Eng 251


Modern novel began to develop during the 18th century.  The term novel derives from the Latin ‘novus’ and from the Italian ‘novella’. It was in opposition to the term ‘romance’, referring to a chivalric story in verse. It was used to refer to a prose fiction which was new because it told stories about recent events. There were many causes which brought to the development of the Novel:  expansion of the reading public,  growth of a new middle class, different position of women, economic reasons. People, who were richer than before, could afford buying books and women had more time for reading because, after the industrial revolution, they had much free time at home: they could buy in shops the products which before were handmade in the houses. Publishing  became a profitable business thanks to the spread of literacy and of reading as a form of entertainment among the wealthy middle class. The professional writers began to appear . They did not have rich patrons but earned their living by writing essays and books. This new situation, together with the creation of the circulating libraries which borrowed books in return of a small subscription fee, increased the numbers of readers. Yet the number of those who could afford buying books was very small and there was still widespread illiteracy. The masses gained a low salary and books were still very expensive to buy.   There was no real public education system yet.  Poor children had little opportunities to study since they were used as industrial laborers and a huge number of people could neither read nor write.

The 18th century novel was labelled as realistic novel: the characters were real people with ordinary names and surnames; they were described in their daily routines; the settings were    real geographical places and the contents were taken from  real stories. Unlike the early Augustans, the novelists liked to write about ordinary people acting in real-life situations. The novelists tried to meet their middle-class readers who wanted to read about ordinary people because they enjoyed seeing themselves as protagonists of the stories. They were the ones who bought the books and consequently the authors’ point of view was the same as the readers’ one.

The most important novelists of the time were: Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding and Laurence Sterne. Some of them devoted to writing because, as an effect of the Test Act of 1673, being Roman Catholics or Dissenters, they were forbidden to hold any important position in society and chose to become novelists or journalists.

DANIEL DE FOE is considered the pioneer of the modern novel and the first novelist in the English literature as well as the first journalist(his The Review is considered the first newspaper). He interpreted the likes and interests of the emerging middle class and depicted the 18th century world.  De Foe’s characters are common men and women with whom his middle-class readers could identify themselves. All characters of his novel narrate their individual struggles for survival in a difficult world, from Moll  Flanders, a prostitute, thief and incestuous wife to Robinson Crusoe, Colonel Jack, Captain Singleton and Roxana.

His novel The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner is regarded as the first English novel. The novel is a true realistic novel: it is based on the real story of a Scotch sailor, Alexander Selkirk, who had lived alone for four years on the Isle of Juan Fernandez in the Pacific after a shipwreck. The story is told in the first person singular in the form of a diary.

Robinson Crusoe is the first narrative in which the character is not a hero, but an average man. De Foe went on with the puritan ideas that had survived even after the collapsing of the Puritan Republic of the Commonwealth. Robinson, a shipwrecked merchant who remained on a desert island for about 28 years, is considered the true puritan man: he showed industry, colonizing spirit, courage and initiative  and was seen by the readers as the personification of their own qualities: practical-minded, resourceful, religious.  He organized his life on the island and succeeded through  hard labor in surviving in a difficult situation exploiting all what the place offered.  Further , he not only made the native man Friday to accept him as master but also   made him use   his language and    converted him to Christianity .  Many critics charged this novel with being an imperialistic novel because it contained an affirmation of capitalism and saw man as an economic animal. Robinson was considered by those critics as the first capitalist hero in English literature, because he looked at everything in economic terms: produced more than he needed,   kept from  the ship a lot of things,   expanded his power on the whole island and eventually became rich.  They pointed out that when Robinson managed to go on board the ship which had been carried within a reaching distance, he also kept some money which, of course, was of no use on a desert island.

JONATHAN SWIFT was the greatest satirist of his age. Using irony and satire he tried to change his own society and   attacked it at all levels. Together with Alexander Pope and others, he established the Scriblerus Club, an association of witty writers who satirized their contemporaries. People of his own time failed to see the irony and, sometime, they cried shame. An Anglican priest, he was appointed Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, where    he was buried.   A Latin epigraph he had composed himself  was placed over his tomb: “ The body of Jonathan Swift, Doctor of Sacred Theology, Dean of this Cathedral Church is buried here where fierce indignation can no more lacerate his heart…”.

Swift is remembered for his Gulliver’s Travels , a novel that, like Robinson Crusoe, is nowadays regarded as a book for children and as an anticipation of the modern fantasy novel. Actually the book was intended to be a bitter satire of his own country. Swift himself wrote to Pope that it “was intended to vex the world rather than divert it”. The novel satirizes the follies and the vices of politicians and scholars and is a very serious comment on politics, on learning and on all Mankind.  It shows Swift’s bad opinion on people. He is very intolerant of people in general and once he wrote to Pope: “ I heartily hate and detest that animal called man”. He maintains that man is not a reasonable animal but an animal endowed with reason, which he is not always able to use in the right way. Gulliver’s Travels tells the various imaginary voyages of Lemuel Gulliver, a surgeon on a ship, to various strange lands where he meets several man-like creatures. The philosophical basis  of the whole novel is in the contrast between rationality and animality. In the first book he is shipwrecked near Lilliput where he meets a race of tiny people, only six inches tall, and he is a giant among them. Rationality is represented by the Lilliputians with their organized society and their deep knowledge of mathematical science in contrast with Gulliver described as a big body. In book 2 the situation is reversed: he is in Brobdingnag, the land of giants   and he is a dwarf among them. The giants embody animality while Gulliver rationality. In the third book he visits the flying island of Laputa inhabited by scientists   concerned with abstract ideas. He visits the University of Lagado where he meets the “ projectors”, who work on new scientific odd plans: take sunbeams out of cucumbers,  melt ice into gunpowder,   melt ice into gunpowder and so on. They are presented in a decadent way: badly dressed, long hair and beard, very dirty, and even as beggars. Animality is seen in the scientists while rationality is seen in man. In the last book he is in the land of the Houyhnhnms , intelligent horses that can talk. They are perfectly rational and virtuous. They have man-like slaves, the Yahoos, who are bestial, irrational and vicious. Gulliver himself is seen by the Houyhnhnms as a Yahoo. In these various countries Gulliver explains to the inhabitants about life in Europe and in particular in England. What Gulliver says is how things should be , not how they are, and so his words become an ironical attack on what he is describing. In the first book he attacks the English Government and the hypocrisies of the party system. Catholic Religion is ironically attacked, too. Swift comments the dispute over whether an egg should be broken, to be eaten, at the big end or at the little end: “ all true believers shall break their eggs at the most convenient end”.  In the second book he attacks the judicial and the political system in Britain aiming at stressing the hypocrisy and corruption practiced in the Institutions. In the third book  there is an attack on science and on members of the Royal Society while in the fourth and last he attacks man. When he comes home after his rescue, he cannot accept the human race any longer. The human beings appear to him  like the Yahoos and he goes to live in a stable with the company of horses.

