Gulliver's Travels Summary

The whole novel of Jonathan Swift consists of four chapters, each of which portrays a different approach to the English society: sometimes ironic, sometimes idealistic or, on the contrary, outright sarcastic. We never know if the humanity has really disappointed the author so much, or he still harbors the hope that it will change. Swift precisely describes all the flaws of his own country, but despite being a satirical novel it is also a great fiction and adventure work that can be interesting both for children, looking for adventures and for adults who may see the deep philosophy of the author behind the fiction events. In this text we will overview the plot of the most well-known two parts of the novel.

The first part starts from the detailed biography of the main character of all the four stories, a surgeon named Lemuel Gulliver. He is the third of five sons. When he was fourteen, Lemuel was sent to the Puritan college, but soon his family ran out of money and he was sent as an apprentice to the London surgeon, Mr. James Baten, to study medicine. Lemuel was much more interested in astronomy, navigation and math, dreaming of becoming a sailor and adventurer. Nevertheless, Lemuel still was a good student, studying surgery thoroughly, because he knew that a good doctor would be needed on every ship. He worked with Mr. Baten until his family regained their wealth and could afford to send Lemuel to the medical university in Leyden. After getting his diploma, Gulliver returned back to Mr. Baten and received recommendations that allowed him to be hired as a crew surgeon to a ship named “Swallow”. Lemuel worked on “Swallow” for several years, then returned to London and married a nice lady, Mary Burton, settling down and starting a family. After several years of seemingly calm life, his business as a private surgeon stopped bringing income and Gulliver decided to go to the sea once more. He soon found a job on another ship named “Antelope” and here the main story starts.

“Antelope” is caught in a terrible storm and the winds drag it somewhere beyond Australia. Now they are completely lost in the sea. Moreover, the food and water supplies are scarce, twelve of the crew die from malnutrition. Now there are not enough people to sail the ship and “Antelope” just drifts until she hits a rock and splits apart. The survived six crew members have no choice than to abandon the ship and try to save themselves in a boat. They don’t know where they sail to, but hope that if there is a rock to break there ship then another rocks, e.g. land, should be near. But then another storm turns over the boat and Lemuel just swims, fighting for his life, until the current brings him, completely exhausted, to the shore.

When Gulliver comes to his senses he understands that he is all tied up from head to toe with something resembling a cobweb, very thin but strong. Even his hair is tied and pinned to the ground. Lemuel sees dozens of tiny men who are climbing him. He tries to set himself free and manages to break the ropes on his left arm, but the archers staying on him and around, immediately fire a rain of arrows into his face. It is as painful as needles, stinging every inch of his skin, so Lemuel decides to obey for now. Soon the tiny people build a stage near his head and some V.I.P. makes a long speech, but Lemuel doesn’t understand a word. He tries to use sign language with his left arm, showing that he is hungry and thirsty and promises not to hurt anyone if only they help him. The tiny people (who are the residents of Lilliput island and call themselves Lilliputians) promptly arrange the huge (for them) baskets with food Gulliver ate as cupcakes and barrels with wine he used as small glasses. After being fed, Gulliver asks the person of authority to release him, so he can pee (he is very attentive to the names of food and drinks, so he can compose the phrase “make water”, clarifying his intentions). The tiny people release the ropes, so he can turn on his side and relieve himself. Soon afterwards Lemuel falls asleep - there was an extremely powerful sleeping potion in the wine. The Lilliputians than make a complicated mechanism consisting of rollers and ropes and powered by tiny horses to transport him near their capital.

