Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels: Summary & Characters

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  • 0:02 Who is Gulliver?
  • 0:55 Lilliput
  • 2:17 Brobdingnag
  • 3:53 Laputa & Other Islands
  • 5:04 Houyhnhnms Land
  • 6:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Patricia Vineski

Patricia has an MFA in Writing, an MS in Teaching and English Language Arts, and a BA in English.

In this lesson, you'll learn about Lemuel Gulliver and the unusual characters he meets on his adventures as he travels to the different lands of Jonathan Swift's 'Gulliver's Travels.' End the lesson with a quiz to test your knowledge.

Who Is Gulliver?

Written by Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels is the story of the adventures of Lemuel Gulliver, the narrator and protagonist of the story. Gulliver is a married surgeon from Nottinghamshire, England, who has a taste for traveling. He works as a surgeon on ships and eventually becomes a ship captain.

Through one unfortunate event at sea to the next, Gulliver finds himself stranded in foreign lands and absurd situations, from being captured by the miniature Lilliputians to befriending talking horses, the Houyhnhnms. Although Gulliver's vivid and detailed storytelling makes it clear that he is intelligent and well-educated, his perceptions are naïve and gullible. Gulliver never thinks that the absurdities he encounters are funny, and never makes the satiric connections between the lands he visits and his own home.

Lilliput

Gulliver's adventures begin in Lilliput, when he wakes up after his shipwreck to find himself bound by the tiny threads of the Lilliputians, a civilization of miniature people fewer than six inches tall. They shout at him and poke him with their tiny arrows, and then construct a wagon to carry him into the capital city to present him to the emperor.

The emperor decides to keep Gulliver captive, spending a fortune to feed him. Because of his tiny size, his belief that he can control Gulliver seems silly, but his willingness to execute his subjects for minor reasons of politics or honor gives him a frightening aspect. The emperor decides to use Gulliver as a weapon in the war against the Blefuscu, another society of tiny people whom the Lilliputians hate because of perceived differences concerning the proper way to eat eggs. Lilliputians and Blefuscudians are prone to conspiracies and jealousies, and are quick to take advantage of Gulliver in political intrigues of various sorts.

A fire breaks out in the royal palace, and Gulliver extinguishes the fire by urinating on it. As a result of having urinated on the royal palace, he is tried and convicted of treason and sentenced to be shot in the eyes and then starved to death. But, he escapes to Blefuscu, where he finds a boat, is able to repair it, and sets sail for home, England.

Brobdingnag

After staying in England with his wife and family for two months, Gulliver sets off on his next adventure, which takes him to a land called Brobdingnag, populated by giants about 60 feet tall called Brobdingnagians. Here, he is found by a farmer, who puts him in a cage and displays him around Brobdingnag. His exploitation of him as a laborer nearly starves Gulliver to death, and the farmer decides to sell him to the queen, who he must entertain with his musical talents.

The queen of Brobdingnag is so delighted by Gulliver's beauty and charms that she agrees to buy him from the farmer for 1,000 pieces of gold. The queen seems to care about her new pet, asking Gulliver whether he would consent to live at court and inquiring as to the reasons for his cold goodbyes to the farmer. The queen employs a teacher and caretaker for Gulliver, a girl named Glumdalclitch, who affectionately tends to him throughout his adventures in Brobdingnag.

The king of Brobdingnag, in contrast to the emperor of Lilliput, is well-versed in political science. The king's relationship with Gulliver is limited to serious discussions about the history and institutions of Gulliver's native England. Though at one point, the king dismisses him and refers to the English as odious vermin. Gulliver does not escape his captors and their ill treatment until the king and queen decide to take him on a trip, and his cage is plucked up by an eagle and dropped into the sea, where he manages to find his ship and sail back to England.

Laputa and Other Islands

After another two months with his family, Gulliver sets sail again and gets marooned by pirates on a small island. As he's sitting on this island, he sees a shadow passing overhead. It is a floating island called Laputa, inhabited by Laputans, theoreticians and academics who rule over the land below, called Balnibarbi. He signals them for help and is brought up by rope.

Here, the inhabitants are impractical and out of touch with reality, often engaging in inane research and ruining their farms and buildings with newfangled reforms. The Laputans are so inwardly absorbed in their own thoughts that they must be shaken out of their meditations by special servants called flappers, who shake rattles in their ears.

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