Swift was not insensible to the sufferings of the Irish and he was indignant at their exploitation by the British Government. The Irish lived on bad condition. He   wrote and published a work in defense of Ireland: Modest Proposal from Preventing the Children of poor people from being a burden to their parents or the country. It was a new attack against the English.  Using satire, he explained, that the misery of the starving Irish could be easily relieved by selling their children to the rich as food. There was also another benefit for the Irish: it should have solved the problem of overpopulation of Ireland, too. It was of course a provocation but at the times some foreign readers took it as an actual and serious one and there was quite a scandal

SAMUEL RICHARDSON: He is considered the inventor of the epistolary novel and the father of the novel of sentimental analysis. He introduced psychological studies of the characters, especially women. He started his career as a novelist quite late in his life when  some booksellers asked him to help the uneducated in their correspondence writing a sequence of letters   dealing with everyday subjects. Among these letters were to be included some to instruct pretty servant-girl to protect their virtue. He liked this idea also because, when he was at school, he used to be the adviser of girls who wanted to correspond with their sweethearts.  He decided to make a novel from the letters, and wrote Pamela, or virtue Rewarded. He chose an actual case  he had heard of, in which a virtuous 15-year-old  maidservant, who worked in a rich household, had resisted her master’s advances.

The story is told through a series of letters from Pamela Andrews to her parents and their answers   to her. She asked for advice to defend herself from her master, Mr B, who wanted to seduce her . Published in November 1740, the novel had an instant success and it was followed by a second edition in February 1741, a third in March and even a fourth in May. As we can see, Pamela originated from the realistic moral problem for many young girls  who worked as maids: how to resist the advances of their rich masters. Pamela celebrates the middle-class value of chastity before marriage in opposition to the lasciviousness of the aristocracy. The theme of the persecuted maiden attracted many readers. The readers divided into “Pamelists”, who were for Pamela, and “Anti-Pamelists”, who criticized her. Pamelists maintained that she was a poor and simple girl who tried to keep herself honest and chaste. Anti-Pamelists ,  instead, maintained that her behavior was not guided by purity but by utilitarianism: she was a cunning girl, who used her virtue to climb the social ladder and she provoked her master to make him marry her. In the 18thcentury  many people thought that virginity was not a value for a poor girl to defend and  that it was her duty as a servant to please her master.  Not all women considered chastity and honesty virtues to be defended. For instance Moll Flanders, the heroine created by De Foe uses her beauty and her seductive charm to improve the conditions of her miserable life. Pamela is considered the first best-seller in English Literature. It had got a happy ending, she married Mr B., and it pleased the readers, women above all, helping its success. Clarissa Harlowe, his second epistolary novel, is considered Richardson’s masterpiece. It deals with a woman who tries to escape from a combined marriage to a man she does not like. She finds refuge at a nobleman’s who seduces and rapes her. Clarissa refuses to marry him and eventually lives as an outcast condemned by society.

Richardson’s success in his own age is mostly due to the subject matter of his novels, and to the technique of narration he used. As far as the former, that is the theme of  women who defend their virtues from the advances of a powerful man, it  appealed to a vast audience, above all women who constituted the larger part of the reading public. The other element was the suspense created by   the technique that Richardson used. He himself defined it as “writing to the moment”. This technique is a bit similar to the one used in modern soap operas: each letter dealing with the present has got elements whose consequences will happen in the next letter thus letting the reader wait.

HENRY FIELDING: He was the first English novelist to introduce the burlesque element in the novel. He defined his novels as  “comic epic poem in prose.  The mock epic   is a parody of the epic  because it treats trivial things as if they had great importance. The  protagonist is involved in a series of apparently dangerous  adventures. Fielding was different from De Foe and Richardson. He belonged to the aristocracy  and unlike them, he did not believe in sexual chastity above all other virtues. The aristocracy regarded uninhibited sexuality with indulgence and considered other virtues as courage, generosity and loyalty above it. His first novel, An Apology for the Life of Mrs Shamela Andrews is to be considered as a reaction against the hypocrisy of the time as well as a reaction to Richardson’s Pamela. Fielding wanted to ridicule the Puritan view of morality. The Shamela in the title is a pun on the words of “shame” and Pamela. In his second  novel, Joseph Andrews, he   wanted at first to parody Richardson’s Pamela but he put aside this idea and wrote a story based on the life and adventures of Joseph, Pamela’s brother, and a friend of his. The situation is reversed and we have a young man who works at a lady’s that wants to seduce him after her husband’s death. Joseph, who is chaste and virtuous, refuses her advances.

Tom Jones ,his best novel,  is a picture of the life of the lower and upper classes of the 18thcentury society. Fielding depicts with humor and irony human weaknesses and stresses his tolerant attitude towards them. Tom is an unheroic character and has all the limits of the ordinary man. Fielding’s novels are considered picaresque in style, written in imitation of Cervantes  (Picaresque novels come from Spain and  deal with the adventures of a rascal of low social class; they are usually humorous, full of action  and excitement).