Lemuel awakes and sees that he is now chained by his leg, so he is now able to walk only two yards in each direction. The chain is thin (for Gulliver of course, for Lilliputians it was the thickest anchor chain they could find) but strong and Gulliver can’t break it with his bare hands. Meanwhile, hundreds of Lilliputians come to see “The Mountain Man” as English people come to the zoo to see rare animals. Later, Gulliver was informed that by the order of the Emperor, he is disarmed and imprisoned but he will be treated well and a special tutor will be assigned to him to teach him Lilliputian language and culture. The small house is already built for him, it looks more of a comfortable doghouse in size, but still provides shelter to Gulliver. There is even a bed and blanket in it (made of dozens of Lilliputian blankets sewn together). He still has troubles with his basic needs such as defecating and urinating - Lemuel isn’t used to be an exposed beast in the zoo, so he is very embarrassed to do this in public. Another trouble his position gives him is Lilliputians trying to tease him, fire arrows and throw stones towards him. Once a group of people almost hit his eye with the arrow and then they were given to Gulliver to punish them as he wants to. Lots of spectators gathered to see the cruel and unusual death of offenders - but Lemuel just pretended to eat them and then let the horrified Lilliputians go.

After several lessons of Lilliputian language the Emperor himself comes to him. His appearance is pompous but regarding the difference in size, it looks ridiculous to Gulliver. Lemuel tries to greet the Emperor in each language he knows, but in vain - he still understands Lilliputian very poorly, so he can’t say anything really meaningful to the Emperor. But the Emperor sees his obedience and gradually starts introducing Lemuel to the local customs himself. For example, he lets Gulliver look with him at the ceremony of court members applying to the certain high position. They have to walk on the rope, tightened high above the ground and jump in the middle of it. Whoever jumps the highest gets the position. The Emperor explained that they need bravery and self-control to do that, because they can get injured or even die falling down. So it’s a proper test of qualities needed to apply. Also Lemuel learns about other customs of Lilliput: for example, children there are raised by government and different classes are taught different virtues and worldviews: the nobles’ children learn to be just, love their country, be courageous and so on, while peasants are taught to obey. One of the biggest crimes in Lilliput is false accusation: if the case of it is proved, the accused person is rewarded and the accuser is punished for the deed they accused other person of. The government of Lilliput consists of two parties that constantly oppose each other. The main (and fundamental) difference between them is that members of one party wear shoes with high heels and other prefer low heels.

Gulliver is granted freedom, but he has to swear to deliver messages, to aid with building of anything needed by the court and to fight for them in wars. The Lilliputians even find his hat, washed to the shore, and present it back to him. The Principal Secretary named Redresal started to teach him politics, saying that Lilliput is fighting another powerful empire of Blefuscu that is situated on the neighboring island. The ancient feud started when the son of Lilliputian Emperor who ruled at that time injured himself while breaking a smaller end of his breakfast agg. The Emperor, seeing the pain of his heir, immediately made a decree forbidding to break the smaller end of eggs. This horrible violation of traditions caused several revolts and in the last, full-fledged revolution, the Emperor pacified his land with fire and sword and exiled all Big-Enders to the neighboring island. They founded a new city there, then a new country - but the old rivalry still makes them plan new attacks to Lilliput.

When the war indeed starts, Gulliver goes to the shore to prevent enemy ships from coming too close. He just ties them together, as toy ships (the water in the Lilliputian bay barely reached his waist), thoroughly lets the crew members escape and swim to safety, and drags the entire abandoned Blefuscian fleet to the Lilliputian forces. For such a great deed he is granted the title of “Nardak” the highest honor in the empire. But then the Emperor orders him to go to Blefuscu island and wreak havoc there, destroying their army completely and threaten them to obedience with terror. Gulliver, not willing to kill anyone, politely declines: he swore to protect Lilliput, but not to participate in offensive war. The Emperor leaves in anger. Soon Blefuscian ambassador comes to ask for a truce and Gulliver takes him from the shore and transfers to the court. To Lemuel’s great relief the truce is signed.

Then another horrible event happens: the Emperor’s palace catches fire and the Empress’ chambers are burning with all the ladies inside. The Lilliputians are unable to deal with such a big fire and they beg Gulliver for aid. He promptly comes to the palace but sees that he won’t be able to use their tiny buckets. Lemuel chooses the fastest way: he urinates at the palace quickly extinguishing fire. Later he is very worried to hear the Empress’ reaction and he has all the reasons: the lady feels very, very offended. Very soon after that Redresal comes to accuse Gulliver of treason: he “made water” in the royal palace, aided the Blefuscian ambassador and refused to obey Emperor’s orders. The punishment for these deeds is death, but, regarding his military title, Gulliver will be simply blinded.

