Gulliver's Travels

Gulliver's Travels Video

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Watch the illustrated video summary of the classic novel, Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathan Swift.

Video Transcript:

Gulliver's Travels is a fictionalized travel narrative written by Jonathan Swift in the 18th century. The story satirizes British culture and politics, as English Captain Lemuel Gulliver narrates his extraordinary experiences voyaging to foreign lands. Throughout Gulliver's four distinct trips, he gains new perspectives by comparing the cultures he encounters with his own.

The story begins with an account of Gulliver’s earlier life, including his marriage to Mrs. Mary Burton and his work as a medical doctor. When Gulliver’s business begins to fail, he embarks on a series of sailing trips.

On his first voyage, Gulliver’s challenges begin when a violent storm sinks his ship. As the only survivor, he swims to an island called Lilliput where he passes out from exhaustion. He awakens to find his arms and legs fastened to the ground by small creatures called Lilliputians—who are only six inches high. They begin attacking him with bows and arrows when he tries to break free.

When Gulliver promises not to harm the Lilliputians, they bring him food and drink and take him to their capital. There, the emperor consults with his wisest men about their giant prisoner. They worry Gulliver could escape or cause a famine because of how much food it takes to satisfy him. After he agrees to assist them with civil duties and war efforts, the Lilliputians set him free and give him plenty to eat.

Then, Reldresal, a friend and government official, tells Gulliver about the threat of invasion from those living on the Island of Blefuscu. Years earlier, the Lilliputians disagreed with them over which end of an egg should be cracked; the dispute led to six rebellions and thousands of deaths.

When the Lilliputians and Blefuscudians go to war again, Gulliver proves to be very useful: he drags the entire Blefuscudian fleet of ships to the shore off Lilliput. The emperor then grants Gulliver the title of "Nardac,” the highest honor. Gulliver rejects the emperor’s insistence on destroying the Blefuscudians and making Blefuscu into a province of Lilliput. Instead, Gulliver welcomes an embassy from Blefuscu offering peace, which the emperor has no choice but to accept.

A few days later, when a fire starts in the empress's chamber of the palace, Gulliver extinguishes the flames by urinating on them. Though he saves the palace, he is charged with treason for a variety of offences—including urinating on the royal palace, refusing to reduce Blefuscu to a province, aiding the ambassadors of Blefuscu when they came to ask for peace, and planning to visit Blefuscu.

Although Gulliver respects the Lilliputians laws, which severely punish dishonesty, he soon sees the tiny people for the ridiculous and petty creatures they are. He flees to Blefuscu to avoid having his eyes put out. There he sets sail and is picked up by a merchant ship. Upon his return home, Gulliver shows off the Lilliputian-sized livestock he has smuggled home in his pockets and makes a solid profit.

On his second perilous voyage, a storm forces Gulliver’s ship off course and he lands on a strange island called Brobdingnag that is filled with giants. Gulliver’s crew abandons him out of fear after he wanders away looking for water.

A farmer carries Gulliver to his home after almost stepping on him. Gulliver then falls asleep but is startled by two large rats. He fights them with his hanger, a short sword, killing one and scaring the other away.

The farmer then takes Gulliver to the marketplace to perform for patrons. His reputation impresses the queen who then introduces Gulliver to life at court. There he finds an enemy in a dwarf, who seems to be jealous of all the attention he is getting. The king discusses politics with Gulliver, criticizing England’s government and violent past, then humiliating him by concluding that the English are beneath the Brobdingnagians.

Gulliver experiences a series of dangers due to his small size. The ladies at court treat him like a toy by dressing and undressing him. Gulliver reflects on how overwhelmed and repulsed the Lilliputians must have felt by his enormous presence. After two years at Brobdingnag, Gulliver is seized by a giant eagle who drops him into the sea where he is rescued by a passing ship.

Once back in England, Gulliver finds it difficult to adjust to the proportions of his old life again having spent so much time among the Brobdingnagians. More than two months later, he sets sail on his third perilous journey working as a surgeon. Soon after, the ship is attacked by pirates and Gulliver is set adrift in a small canoe.

Eventually, Gulliver reaches a small floating island full of strange people who call themselves, “Laputa.” They have short attention spans and carry around "Flappers" used for hitting other people during conversation in order to keep them focused. Gulliver finds Laputa boring because the men are obsessed with mathematics and are much more intelligent than he is.

Gulliver then visits the barren land Balnibarbi, where scientists constantly work on pointless experiments like trying to extract sunlight from cucumbers and turning excrement back into food again. He thinks the professors are crazy because they propose studying excrement to find traitors and taxing people based on beauty and wit.

Gulliver next travels to the Island of Glubbdubdrib, where he meets the governor who has the ability to bring back the dead. He asks Gulliver who he wants to come back to life. Gulliver chooses Alexander the Great, who appears after the Governor motions his finger. Alexander the Great tells Gulliver that, contrary to what Gulliver has been taught, he actually died from drinking too much. Gulliver then requests the revival of Homer, Aristotle, and Descartes for group conversations.

Gulliver also encounters an immortal race called Struldbrugs. He envies them, but soon finds they are depressed and jealous of mortals’ ability to die. Gulliver then leaves for Japan where he encounters a closed society, eventually boarding a ship for home, happily returning to his family once again.

After five months, Gulliver leaves his children and pregnant wife to set out on his fourth voyage, this time as captain of his own ship. When his men mutiny, he is stranded on yet another island. He meets the Houyhnhnms: horses endowed with reason that live in a rational, clean, and simple society. Gulliver prefers the Houyhnhnms over their naked human neighbors, the Yahoos, who use reason to gain power and behave like filthy and brutal beasts.

Gulliver stays with the Houyhnhnms for several years. He grows to love them over his own disturbing culture made of people like stupid lawyers and corrupt medical doctors. Gulliver decides that he never wants to leave the Houyhnhnms, but one day they tell him he must go.

Upon his return to England, Gulliver’s family is thrilled to see him alive. However, after observing the Yahoos, Gulliver has become thoroughly disgusted with other humans, including his own family. He buys two horses and spends at least four hours a day in the stables conversing with them. Eventually, he is able to eat at the same table with his family and teaches them how to overcome their vices. His only desire now is to help his society become more like the world of the Houyhnhnms he reluctantly left behind.