LAURENCE STERNE: In his own time, Sterne was considered an anti-novelist because he did not follow the canons of the realistic novel. He is the closest novelists to the modern ones of all eighteenth century novelists. His novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman was written in instalments in nine volumes between 1759 and 1767. It  does not respect  the 18th century canons of the realistic novel. It is unconventional and very difficult to summarize. It recalls the stream of consciousness technique of Joyce and Woolf: it has no plot, no time scheme; it is full of the author’s interventions, digressions, comments, asides, long quotations, and many unusual devices  and eccentric typographical characteristics as black pages ( to mourn a friend’s death),marbled pages, white pages, asterisks, arabesques, a little hand with printed finger to direct the reader’s attention to a point   . When a digression takes places, the author shifts from the main theme of the novel to other topics which are not related with what the character is going to do or say. The time of the story is interrupted to be resumed at the end of the digression. The temporal dimension is non-existent and clock time is abandoned for psychological time. The digressions allowed Sterne to tell events of the past or of the future in whatever order he pleased. The story is told in the first person singular by the main character, Tristram Shandy who remembers particular events of his past and present life. It starts with a flashback: we meet Tristram in the first volume as an adult but his birth happens in the third volume . We may suppose that Sterne was influenced by John Locke’s theory of the Association of Ideas. Tristram himself  defined Locke’s Essays as “ a history book….of what passes in a man’s own mind”. Sterne made a distinction between time of the clock, that is the chronological time, and time of the mind. Organizing his plot, the author goes backwards and forwards in time, thus disrupting the chronological order. He anticipated Bergson’s theory of the time, “la Durée”. Bergson thought that each individual lives moments and experiences that cannot be measured in fixed periods of time since the mind has its own time different from the conventional one of the external world.


Daniel Defoe

Plot Overview

Robinson Crusoe is an Englishman from the town of York in the seventeenth century, the youngest son of a merchant of German origin. Encouraged by his father to study law, Crusoe expresses his wish to go to sea instead. His family is against Crusoe going out to sea, and his father explains that it is better to seek a modest, secure life for oneself. Initially, Robinson is committed to obeying his father, but he eventually succumbs to temptation and embarks on a ship bound for London with a friend. When a storm causes the near deaths of Crusoe and his friend, the friend is dissuaded from sea travel, but Crusoe still goes on to set himself up as merchant on a ship leaving London. This trip is financially successful, and Crusoe plans another, leaving his early profits in the care of a friendly widow. The second voyage does not prove as fortunate: the ship is seized by Moorish pirates, and Crusoe is enslaved to a potentate in the North African town of Sallee. While on a fishing expedition, he and a slave boy break free and sail down the African coast. A kindly Portuguese captain picks them up, buys the slave boy from Crusoe, and takes Crusoe to Brazil. In Brazil, Crusoe establishes himself as a plantation owner and soon becomes successful. Eager for slave labor and its economic advantages, he embarks on a slave-gathering expedition to West Africa but ends up shipwrecked off of the coast of Trinidad.

Crusoe soon learns he is the sole survivor of the expedition and seeks shelter and food for himself. He returns to the wreck’s remains twelve times to salvage guns, powder, food, and other items. Onshore, he finds goats he can graze for meat and builds himself a shelter. He erects a cross that he inscribes with the date of his arrival, September 1, 1659, and makes a notch every day in order never to lose track of time. He also keeps a journal of his household activities, noting his attempts to make candles, his lucky discovery of sprouting grain, and his construction of a cellar, among other events. In June 1660, he falls ill and hallucinates that an angel visits, warning him to repent. Drinking tobacco-steeped rum, Crusoe experiences a religious illumination and realizes that God has delivered him from his earlier sins. After recovering, Crusoe makes a survey of the area and discovers he is on an island. He finds a pleasant valley abounding in grapes, where he builds a shady retreat. Crusoe begins to feel more optimistic about being on the island, describing himself as its “king.” He trains a pet parrot, takes a goat as a pet, and develops skills in basket weaving, bread making, and pottery. He cuts down an enormous cedar tree and builds a huge canoe from its trunk, but he discovers that he cannot move it to the sea. After building a smaller boat, he rows around the island but nearly perishes when swept away by a powerful current. Reaching shore, he hears his parrot calling his name and is thankful for being saved once again. He spends several years in peace.

One day Crusoe is shocked to discover a man’s footprint on the beach. He first assumes the footprint is the devil’s, then decides it must belong to one of the cannibals said to live in the region. Terrified, he arms himself and remains on the lookout for cannibals. He also builds an underground cellar in which to herd his goats at night and devises a way to cook underground. One evening he hears gunshots, and the next day he is able to see a ship wrecked on his coast. It is empty when he arrives on the scene to investigate. Crusoe once again thanks Providence for having been saved. Soon afterward, Crusoe discovers that the shore has been strewn with human carnage, apparently the remains of a cannibal feast. He is alarmed and continues to be vigilant. Later Crusoe catches sight of thirty cannibals heading for shore with their victims. One of the victims is killed. Another one, waiting to be slaughtered, suddenly breaks free and runs toward Crusoe’s dwelling. Crusoe protects him, killing one of the pursuers and injuring the other, whom the victim finally kills. Well-armed, Crusoe defeats most of the cannibals onshore. The victim vows total submission to Crusoe in gratitude for his liberation. Crusoe names him Friday, to commemorate the day on which his life was saved, and takes him as his servant.

Finding Friday cheerful and intelligent, Crusoe teaches him some English words and some elementary Christian concepts. Friday, in turn, explains that the cannibals are divided into distinct nations and that they only eat their enemies. Friday also informs Crusoe that the cannibals saved the men from the shipwreck Crusoe witnessed earlier, and that those men, Spaniards, are living nearby. Friday expresses a longing to return to his people, and Crusoe is upset at the prospect of losing Friday. Crusoe then entertains the idea of making contact with the Spaniards, and Friday admits that he would rather die than lose Crusoe. The two build a boat to visit the cannibals’ land together. Before they have a chance to leave, they are surprised by the arrival of twenty-one cannibals in canoes. The cannibals are holding three victims, one of whom is in European dress. Friday and Crusoe kill most of the cannibals and release the European, a Spaniard. Friday is overjoyed to discover that another of the rescued victims is his father. The four men return to Crusoe’s dwelling for food and rest. Crusoe prepares to welcome them into his community permanently. He sends Friday’s father and the Spaniard out in a canoe to explore the nearby land.

Eight days later, the sight of an approaching English ship alarms Friday. Crusoe is suspicious. Friday and Crusoe watch as eleven men take three captives onshore in a boat. Nine of the men explore the land, leaving two to guard the captives. Friday and Crusoe overpower these men and release the captives, one of whom is the captain of the ship, which has been taken in a mutiny. Shouting to the remaining mutineers from different points, Friday and Crusoe confuse and tire the men by making them run from place to place. Eventually they confront the mutineers, telling them that all may escape with their lives except the ringleader. The men surrender. Crusoe and the captain pretend that the island is an imperial territory and that the governor has spared their lives in order to send them all to England to face justice. Keeping five men as hostages, Crusoe sends the other men out to seize the ship. When the ship is brought in, Crusoe nearly faints.

