Gulliver's Travels | Study Guide

Jonathan Swift

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Gulliver's Travels | Plot Summary

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Summary

Gulliver's Travels is the story of Lemuel Gulliver, a surgeon who takes to the seas. He completes many voyages without incident, but his final four journeys take him to some of the strangest lands on the planet, where he discovers the virtues and flaws in his own culture by comparing it with others.

A storm destroys the ship, leaving Gulliver as the sole survivor of the wreck. He washes up on the shores of Lilliput, an island populated by people only six inches tall. Understandably terrified of the giant in their midst, the Lilliputians keep Gulliver restrained with ropes and chains until he proves he can be trusted. The emperor of this land calls on Gulliver to help him defeat his enemy country, Blefuscu, and Gulliver obliges by taking Blefuscu's entire navy. Although Gulliver is hailed as a hero in Lilliput, things turn sour when he becomes too friendly with the ambassadors who negotiate peace with Blefuscu, and when he puts out a fire in the emperor's palace by urinating on it. Charged with treason, Gulliver flees to Blefuscu and leaves behind both islands in a boat he finds by chance. He encounters an English ship and returns home to his family in England.

Gulliver does not stay at home for long and sets out on another journey that leaves him stranded in a land known as Brobdingnag, populated by giants. A farmer's family takes in Gulliver, but soon the farmer works Gulliver nearly to death by putting him on display and making him perform for audiences all over the country. When the queen sees Gulliver, she offers to buy Gulliver from the farmer, who accepts her offer. She also takes the farmer's daughter, Gulliver's caretaker Glumdalclitch, into her service. Gulliver lives for two harrowing years in the Brobdingnagian court, his tiny size putting him at the mercy of larger creatures at every turn. On an outing to the beach, a bird picks up Gulliver's carrying-box and drops it into the sea. Another English vessel finds the box afloat in the water, and the crew returns Gulliver home again.

Within weeks of his homecoming, however, Gulliver accepts a voyage to the East Indies. When pirates take Gulliver's ship, he is set adrift and ends up on a deserted island. He is spotted by inhabitants of the floating island of Laputa and taken to the Laputans' city in the sky. There he finds a race of men wholly concerned with theoretical matters and constantly absorbed in abstract thought. Although he is treated well, Gulliver grows bored and ventures to the land below Laputa, Balnibarbi. On Balnibarbi Gulliver learns how a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, as he sees projectors, men who have been briefly educated in Laputa, attempt to improve life in their country through a series of absurd scientific theories and experiments. Gulliver grows frustrated and travels to the nearby island of Glubbdubdrib, where the governor uses his magical powers to allow Gulliver to converse with dead figures from history. Gulliver moves on to Luggnagg, where he learns that the potential cost of immortality is a lifetime of unending old age, and then returns to England by way of Japan and Holland.

A few months after Gulliver returns home, he is offered the chance to captain a voyage, so he sets off again. Gulliver's crew mutinies and leaves him on an island populated by intelligent horses called Houyhnhnms and primitive humans called Yahoos. Gulliver fears the Yahoos and finds camaraderie with the Houyhnhnms, although the Houyhnhnms never fully accept Gulliver because they believe he, too, is a Yahoo. Gulliver lives comfortably with his Houyhnhnm master and his family for three years, learning the Houyhnhnm language and embracing the Houyhnhnm philosophy of living by principles of pure reason. He comes to hate his own Yahoo heritage and vows never to return to England, but the Houyhnhnm leaders decide a Yahoo cannot live with a Houyhnhnm family, and they cast him out of their society. Gulliver builds a boat with the intent of settling on a deserted island and avoiding the Yahoo world of Europe, but he is rescued by a Portuguese ship and returns again to his family in England. He spends years readjusting to life among the Yahoos and finds he prefers his horses' company to his wife's.

Gulliver's Travels Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction

Introduction

1 Gulliver travels the world on several voyages aboard a ship.

Rising Action

2 Gulliver visits Lilliput, where people are six inches tall.

3 Gulliver visits Brobdingnag, a land populated by giants.

4 Gulliver goes to Laputa, an island full of mathematicians.

5 Gulliver visits Balnibarbi and sees projectors' experiments.

6 Gulliver moves on to Glubbdubdrib, Luggnagg, and Japan.

Climax

7 Gulliver's crew leaves him with the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos.

Falling Action

8 Gulliver wants to stay with Houyhnhnms, but he is sent away.

Resolution

9 Gulliver returns to England but despises Yahoo society.

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