Seeing that they are really serious, Gulliver flees to the shore back and swims to Blefuscu. Blefuscians are ready and glad to offer him a shelter. They also show him a wrecked boat of human size that lies on the beach. Gulliver stars to repair it and Blefuscians aid him. Soon the ship is ready to depart. The locals give Lemuel plenty of pocket-size sheep to eat on his way. He manages to return home safely, even saving some of the sheep that, according to his words, breed very quickly, soon producing a good herd of livestock for him.

The second part of Gulliver’s story tells us about the very opposite situation: Gulliver reaches the country of giants and can compare how the size influences manners and self-esteem. Lemuel spends ten month with his family and then again goes to work as a doctor on a ship named “Adventure”. This travel is also unlucky for the crew. Again they are dragged away by the storm and have to search for any land to replenish their water supplies. When they see the island, Gulliver with other sailors boarded a boat and go search for springs. But on the island the crew sees a giant man chasing them. They split up and run for their life, Gulliver gets lost and runs to a wheat field, but each plant is much taller than he is. He sees a landlord with the farmers - they looked very usual but were enormous in size. The farmers start to reap the harvest and Gulliver prepares to die under their feet, thinking about the irony and understanding how the Lilliputians really felt about him. But when one is about to step on him, Lemuel screams as loud as he can and farmer notices him.

Despite Gulliver’s worst expectation, he wasn’t eaten alive. The giant appeared to be quite gentle and curious, examining Lemuel as he himself could examine a rare bug. Seeing that he isn’t going to bite, the farmer puts him into his pocket and then shows to his master. The landlord also takes Lemuel and brings him to his home. The wife of the landlord is frightened at first, but Gulliver behaves like a proper gentleman, greeting the lady, and she immediately warms up to him, giving him a tiny part of their own dinner. The only hazard for Gulliver is the children, the toddler sees him as the living toy and the baby - as a rattle. When Gulliver is taken from a baby, they start crying so loud that Lemuel can’t stand the sound. The baby calms down only after the nurse breastfeeds them. Gulliver is disgusted with this sight - there isn’t anything particularly wrong in the giants but they are too big and Lemuel can see all the flaws of their skin very clearly. Later Gulliver is put to sleep, covered by the lady’s handkerchief, but in the middle of the night two huge rats attack him. Lemuel barely survives defending himself with his sword.

In the morning Gulliver shows the landlord’s wife the severed tail of one of the rats and she admires his bravery. She asks her oldest daughter, Glumdalklitch, to care for their unusual guest. The girl takes her new responsibility very seriously, accommodating Lemuel in her dollhouse and starting to teach him the local language. Despite her occasionally nursing him like a doll, she is very sweet and careful. The landlord in the meantime decides that he can make money from having a tiny man and wants Gulliver to perform on stage, opening a circus of one performer. Gulliver agrees, trying to repay his owner for his generosity, but he is too exhausted to perform on stage and gradually gets weaker.

Meanwhile, the rumors about the tiny man reach the King’s court. King orders to bring Gulliver to him to see. The landlord obeys, but during Lemuel’s performance, the Queen sees how tired he was, almost fainting from fatigue and asked her husband to buy Gulliver from his previous owner. The King asks Lemuel if he wants to quit his circus career and the surgeon replies that he would be happy but he asks to leave Glumdalklitch with him. The Queen gladly agrees and the girl is immediately taken to the court as one of her ladies-in-waiting.

The Queen orders to built him a new, much more comfortable dollhouse and tailor the clothes of the court aristocrat to escort her everywhere. Learning the language, Gulliver disputes with King a lot, asking him about the politics in Brobdingnag (the country of the giants) and tells him about English one. The King ridicules the customs of Gulliver’s motherland thinking they are too complicated and pompous. The ruler of the giants keeps himself simple and treats people as equal. Gulliver starts to think that the attitude and self-esteem depend on size somehow. Trying to impress the King Lemuel tells him about the gunpowder and weapons and offers to share the recipe with the King, so that he can conquer the neighboring countries. The King is horrified and orders Lemuel not to talk about such things anymore if he values his life. Gulliver obeys and the King promptly returns to his usual friendly style of conversation. Now Lemuel understands that the giants also value peace and prosperity much more than power and obedience.