On December 19, 1686, Crusoe boards the ship to return to England. There, he finds his family is deceased except for two sisters. His widow friend has kept Crusoe’s money safe, and after traveling to Lisbon, Crusoe learns from the Portuguese captain that his plantations in Brazil have been highly profitable. He arranges to sell his Brazilian lands. Wary of sea travel, Crusoe attempts to return to England by land but is threatened by bad weather and wild animals in northern Spain. Finally arriving back in England, Crusoe receives word that the sale of his plantations has been completed and that he has made a considerable fortune. After donating a portion to the widow and his sisters, Crusoe is restless and considers returning to Brazil, but he is dissuaded by the thought that he would have to become Catholic. He marries, and his wife dies. Crusoe finally departs for the East Indies as a trader in1694. He revisits his island, finding that the Spaniards are governing it well and that it has become a prosperous colony.


Preface & Chapters I–III

Summary: Preface

An unnamed editor explains his reasons for offering us the narrative we are about to read. He does not mention the name or story of Robinson Crusoe explicitly but, rather, describes the narrative as a “private man’s adventures in the world” and focuses on its realism when he calls it a “just history of fact.” He claims it is modest and serious, and that it has an instructive value, teaching us to honor “the wisdom of Providence.” Thus, the editor asserts he is doing a great service to the world in publishing Crusoe’s tale.

Summary: Chapter I — I Go to Sea

I was born in the year 1632, in the city of York, of a good family, though not of that country, my father being a foreigner. . . .

A man named Robinson Crusoe records his own life story, beginning with his birth in 1632in the English city of York. Crusoe’s father was a German, originally named Kreutznaer. Crusoe is the youngest of three brothers, the eldest being a soldier and the second one having vanished mysteriously. As the youngest son in the family, Crusoe is expected to inherit little, and, as a result, his father encourages him to take up the law. But Crusoe’s inclination is to go to sea. His family strongly opposes this idea, and his father gives him a stern lecture on the value of accepting a middle station in life. Crusoe resolves to follow his father’s advice. But when one of his friends embarks for London, Crusoe succumbs to temptation and boards the ship on September 1, 1651. A storm develops. Near Yarmouth the weather is so bad that Crusoe fears for his life and prays to God for deliverance. The ship nearly founders, but all are saved. Crusoe sees this ordeal as a sign of fate that he should give up sea travel, and his friend’s father warns him against setting foot on a ship again, echoing his own father’s warning.

Summary: Chapter II — I Am Captured by Pirates

Crusoe parts with his friend and proceeds to London by land, where he meets a sea captain who proposes that Crusoe accompany him on an upcoming merchant voyage. Writing to his family for investment money, Crusoe sets off with forty pounds worth of trinkets and toys to sell abroad. Crusoe makes a net income of 300pounds from this trip, and considers it a great success. Taking one hundred pounds with him, and leaving the remaining 200 pounds with a widow whom he trusts, Crusoe sets off on another merchant expedition. This time he is pursued by Moorish pirates off the coast of Sallee in North Africa. His ship is overtaken, and Crusoe is enslaved, the only Briton among his Moorish master’s slaves. Crusoe is assigned the task of fishing because of his natural skill. One day the slaves’ fishing vessel gets lost in fog, and the master installs a compass on board. The master also stores some gunpowder on board in preparation for a shooting party, but the guests do not come. Crusoe waits.

Summary: Chapter III — I Escape from the Sallee Rover

Robinson sets off on a fishing expedition with two other slaves, a man named Ismael and a boy named Xury. Sneaking up behind Ismael, Robinson pushes him into the water. Ismael swims alongside the boat and begs to be taken in. Crusoe pulls a gun on him and tells him to return to shore or else be killed. Crusoe then asks Xury whether he will accompany him and serve him faithfully, and Xury agrees. By evening, Crusoe calculates they have sailed 150 miles south of Sallee. They see wild creatures onshore that Crusoe recognizes as lions. Crusoe shoots one dead, and he and Xury skin it. They proceed southward toward what Crusoe believes are the Cape Verde or Canary Islands. They see naked black people onshore, and they fear them until the natives offer them food. When the Africans witness Crusoe shooting a leopard, they are impressed, and they offer the skin to Crusoe. Unsure where to head, Crusoe is surprised by a European ship in the distance. The ship picks up Xury and Crusoe, and its kind Portuguese captain offers to take them to Brazil. The captain buys Crusoe’s boat as well as Xury.

Analysis: Preface & Chapters I–III

These chapters introduce us to Crusoe’s particular style of narration, which revolutionized the English novel: he speaks openly and intimately, with none of the grandiose rhetorical effects notable in earlier ages of English literary history. In telling us frankly how much profit he makes from his first merchant venture, and in acknowledging his inner struggle about obeying his father or following his desire to go to sea, Crusoe addresses us as if we are his close and trusted friends. He is also an exceedingly practical and fact-oriented narrator, as the editor emphasizes in calling the narration a “just history of fact.” Crusoe is fixated on precise details, telling us the exact day he set off on his voyage and the number of miles south of Sallee he is. His feelings are less fully narrated, though he does relate his anguish at disobeying his father. Crusoe also shows his basic kindness and humanity in sparing the life of Ismael, though it is clear that this act is a minor detail for him. His focus on facts, actions, and details helps mark the beginning of the novelistic form in English literature.

Crusoe’s narrative is not just an adventure story about storms and pirates, but also what in religious literature is called an exemplary tale: a tale told for purposes of moral and religious instruction. In the Preface, the editor explicitly tells us that this novel will teach us to honor “the wisdom of Providence.” We are meant to learn something spiritually useful when reading this story. Crusoe underscores this spiritual aspect by focusing on his wickedness in disobeying his father’s orders, and the punishments that come upon him for doing so. In Chapter II he refers to the “evil influence which carried me first away from my father’s house,” and the word “evil” is important: this choice is not just a foolish decision, but one made with a morally wicked influence. Moreover, the evil curiously makes Crusoe its passive victim, introducing another central aspect of Robinson’s story—his own passivity. Crusoe’s place as the rebellious younger son in the family, resembling the Prodigal Son in the Bible, enhances the religious side of Crusoe’s story.

