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Gulliver's Travels | Study Guide

Jonathan Swift

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Gulliver's Travels | Quotes


Of so little weight are the greatest services to princes when put into the balance with a refusal to gratify their passions.

Gulliver, Part 1, Chapter 5

Gulliver does the Emperor of Lilliput a service by capturing the enemy's navy, but the emperor gives Gulliver the cold shoulder when Gulliver refuses to escalate the war against Blefuscu. Gulliver realizes that only constant obedience, not past service, means anything to monarchs.


Although we usually call reward and punishment the two hinges upon which all government turns, yet I could never observe this maxim to be put in practice by any nation except Lilliput.

Gulliver, Part 1, Chapter 6

The Lilliputian justice system differs from all others in that it actually incorporates incentives and rewards for good behavior, not existing solely to punish wrongdoing.


But his Imperial Majesty, fully determined against capital punishment ... might easily provide against this evil by gradually lessening your establishment; by which, for want of sufficient food, you would grow weak and faint, and lose your appetite, and consequently decay and consume in a few months.

Lilliputian friend, Part 1, Chapter 7

Gulliver's friend informs him that he has been charged with treason and describes the way the emperor plans to dispatch him. The friend presents the emperor's decision against capital punishment, that is a genuine execution, as a mercy to Gulliver. Instead, Gulliver will be starved to death slowly. The sentence exposes the hypocrisy of the Lilliputian emperor, claiming to stand against the death penalty while favoring the lingering suffering of slow starvation.


Undoubtedly philosophers are in the right, when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison.

Gulliver, Part 2, Chapter 1

When Gulliver arrives in Brobdingnag, he discovers a race of giants that dwarf him in the same way that he dwarfed the Lilliputians. This change in circumstance and perspective show him that all concepts, including size, exist only in proportion to context.


I dare engage these creatures have their titles and distinctions of honor; they contrive little nests and burrows that they call houses and cities; they make a figure in dress and equipage; they love, they fight, they dispute, they cheat, they betray.

King of Brobdingnag, Part 2, Chapter 3

The king's assessment of European society is bleak. He acknowledges that they have the trappings of civilization, houses, cities, fine clothing, but all of that is a façade. Even as the Europeans present themselves in a cultured manner, they are capable of terrible and faithless activities.


This made me reflect, how vain an attempt it is for a man to endeavour to do himself honour among those who are out of all degree of equality or comparison with him.

Gulliver, Part 2, Chapter 5

Gulliver tries to be taken seriously at court in Brobdingnag, but the king thinks of him only as a joke. Gulliver decides it is useless to try to impress people who are unable to appreciate the effort.


As for yourself, who have spent the greatest part of your life in traveling; I am well disposed to hope you may hitherto have escaped many vices of your country. But by what I have gathered from your own relation ... I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives, to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.

King of Brobdingnag, Part 2, Chapter 6

The king makes a point of excluding Gulliver from his assessment of humanity with his hope that travel will save Gulliver from vice. In fact, the differing perspectives Gulliver gathers from his travels do inspire him to be better than his counterparts. Still, the king has listened to Gulliver describe the machinations of his government and the actions of his people and has reached the conclusion that humans are a plague and nuisance, the worst on earth. His words seem to deny the possibility of any such intrigues or injustices ever occurring in his own court and country.


For my own part, I could not avoid reflecting how universally this talent was spread, of drawing lectures in morality, or indeed rather matter of discontent and repining, from the quarrels we raise with nature. And I believe, upon a strict enquiry, those quarrels might be shown as ill-grounded among us as they are among that people.

Gulliver, Part 2, Chapter 7

The King of Brobdingnag vents his disgust with the descriptions Gulliver has given of his homeland, and Gulliver finds that everyone has an opinion on right and wrong, which leads to disagreements. These judgments, however, are—like size—based on context and may be based on an incomplete understanding of reality.


These people are under continual disquietudes, never enjoying a minute's peace of mind; and their disturbances proceed from causes which very little affect the rest of mortals.

Gulliver, Part 3, Chapter 2

The Laputans study astronomy fervently and spend a great deal of time worrying about the state of celestial bodies and whether they will destroy the earth, even centuries into the future. Their worries about the possible events of the future prevent them from finding any joy in the present moment, which is the nature of worry.


In the school of political projectors, I was but ill entertained; the professors appearing, in my judgment, wholly out of their senses, which is a scene that never fails to make me melancholy.

Gulliver, Part 3, Chapter 6

Gulliver's cynicism about government is so entrenched that he judges the professors whose political ideas are most idealistic to be insane. Seeing others misunderstand the workings of government and politics makes Gulliver sad for the state of the world.


I had often read of some great services done to princes and states, and desired to see the persons by whom those services were performed ... They all appeared with dejected looks, and in the meanest habit; most of them telling me 'they died in poverty and disgrace, and the rest on a scaffold or a gibbet.'

Gulliver, Part 3, Chapter 8

After speaking with the dead and learning about political intrigues and backstabbing over the centuries, Gulliver wants to hear some positive stories. When he meets the men who have done good service for their countries, however, he discovers they have been forgotten by history and died under bleak circumstances. There is no advantage in good service, nor reward for heroism, only punishment.


And therefore in recounting the numbers of those who have been killed in battle, I cannot but think, that you have said the thing which is not.

Houyhnhnm Master, Part 4, Chapter 5

Gulliver has explained human wars to his master, and the master judges the European form to be ill equipped for fighting. Human mouths are unsuitable for biting, and Gulliver's hands and feet lack the claws that facilitate the Yahoos' savagery on the island. So the master thinks Gulliver is lying about European battles. He does not recognize or entertain the idea that European society has developed weaponry and other means that make them quite adept at killing one another. His disbelief also criticizes the numbers of people killed in war and the waste of such violent enterprises by implying that only those who have lived and seen firsthand European war could believe such mass destruction possible.


He seemed therefore confident, that, instead of reason, we were only possessed of some quality fitted to increase our natural vices; as the reflection from a troubled stream returns the image of an ill shapen body, not only larger but more distorted.

Gulliver, Part 4, Chapter 5

Gulliver comes to hate himself as a Yahoo because his Houyhnhnm master makes remarks such as this. He determines that the European Yahoos have no sense of true reason, not as the Houyhnhnms do, but have only enough faculty for thought to distort their natures and cause them to create more problems for themselves.


But when I behold a lump of deformity and diseases, both in body and mind, smitten with pride, it immediately breaks all of the measures of my patience; neither shall I be ever able to comprehend how such an animal, and such a vice, could tally together.

Gulliver, Part 4, Chapter 12

Gulliver brings his self-loathing as a Yahoo back to England, and he loathes his fellow Yahoos as well, to the point of rejecting his family. He mostly despises pride, because he sees no reason for Yahoos to be proud of themselves for anything. Even if they were possessed of virtue, though, they should have no reason to be proud because such a notion violates the pure reason the Houyhnhnms espouse.

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