Gulliver also makes some souvenirs for Glumdalklitch and the royal family that, due to his comparatively tiny hands, look as the finest work for the giants. But the attention he gets also makes him enemies with the royal dwarf who is now jealous of him. He even tries to kill him while Lemuel travels with the royal family as their pet in his travel box. But when the dwarf abducts Gulliver and throws his box, a giant eagle catches him and drags away. Lemuel is frightened, but relieved also - he is very tired of being a toy for giant people. The only thing he really regrets is that Glumdalklitch will be possibly punished for losing him.

The eagle drops his box in the lands inhabited by the normal-sized people and he manages to return home safe.

The third journey of Gulliver happens only ten days after he returns home. A captain of another ship comes to him and offers a new job. Despite the departure is in two months only, Gulliver persuades his wife that it is a worthy opportunity and agrees to this job. And again the storm rises, leaving their ship defenceless before the attacking pirates. Lemuel’s ship is captured and all the crew is enslaved. Gulliver himself manages to insult the pirate captain and he is thrown away from the ship, with a small boat and scarce supplies of food and water.

Gulliver is adrift for four days. He finally reaches a small island where he can rest, but there is no chance for him to ever return from it by himself. Suddenly, Lemuel sees a floating island above him in the sky. Not sure that it isn’t a mirage, he starts shouting and crying for help. The people on the island hear him and pull down a tricky system of blocks and ropes to raise the man to the island.

Finally Gulliver is surrounded by the people of his size, but they still seem very strange. Their heads are slanted either to the left or to the right and their long robes embroidered with different formulae and astrological signs. They are scientists, so immersed in their thoughts and theories that they need to hire special servants called Flappers who slightly flap their masters when someone talks to them.

The floating island is called Laputa and it’s a place where the brightest minds (or so they think) dwell. Laputa is a kind of a capital, university and a floating residence of the local King. The King rules an archipelago, the island Gulliver sailed to is called Balnibarbi and is populated - he just didn’t have enough time to discover that. Despite the Laputians’ obsession with Math, all the buildings are built poorly and there isn’t a single straight angle in all the island. People don’t really care about practical stuff, they are completely into theoretical science. Laputian women are so offended by their neglecting husbands, that they cheat on them with Balnibarbians on a regular basis, and the scientists still don’t care. Gulliver is introduced to the King himself, but His Majesty isn’t interested in England and the new guest at all.

Gullivers learns that Laputa is a perfectly circular island 10 000 acres in diameter. Due to Balnibarbian strong magnetic fields it can float above the land, but not further. The King and all his family are prohibited to leave Laputa, they rule through the messengers they send to the island below. If one of the Balnibarbian towns starts a revolt, the King orders to direct the island above this town, so it won’t receive neither sun nor rain and soon will surrender back to King’s will. Lemuel has a hard time learning this scarce facts about Laputa, because everyone in the island is so intelligent that it is hard to even speak to them and understand their replies. Gulliver soon becomes very bored and asks the King for permission to leave Laputa and live with the simpler folk below it. The permission is easily granted and Gulliver descends to Balnibarbian capital on land, Metropolis. The ruler of Metropolis, Lord Munodi, warmly greets the guest and accommodates him in his own estate - beautiful and exceptionally well-kept. But when Lemuel walks outside the estate he sees only barren land around. He wonders what happened with seemingly prosperous country and Lord Munodi replies that people of Balnibarbi wanted to implement Laputian academic way of living to their own life but failed and their infrastructure and agriculture was ruined as a result. Lord Munodi was one of the few retrograds, so he kept everything as it was. That’s why his lands are intact.