The idea of foreignness is introduced as an important foreshadowing of Crusoe’s later long existence as a castaway in an alien land. Interestingly, despite the story’s beginning in Hull and London, Crusoe does not focus much attention on any Englishmen in his narrative. The friend who tempts him on board the ship is not named, and Crusoe shows no real affection for him. Not even Crusoe’s family members are named. The English simply do not appear to excite his interest. By contrast, Crusoe is quick to tell us the names of the other slaves, Ismael and Xury, on the Moorish fishing boat. The Portuguese captain is not named, but he is described with much more vividness than the first English captain. Crusoe reveals a basic predisposition toward foreigners that underscores his early inclination to go to sea and leave England. As the son of a foreigner—his father’s name was Kreutznaer—this roaming may be his fate. Perhaps like Odysseus in The Odyssey, he is simply destined by nature to leave home.

Chapters IV–VII

Summary: Chapter IV — I Become a Brazilian Planter

After a voyage of twenty-two days, Crusoe lands in Brazil, accepting many farewell gifts from the Portuguese captain. After meeting his Anglo-Brazilian neighbor, he conceives a plan to become a tobacco planter. For two years Crusoe earns only enough on which to subsist, but in the third year he begins to do well and, in retrospect, misses the labor potential of the slave boy Xury whom he sold. Having told the Portuguese captain of his 200 pounds left in England, the captain arranges to have one hundred pounds sent to Crusoe in Brazil, along with many gifts besides. After receiving what the captain sent, Crusoe feels quite well off. Eager for slave labor to extend his business further, he agrees to an acquaintance’s plan to sail to Guinea for black slaves, in exchange for his own share of the slaves.

Summary: Chapter V — I Go on Board in an Evil Hour

After writing a will leaving half his possessions to the Portuguese captain, Crusoe sets sail for Guinea on September 1, 1659 with a cargo of trinkets with which to buy slaves. Sailing up the South American coast, the ship encounters a storm, and two men are lost. Crusoe fears for his life. Reaching the Caribbean, the ship is shaken by yet another storm that drives the ship onto the sand, breaking the rudder. The ship is clearly doomed, and the crew climbs into boats to make for shore. Crusoe loses sight of his mates when all are swept away by an immense wave. Finally Crusoe makes it to shore, where he immediately prays to God in gratitude. He never sees a sign of another living crewmember. After drinking some fresh water and finding a tree in which to sleep, Crusoe spends his first night on the island.

Summary: Chapter VI — I Furnish Myself with Many Things

“O drug!” said I aloud, “what art thou good for?”

Awakening the next morning refreshed, Crusoe goes down to the shore to explore the remains of the ship. Swimming around it, he finds it impossible to climb aboard until he finds a chain hanging, by which he pulls himself up. Crusoe conceives the idea of building a raft out of broken lumber, on which he loads provisions of bread, rice, goat meat, cheese, and other foods. He also finds clothes, arms, and fresh water. He sails his cargo-laden raft into a small cove, where he unloads it. He notices that the land has wildfowl but no other humans. Crusoe returns to the ship twelve times over the following thirteen days. On one of the later trips he finds thirty-six pounds, and he sadly meditates on how worthless the money is to him. After a strong wind that night, he awakens to find the ship’s remains gone the next morning.

Summary: Chapter VII - I Build My Fortress

Wary of savages, Crusoe decides he must build a dwelling or “fortress,” as he calls it. He chooses a spot with a view of the sea, protected from animals and the heat of the sun and near fresh water. He drives wooden stakes into the ground, using them as a frame for walls. Crusoe sleeps securely in the shelter that night. The next day he hauls all of his provisions and supplies inside, and hangs a hammock on which to sleep. He also builds a cellar. During a thunderstorm he suddenly worries about his gunpowder supply, which he separates from the other supplies and stores in the cellar. Crusoe discovers wild goats on the island. He kills one and then sees that it had a kid, which he then kills too. On about his twelfth day on the island, he erects a large cross that he inscribes with the date of his arrival, September 30, 1659. He resolves to cut a notch on the cross to mark every passing day. He also begins a journal in which he records the good and evil aspects of his experience, until he runs out of ink. He keeps watch for passing ships, always disappointed.

Analysis: Chapters IV–VII

The question of whether Crusoe’s humanity will survive on the island, or whether he will revert to savagery, is subtly raised in these chapters. His changing relationship to Xury is one example of a test of morality. During his early acquaintance with the boy, Crusoe appears genuinely fond of him, moved by the boy’s expression of loyalty and by their solidarity as slaves of the same master. But then, Crusoe, recently a slave himself, coldly sells Xury to the Portuguese captain with no compunction at all. When Crusoe thinks about Xury later, he does not recollect memories of a long-lost acquaintance, but instead laments missing out on the potential for slave labor: he and his planter neighbor “both wanted help, and now I found, more than before, I had done wrong in parting with my boy Xury.” We might feel what is “wrong” is not his business decision, but the sale of his supposed friend as a slave for profit. The question of whether morality is socially adaptable or naturally inborn was disputed in seventeenth-century England: the philosopher Thomas Hobbes maintained that men are naturally savages. Crusoe is a case study in the nature of human morals.

Crusoe’s sense of religion seems, on the one hand, to develop strongly, but on the other hand, some of his words do raise some doubt about his beliefs. Certainly he appears very devout when his first reaction on reaching dry land after his shipwreck is “to look up and thank God that my life was saved in a case wherein here was some minutes before scarce any room to hope.” But, as many have noticed, his comments right after this remark are theologically unsound: “I believe it is impossible to express to the life what the ecstasies and transports of the soul are when it is so saved, as I may say, out of the very grave. . . .” As any devout Christian of Defoe’s day would know, the soul is eternal, and what Crusoe should instead say is that his bodily life is saved. The remark is thus a bit ignorant even at the moment when he appears to be deeply God-fearing. Later, when he builds a cross on the island and devotes it to himself and his time on the island, rather than to Christ, our doubt over his true faith in God grows further.

