Gulliver's Travels Book summary

Jonathan Swift

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Overview

About

Gulliver's Travel was originally titled Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. In Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ships. It is a fictional book that reads like a real travelogue, written from the point of fictional sailor Lemuel Gulliver, and pokes fun at English and European society. It was a controversial book even when it was first published, which was in 1726. It took nearly 10 years for the book to be published with most of its content intact. The caustic descriptions of bodily functions continued to be excluded by editors even then. The third section of the book was the last to be written and it was composed of satire that Gulliver had written as a part of the Martinus Scriblerus Club. Gulliver's travel does not only satire the English and European powers of that time but continues to remain relevant due to its scrutiny and parody of humanity's ways.

Plot Summary

Lemuel Gulliver is the son of a small estate holder, he begins his education by attending a college in Cambridge but is forced to discontinue his education for want of funds. He then apprentices under Master Bates, an eminent surgeon in London, who helps Gulliver secure a position on a ship, and later helps him set up his private practice. Gulliver studies medicine at one of the most prestigious medical colleges, Leyden, and has several sea voyages after his practice begins to fail which occurs after the death of his patron John Bates. Gulliver takes on a favorable position on a ship bound for Surat as the boat surgeon, however, the ship soon runs into terrible weather. Gulliver manages to escape the sinking ship with a few of his crewmates on a boat but it too is overcome with the storm. Gulliver manages to reach the shore of an unknown island only to wake up on the beach and find himself captive to a race of miniature people. These are the people of Lilliput, a race of men that grows only to about 6 inches tall. Gulliver is held prisoner by the emperor of Lilliput, whom Gulliver wins over with his mild manner. Gulliver is soon set free and begins to learn their language and their culture. He wins the highest title of Nardac by stealing away a soon to invade enemy's navy. In this way, he inserts himself into the war between the nation of Lilliput and Blefuscu. Eventually, Gulliver falls out of grace with the Lilliputian Emperor and steals away to Blefuscu from where he manages to return home. However, he doesn't stay home for long, as he sets out on another voyage.

This second ship voyage also meets inclement weather but the ship manages to brave the storm. They find themselves near an unrecognized island, Gulliver goes to the shore along with some other members of the crew but he gets left behind. Gulliver finds himself in the country of giants, Brobdingnag, where he stays with a farmer's family. He is then used as a circus act around the country until he is finally sold to the queen. He manages to survive many of the hardships in that land due to the help of the farmer's daughter, whom he calls Glumdaclitch. He forms a relationship with the King and spends a very long time conversing with him about his region of the world. The kingdom of Brobdingnag is governed through a straightforward moral code and laws. After hearing about the several tragic warfares that had occurred in Gulliver's world, the king labels the human race to be the vilest thing created by God. Gulliver escapes the island by accident, as a bird lifts his traveling tower and throws it in the ocean where it is discovered by an English vessel. He returns home happily to his wife and children.

He sets out again for a third voyage when a close friend invites him to hold a senior position aboard his vessel. Gulliver gladly complies, but when he is given charge of a sloop, he gets overtaken by pirates. He offends a Dutch pirate and so is cast off from the ship in a little boat with limited provisions. He crosses the sea to a clump of islands where he encounters Laputa, a floating island. Gulliver is invited aboard the island and finds it inhabited by the King of Laputa and his court. These people are obsessed with the science of mathematics, music, and astronomy. They are often so engrossed in internal thoughts that they occupy a servant to indicate when it is their turn to speak or listen using bladders filled with pebbles called flappers. Gulliver soon grows weary of the people at court and visits the country called Balnibari that the King of Laputa governs. There he learns of a group of people called the Projectors, who have driven the country to ruin in pursuit of ridiculous and unapplicable science. Gulliver resolves to return home, but on his way there, he first visits Glubdubbdribb where he meets a necromancer. Through him, Gulliver meets several people important dead people like Caesar, Brutus, Homer, Aristotle, Alexander, and several others.

Gulliver then departs for Luggnagg, where he is treated with great hospitality, and learns of a kind people among them that are known to be immortal. To his disappointment, he discovers that immortality did not mean an unlimited period of youth, but that those immortals continued to degrade with age. The king of Luggnagg helps Gulliver reach Japan, where he meets the emperor and then returns to England through Amsterdam.

In his last voyage, Gulliver is given a commission as the captain of a ship, but a lot of his crew die of tropical diseases and so he is forced to recruit from foreign ports. This newly hired crew of sailors forms a mutiny and imprisons Gulliver. They set him down near an island, and Gulliver finds that it is home to the race of noble Houyhnhnms and the wild Yahoos. Gulliver is shocked to realize that the Houyhnhnms who resemble horses are the rulers of the land, while the men like Yahoos are actually domesticated animals used to carry burdens. During his time with Houyhnhnms, Gulliver learns how to lead a simple and virtuous life without any deceit. He finds himself quite content serving his master Houyhnhnm as a servant, but the assembly of Houyhnhnms interjects and compels Gulliver to leave. Gulliver is much saddened to leave his home of several years and cannot abide the thought of returning to the Yahoos. He tries to find a secluded island where he can live the rest of his days all by himself but he is found by a Portuguese vessel whose captain takes him in and forces him to return home to his wife and children. Gulliver returns to his home in England where he retires to the country and prefers to spend his hours with two horses that he purchases.

  • Author(s)

    Jonathan Swift
  • Publication date

    October 28, 1726

  • Language

    English

  • Classification

    Adventure fiction

  • Pages

    352

Keywords

Fantasy, Literature

Publisher

Benjamin Motte