Gulliver travels across the Balnibarbi island and visits the Great Academy of Ladago, where Balnibarbian scientists study and conduct their experiments. With all due respect to the intelligence of these people, Gulliver still finds most of their work ridiculous. For example, one of the scientists tries to extract solar energy from cucumbers, claiming that they accumulate it when they grow. Another one tries to revert excrements back to the food they were before. Some of the scientists try to rework the concept of language itself, communicating to each other with a bunch of pictures they servants carry. Gunpowder made from ice, spiders weaving silk - Gulliver soon grows tired of that. But then he comes to the department that studies law and politics and is shocked by the illogical theories proposed there. The criminalists are recommended to study the excrements of suspects to find if they are guilty and the sum of taxes is calculated according to the intelligence and beauty of tax subjects. Gulliver can’t stand such a violation of common sense and suggests some serious improvements that work good in his motherland. The academics of Ladago are stunned by the new genius and immediately offer him the position of the honorary Professor. Gulliver politely declines such a generous proposal.

After studying Balnibarbi, Lemuel decides to travel to the neighboring islands. The first one he wants to visit is Maldonada but there are no ships planned for the next month. So Gulliver chooses another direction: the island of Glubbdubdrib where a powerful sorcerer is rumored to live. The sorcerer appears to be quite a hospitable man despite he reanimates the dead to do the work for him. He even offers his guest to choose some deceased people he wants to see. Gulliver asks the sorcerer to revive Alexander the Great. He was fascinated with the history of the great emperor in childhood, but when Alexander indeed comes back to life he tells Lemuel that his main problem that led to his death was alcohol abusing. Gulliver then asks for some more revivals: of Aristotle, Homer, Descartes and other great philosopher. He talks to them individually and sometimes arrange a group discussion, correcting some points in history that are unclear to the modern English people.

Gulliver finally leaves the sorcerer and decides to head to Japan travelling from island to island. His next stop is the kingdom of Luggnagg. Lemuel pretends to be a Dutchman because Dutch people are the only Europeans welcomed in Japan, but the guard of Luggnagg becomes aware of his lie and imprisons him. To be pardoned Gulliver has to beg the King himself - crawling through all the hall of his palace and licking the floor before the King’s feet. The experienced courtiers warn him to be careful - if the King wants to dispose of someone he orders to spill poison on the floor. But Lemuel is spared and free to travel across Luggnagg. During his journey he learns about the community of people called Struldbrug. If the baby born in Luggnaggian family have a special birthmark on their face, they are Struldbrugs, they are actually immortal but have to be exiled to the reservation. Gulliver wonders about the eternal life thinking about hundreds of wonderful things he did if he was immortal, but when he finds the community and talks to Struldbrugs he finds that they envy the gift of death and are very depressed with their immortality because they gradually lost all the desire to live.

Even despite his initial imprisonment, Lemuel manages to get along with the Luggnaggian King. The King presents him gold and a very valuable red diamond and also gives him the excellent recommendations to the Japanese Emperor, so when Gulliver finally reaches Japan he is greeted very warmly. Lemuel presents the Emperor the red diamond and thus skipped the ceremony of stepping the Christian cross as a privileged guest. All Dutchmen are happy to do this to be granted Emperor’s attention. Gulliver leaves Japan in a hurry and returns to his family, this time with great amount of gold, so they can finally live together without him sailing away for years.

But after only four months Gulliver leaves his kids and wife, who is again pregnant, for his last journey, this time as a captain. But on their way the crew revolts and lock Gulliver in his cabin. He hears that they plan to drop him on the deserted island, take the ship and become pirates, but there is nothing he can do. Indeed, he is left on an island and this time it seems there are no human traces on it.

He walks through the inland and finally sees a field with the strange beings on it. They look like humans, but they are naked and behave even not like savages, but like a cattle. Lemuel feels unspeakable disgust and, when one of those creatures violently rushes at him, tries to protect himself with a sword. But there is nothing he can do against the whole pack of them. Gulliver would have been torn to pieces if not the “shepherd” who came to the rescue. But it is a horse. Beautiful, healthy but an ordinary horse who commands humanlike beings in the manner English shepherds command their flock.