Crusoe’s relation to material possessions is a prominent topic in these chapters. Crusoe repeatedly suggests that his shipwreck is a punishment for his greed for profits and that his pursuit of ever more material wealth has caused his current misery. His biblical prototype Job, another survivor of a disaster at sea, learns from his ordeal to disdain material possessions. Crusoe’s survival on the island seems like a rebirth into true Christian spirituality, a chance to live less materially and more religiously. Yet when Crusoe makes not one or two, but twelve trips to the ship for salvaged supplies, we wonder how nonmaterialistic he has really become. It is doubtful that in his solitude he needs “a dozen of good knives and forks.” He proudly entitles one of his chapters I Furnish Myself with Many Things. When he discovers thirty-six pounds in coins on the ship, he first disdains it with Christian high-mindedness, saying, “Oh drug, what art thou good for,” but then he takes the money with him anyway. His attitude toward possessions seems a major contradiction in his character, and these sorts of contradictions exist throughout the novel.

Chapters VIII–XII

Summary: Chapter VIII — The Journal

Crusoe makes us privy to the journal that he keeps for a while, beginning with an entry dated “September 30, 1659,” that inaugurates his account of life on the “Island of Despair,” as he calls it. He proceeds to narrate events that have already been narrated: his discovery of the ship’s remains, his salvaging of provisions, the storm that destroys the ship entirely, the construction of his house, and so on. He notes that he has lost track of which day is Sunday, and he is thus unable to keep the Sabbath religiously. He records the building of various pieces of furniture and tools. He tames his first goat.

Summary: Chapter IX — I Throw Away the Husks of Corn

Continuing his journal, Crusoe records his failed attempt to tame pigeons and his manufacture of candles from goat grease. He tells of his semimiraculous discovery of barley: having tossed out a few husks of corn in a shady area, he is astonished to find healthy barley plants growing there later. He carefully saves the harvest to plant again and thus is able eventually to supply himself with bread. On April 16, an earthquake nearly kills him as he is standing in the entrance to his cellar. After two aftershocks, he is relieved to feel it end with no damage to his life or property.

Summary: Chapter X — It Blows a Most Dreadful Hurricane

Immediately after the earthquake, a hurricane arrives. Crusoe takes shelter in his cave, cutting a drain for his house and waiting out the torrential rains. He is worried by the thought that another earthquake would send the overhanging precipice falling onto his dwelling and resolves to move. But he is distracted from this plan by the discovery of casks of gunpowder and other remains from the ship that have been driven back to shore by the hurricane. Crusoe spends many days salvaging these remains for more useful items.

Summary: Chapter XI — I Am Very Ill and Frighted

For more than a week of rainy weather, Crusoe is seriously ill with a fever and severe headache. He is almost too weak to get up for water, though he is dying of thirst. He prays to God for mercy. In one of his feverish fits, he hallucinates a vision of a man descending from a black cloud on a great flame. The man brandishes a weapon at Crusoe and tells him that all his suffering has not yet brought him to repentance. Crusoe emerges from the vision to take stock of the many times he has been delivered from death and cries over his ingratitude. He utters his first serious prayer to God, asking for an end to his distress. The next day, Crusoe finds he is beginning to recover, though he is still so weak he can hardly hold his gun. He struggles with thoughts of self-pity followed by self-reproach. Taking some tobacco and rum, his mind is altered and he opens the Bible to read a verse about calling on the Lord in times of trouble, which affects him deeply. He falls into a profound sleep of more than twenty-four hours, which throws off his calendar calculations forever. In the days that follow, Crusoe almost completely recovers and kneels to God in gratitude. He prefers not to eat the wildfowl while sick and instead eats some turtle eggs that he finds. He begins a serious reading of the New Testament and regrets his earlier life. He comes to conceive of his isolation on the island as a kind of deliverance from his former guilty existence.

Summary: Chapter XII — I Take a Survey of the Island

Now, in the month of July, in his tenth month on the island, Crusoe discovers that the rainy season is a very unhealthy time. Having acquiesced in the idea that only Providence controls his deliverance from the island, Crusoe resolves to explore the place thoroughly. He discovers sugarcane and grapes, and is delighted with the beauty of one valley especially. He secretly exults in imagining himself the king and lord of the whole domain. Crusoe lays out grapes to make raisins and carries home a large basket of limes and grapes. He contemplates choosing that site as his new home, then spends the rest of July building a bower in the valley. He notes that his domicile now houses some cats. He celebrates the passing of one year on the island by fasting all day. Shortly after this occasion, he runs out of ink and discontinues his journal.

Analysis: Chapters VIII–XII

Crusoe’s journal provides little interesting new information for us, since most of it narrates previously recounted material. But it does offer insights into Crusoe’s character, especially his conception of his own identity. First, he introduces himself as “poor, miserable Robinson Crusoe,” which strikes a startling note of self-pity that contradicts the sturdy, resourceful self-image of his narrative. There may be some grandiose posturing in this journal. Moreover, as many have noticed, Crusoe’s journal is false in its dating, despite its author’s loudly trumpeted concern for absolute accuracy. By Crusoe’s own admission, he states that he arrived on the island on the thirtieth of September. His idea of a journal comes only later: “After I had been there about ten or twelve days, it came into my thoughts, that I should lose my reckoning of time for want of books, and pen and ink. . . .” Thus he keeps no journal for the first ten or twelve days. Yet his first journal entry is dated “September30, 1659,” the day of his arrival. Clearly Crusoe likes the idea of using the journal to account for all his time on the island, giving himself an aura of completeness, even if it requires some sneaky bookkeeping to do so. This deception suggests to us that his interest in the hard facts may be less than objective, and may actually be more subjective and self-serving.

The most important psychological development in these chapters is Crusoe’s born-again conversion. Crusoe has had many religious moments, sometimes quickly forgotten. One example of this forgetting occurs when he first calls the sprouting corn a miracle, then later attributes it to mere good luck. But during his illness, his turn to religion seems profound and lasting. His hallucination of a wrathful angel figure that threatens him for not repenting his sins is a major event in his emotional life, which up to this point has seemed free from such wild imaginings. When he later takes tobacco-steeped rum and reads a verse of the Bible that tells him to call upon God in times of trouble, he seems deeply affected. Indeed, his loss of a day from his calendar may represent his relinquishment of total control of his life and his acknowledgment of a higher power in charge. When he falls on his knees to thank God for delivering him from his illness, his faith seems sincere. This faith forces him to reevaluate the island itself, which, he tells himself, may not be a place of captivity, but a place of deliverance from his earlier sins. He thus redefines his whole landscape—and his whole life—much more optimistically.

