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Gulliver's Travels

Updated on December 1, 2016

Gulliver's Travels is a satirical novel by the British author Jonathan Swift, published in 1726. It is the story of Lemuel Gulliver, a ship's surgeon and later its captain, whose travels lead him to many strange lands and adventures. He is first shipwrecked on the tiny island of the 6-inch-tall Lilliputians, who capture him and make him a servant to their king and queen. By describing the petty conflicts that Gulliver encounters at the royal court of Lilliput, Swift was actually ridiculing English political rivalries of the early 18th century.

On his second voyage, Gulliver arrives in Brobding-nag, a land of giants, where he is adopted as a pet by a young girl. Gulliver finds that the giants are kind and friendly, but his minute size puts his life in constant danger. The contrast in size between Gulliver and the giants is effective as a satirical device.

During his later travels, Gulliver meets the foolish scientists of Laputa and the immortal Struldbrugs, who long for death. These sections of the novel become increasingly bitter, as Swift caricatures man's misuse of his intelligence. Gulliver's final voyage is to the land of the Houyhnhnms, a race of rational horses that live in a well-organized Utopian society. The horses are served by horrible beasts, called Yahoos, which resemble humans and have all the habits that Swift found disgusting in people. Gulliver later returns to England, but after having lived with the Houyhnhnms, he finds his fellowmen unbearable and prefers the companionship of his horses. It eventually becomes evident that, in this book, noted for its complexity and irony, Gulliver himself represents human folly.

Gulliver's Travels is one of the most famous satires in English and in all literature. Swift's fanciful descriptions and simple narrative style help make it a highly enjoyable work. A simplified version of the first two voyages has become a popular children's classic.

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