 5

Course Hero Literature Instructor Russell Jaffe provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Part 3, Chapter 5 of Jonathan Swift's novel Gulliver's Travels.

Gulliver's Travels | Part 3, Chapter 5 | Summary



Gulliver visits the academy and finds the projectors hard at work on their experiments. None of these experiments have practical or logical value. One projector has spent eight years attempting to extract sunlight from cucumbers. Another works to "reduce human excrement to its original food." A blind projector and his blind apprentices mix colors for artists, based on touch and smell. When Gulliver has a coughing fit, he visits a doctor who tries to cure him by using a bellows to draw gas in and out of the body through the anus; he kills a dog using this process. Another projector has built a word engine to write a compendium of the arts and sciences. A math professor teaches students by feeding them slips of paper with formulas written on them.


The academy illustrates the Laputan preference for abstract knowledge over practical application taken to its absurd and extreme conclusion. Although Gulliver is pleased by many of the experiments he sees, Swift's portrayal of the academy is a scathing criticism of institutions of higher learning, specifically aimed at London's Royal Society, established in 1660. Swift made similar criticisms in his "Tale of a Tub," a satire published in 1704. These same criticisms of dubious scholarly research in universities and other institutions continue to emerge in the modern age. The experiments Gulliver sees range from the patently absurd (cucumbers and sunlight) to the dangerous (the doctor's treatment of disease). At best these kinds of studies divorced from logic and reality are useless, and at worse they can kill.

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