Partly as a result of Crusoe’s born-again experience, his attitude toward the island improves dramatically. No longer viewing it as a place of punishment and misery, he starts to see it as his home. Indeed, he now uses the word “home” explicitly in reference to his camp. Significantly, he now notices how beautiful parts of the island are when he explores the terrain after his recovery. He describes the “delicious vale” that he discovers, in which he decides to build a bower. He surveys the area “with a secret kind of pleasure . . . to think that this was all my own, that I was king and lord of all this country indefeasibly and had a right of possession.” This attitude shift is extraordinary. He no longer views himself, as he does in his first journal entry, as “poor, miserable Robinson,” but is now feeling the pleasure of calling himself king and lord of a delicious vale. Yet his happiness in his island life is short-lived, since only a few pages later he refers to the “unhappy anniversary of my landing,” as if forgetting that his landing, in a different perspective, seems cause for rejoicing. Defoe is underscoring the extent to which Crusoe’s sense of fate and suffering is not objective, but rather created by his own mind.

Chapters XIII–XVII

Summary: Chapter XIII — I Sow My Grain

After planting his grain in the dry season when it cannot sprout, Crusoe learns from his mistake, and afterward makes a table of the dry and rainy months to facilitate his farming. He also discovers that the wooden stakes he drove into the ground when building his “bower,” or country house, have sprouted and grown. Over the course of several years they grow into a kind of sheltering hedge providing cool shade. Crusoe also teaches himself to make wicker baskets, imitating the basket makers he remembers from his childhood. By this time he lacks only tobacco pipes, glassware, and a kettle.

Summary: Chapter XIV — I Travel Quite Across the Island

Finally carrying out his earlier wish to survey the island thoroughly, Crusoe proceeds to the western end, where he finds he can make out land in the distance. He concludes it belongs to Spanish America. Crusoe is reluctant to explore it for fear of cannibals. He catches a parrot that he teaches to speak, and discovers a penguin colony. He takes a goat kid as a pet, keeping it in his bower where it nearly starves until Crusoe remembers it. By this point, Crusoe has been on the island two years, and his moments of satisfaction alternate with despairing moods. He continues to read the Bible and is consoled by the verse that tells him God will never forsake him.

Summary: Chapter XV — I Am Very Seldom Idle

Crusoe spends months making a shelf for his abode. During the rainy months he plants his crop of rice and grain but is angered to discover that birds damage it. He shoots several of the birds and hangs them as scarecrows over the plants, and the birds never return. Crusoe finally harvests the grain and slowly learns the complex process of flour grinding and bread making. Determined to make earthenware pots, Crusoe attempts to shape vessels out of clay, failing miserably at first. Eventually he learns to shape, fire, and even glaze his pots. Thinking again of sailing to the mainland, Crusoe returns to the place where the ship’s boat has been left upturned by the storm. He tries for weeks to put it right side up but is not strong enough.

Summary: Chapter XVI — I Make Myself a Canoe

“Poor Robin Crusoe! Where are you? Where have you been? How come you here?”

Resolving to make a canoe, Crusoe selects and cuts down an enormous cedar. He spends many months hacking off the branches, shaping the exterior, and hollowing out the insides. The result is a far larger canoe than he has ever seen before. He now realizes the mistake of not previously considering its transport, since for him alone it is immovable. He considers building a canal to bring the water to the canoe, but he calculates it would take too long and abandons the idea. By this point, four years have passed. He reflects that all his wants are satisfied, since he already has everything that he can possibly use on his island. He feels gratitude imagining how much worse off he could be now. He also reflects on several calendar coincidences that he finds remarkable: he left his family on the same day he was enslaved by the Moor; he escaped from the ship near Yarmouth on the same day that he escaped from Sallee; and he was born on the same day he was cast ashore on the island. Crusoe undertakes to make himself some new clothing out of animal skins, and he also constructs an umbrella. Building a smaller canoe, he sets out on a tour around the island. He is caught in a dangerous current that threatens to take him out to sea and away from the island forever, and when he is saved he falls to the ground in gratitude. Crusoe hears a voice say his name repeatedly on his return, asking where he has been, and Crusoe discovers that it is his parrot Poll.

Summary: Chapter XVII — I Improve Myself in the Mechanic Exercises

Wary of sea journeys, Crusoe spends a quiet year in his new home, missing nothing but human contact. He is pleased with his newly developed skills of basket making and pottery making. Alarmed by his low supply of gunpowder and wondering how he will feed himself if unable to shoot goats, Crusoe decides he must learn animal husbandry and tries to catch a small number of goats. He builds a pit in which he traps three young kids, and within a year and a half Crusoe has a flock of twelve goats. He learns to milk them, setting up a dairy that provides him with cheese and butter. He is pleased at his “absolute command” over all the subjects of his island kingdom and enjoys dining like a king surrounded by his parrot, his senile dog, and his two cats. He provides us with a brief inventory of his island holdings: he has two “plantations” on the island, the first his original home or “castle,” the second his “country seat.” He has a grape arbor, fields under cultivation, and enclosures for his “cattle,” or goats.

Analysis: Chapters XIII–XVII

With his survival no longer in question, Crusoe begins to redefine himself not as a poor castaway, but as a successful landowner. We see again how important his attitude is. He begins to refer to his island dwelling as his “home” and his “castle,” and when he constructs a shady retreat inland, he calls it his “bower” or “country seat,” both references having upper-class connotations. He refers to the totality of his land as his “plantations” and even refers to his goats as his “cattle.” All these terms suggest that his relationship to the island is becoming more proprietary, involving a much greater sense of proud ownership than before, though of course the ownership is a fiction, since there is no deed to this land. Naturally, he still has gloomy moods in which he bemoans his fate and views the island as a prison. But now the alternation between his different moods allows us to see how subjective his situation is and how nearly impossible it is to define Crusoe’s island experience objectively. Totally dependent on his frame of mind, it is, as he says, “my reign, or my captivity, which you please.”