After shooing them away the horse calls for other horses and they begin to talk - their whinnies are clearly a language. Gulliver hears the word “Yahoo” several times, understands that it means the humanlike creatures and repeats it, to the great shock of the horses. The grey horse signals Lemuel to come with him and brings him to the house. Gulliver searches for human masters of the house but soon he understands that it belongs to the grey horse. The horse - or Houyhnhnm as they call themselves - shows Lemuel to his wife and seems to talk to her about whether he is Yahoo or not. They even try to take off his clothes to see that it is not an integral part of his body. Deciding that he is still a Yahoo, but a bit smarter one, the Houyhnhnm puts him in a stable where other Yahoo live. Horrified, Gulliver sees that they are indeed humans, just lacking any intelligence. From now on he desperately tries to separate himself from Yahoo, both in his own eyes and in the eyes of Houyhnhnms. He tries to make bread from oath they are fed, eats with knife and fork, is excessively polite and thoroughly studies language to show that he is completely another being.

Gradually the grey Houyhnhnm who Gulliver later calls Master starts to talk to him. He is curious and asks many questions about England, English culture and Lemuel’s own opinion about different things. He tries to tell Master about the misfortune that brought him to the island but none of the Houyhnhnms understand the concept of treason and lies. To explain this Gulliver tells them the history of England, also adding that in England humans own horses, not vice versa. Houyhnhnms don’t believe that humans, so weak and fragile, can control such perfect creatures as themselves, but Gulliver explains that they are forced to obedience from the time they are foals.

Gulliver spends two years among the Houyhnhnms trying to explain them the cultural values of humans and learning their own. The most confusing and disgusting for them is the concept of war. Houyhnhnms conclude that English people are even worse than Yahoo, cunning and more cruel, unable to turn their powers to good. Another strange thing is lawyers who aren’t just and doctors who don’t cure their patients to receive more money. But Master still treats Lemuel more as equal, allowing him to live in the house and eat at the table more as a guest than as a pet.

The more they talk, the more Gulliver admires the Houyhnhnm culture. He feels that they are embodiment of every virtue and is ashamed of his human origins. He tries to distinguish himself from the Yahoo even more, knowing that his Master still isn’t sure who exactly he is. But once, when Lemuel goes to the pond to wash his clothes and take a bath, a female Yahoo assaults him. After that event the Master is finally convinced that Gulliver is the same Yahoo, just of a different breed.

Meanwhile, the Houyhnhnms become concerned about growing of Yahoo population. Yahoo become more cruel, they show something that resemble the deeply corrupted society, stripped of all human virtues. Depression, vanity, sloth - all the sins are grotesquely depicted and Gulliver, to his shame and horror, recognizes each of them. Hoyuhnhnms finally decide that they should treat Yahoo as the horses are treated in England - males shall be gelded and all the Yahoo shall be strictly disciplined since childhood. So they won’t be dangerous and soon will naturally die out. Hoyuhnhnms will breed donkeys instead, as more peaceful, strong and intelligent animals.

Gulliver is spared, but other Houyhnhnms are concerned about Master treating Yahoo as equal. Lemuel has to leave the island immediately. Hearing this news he faints from grief. Gulliver is disgusted of human species, considering Houyhnhnm society a perfect one. He is devastated with the thought about him leaving but still obeys - kissing Master’s hoof farewell.

Gulliver sails to the nearest small island and lives there for almost a week. Then he is found by the natives who pursue and wound him. Luckily, a Portuguese ship comes to the island to replenish her water supplies, just in time to rescue the poor surgeon. But Lemuel is equally disgusted by both Yahoo breeds: the wild and teh civilized ones and tries to hide from both on the other side of the island.

The captain of the ship, Don Pedro is very kind to Lemuel, who, he thinks, has gone mad during his journeys. He finally takes the wounded man to the ship, caring for him all their way to England. But Gulliver stays in his cabin, unable to see so many Yahoos around. Even when his family meets him, incredibly happy to see Lemuel alive, he can’t see anything more than a Yahoo female with cubs and is ashamed that he fathered these cubs. He buys horses and spends almost all his time with them in a stable, speaking to them.

The story ends with the words of Gulliver that all he wrote is true and now he can force himself to sit at the table with his family. He still works hard to make them overcome their natural flaws as Yahoos and hopes that he will be able to help all the society to resemble the society of Hoyuhnhnms.