Crusoe’s sad lack of human contact in an otherwise satisfied life is first noted toward the beginning of Chapter XVII, when he remarks that “I thought I lived very happily in all things, except that of society.” We can feel how much he misses social relations when he takes the trouble to teach his parrot to talk, though Defoe allows us to imagine how boring their conversations must be, since the parrot can only say Robinson’s name and ask where he has come from. Nevertheless, Crusoe calls the bird his “sociable creature,” and we are made aware of how starved for company our hero actually is. The same desire for affectionate relations explains his fondness for his new pet goat in Chapter XIV, though we wonder how devoted to it Crusoe can be when he forgets about it for a week and nearly starves it to death. Crusoe’s idea of a social gathering presupposes himself at center stage and with the most power, as we see when he describes the dinners he has with his parrot, dog, and cats, where he presides over them all “like a king.” Crusoe’s eagerness to display superior power in social relations foreshadows his later relationship with his servant Friday.

With the passage of many years on the island by the end of these chapters, Crusoe is beginning to accept his island existence as his life. Accordingly, he is beginning to show a desire to integrate past and present into one totality. Thus, for the first time on the island, Crusoe refers to childhood memories in Chapter XIII, when the subject of basket making leads him to recall the basket weavers in his father’s town. He says, “when I was a boy, I used to take great delight in standing at a basket maker’s, in the town where my father lived, to see them make their wickerware.” The young Crusoe used to lend his hand, so that when as a grown man he again makes baskets, his childhood and adulthood fuse for an instant. The same union of past and present is notable in Crusoe’s new interest in his life’s calendar repetitions. When he fixates on the fact that he left his father’s house the same day he entered slavery, or arrived on the island the same day he was born, he shows a desire to integrate earlier and later parts of his life. No longer just missing the past or living in the present moment, he is trying to bring the two together and see his life as a whole.


Summary: Chapter XVIII — I Find the Print of a Man’s Naked Foot

Crusoe is astonished one day to discover the single print of a man’s naked foot in the sand. Crusoe is terrified and retreats to his “castle,” where he entertains thoughts that the devil has visited the island. His conclusion that it is not the devil’s but a real man’s footprint is equally terrifying, and Crusoe meditates on the irony of being starved for human contact and then frightened of a man. Driven wild by fear, Crusoe fortifies his home and raises guns around it, keeping watch whenever possible. Concerned about his goats, he contrives to dig an underground cave in which to herd them every night and creates another smaller pasture far away to keep a second flock. Crusoe spends two years living in fear.

Summary: Chapter XIX — I See the Shore Spread with Bones

Coming down to a far part of the shore, Crusoe finds the beach spread with the carnage of humans. Eventually realizing that he is in no danger of being found by the cannibals, Crusoe’s thoughts turn to killing them as perpetrators of wicked deeds and thereby saving their intended victims. Waiting every day on a hillside fully armed, Crusoe eventually changes his mind, thinking that he has no divine authority to judge humans or to kill. He also realizes that killing them might entail a full-scale invasion by the other savages.

Summary: Chapter XX — I Seldom Go from My Cell

Crusoe describes the measures he takes to avoid being spotted by the cannibals. He rarely burns fires, removes all traces of his activities when leaving a place, and even devises a way to cook underground. While descending into a large cave he has discovered, he is shocked to see eyes staring at him. Crusoe is frightened and returns with a firebrand, only to find it is an old he-goat. Crusoe is pleased with this new cave and considers moving into it. Mounting to his lookout spot later, Crusoe spots nine naked savages on the beach, lingering among the remains of their cannibal feast. He proceeds toward them with his gun, but when he arrives they are already out to sea again. Crusoe inspects the human carnage with disgust.

Summary: Chapter XXI — I See the Wreck of a Ship

On May 16, Crusoe is reading the Bible when he is surprised by a distant gunshot followed closely by another. He senses the shots are coming from a ship and builds a fire to notify the seamen of his presence. By daylight he perceives that the shots have come from the wreck of a ship whose men are now either gone or dead. Once again he thanks Providence for his own survival. Going down to the shore, where he discovers a drowned boy, he prepares to paddle out to the ship in his canoe. He finds the ship is Spanish and contains wine, clothing, and a great treasure in gold bars and doubloons, all of which he hauls back to his dwelling.

Summary: Chapter XXII — I Hear the First Sound of a Man’s Voice

Crusoe reflects on the “original sin” of disobeying his father, recounting the foolish decisions he has made throughout his life. One night he dreams that eleven cannibals arrive on his island to kill a victim who escapes and runs to Crusoe for protection. About a year and a half afterward, Crusoe finds five canoes on the island and thirty cannibals on the beach preparing two victims for slaughter. After the first is killed, the second breaks away and runs toward Crusoe’s hiding place. He is pursued by two cannibals but is faster than they are. Crusoe attacks both pursuers and persuades the frightened victim to approach. Finding Crusoe friendly, the native vows devotion to his liberator. After burying the remains of the two pursuers so as not to be tracked later, Crusoe and the native return to his camp, where the native sleeps.

Summary: Chapter XXIII — I Call Him Friday

Crusoe names the native Friday to commemorate the day on which Crusoe saves the native’s life. Friday again asserts his subservience to Crusoe. Crusoe teaches him simple English words and clothes him. Returning together to the slaughter scene, Crusoe has Friday clean up the bones and skulls and tries to convey to his servant the horror of cannibalism. Crusoe is delighted with his new companion and teaches him to eat goat meat instead of human flesh. He realizes he must expand his grain cultivation, which Friday helps him to do.

Analysis: Chapters XVIII–XXIII

Crusoe’s discovery of a mysterious single footprint in the sand is one of the most unforgettable and significant events of the novel, since it condenses into one moment Crusoe’s contradictory attitude toward other humans: he has been craving human society, yet when it arrives he is deeply afraid of it. Crusoe himself comments on this irony when he says, “How strange a checker-worker of Providence is the life of man! . . . Today we love what tomorrow we hate!” Indeed, he hates this human intruder almost as much as he hates the devil himself, whose footprint he originally suspects it is. It is hard to explain why Crusoe immediately leaps to a negative conclusion about the footprint, why he is sure it is the sign of an enemy rather than a friend. Crusoe’s reaction shows how solitude has become his natural state, making any human contact seem unnatural and highly disturbing.

The appearance of Friday is a major development in the novel, which has had only one character in it for a large part. The sweetness and docility of Friday, who is a cannibal, and the extraordinary ease with which Crusoe overcomes Friday’s two pursuers, leads us to rethink Crusoe’s earlier fear. Crusoe lives in terror of the cannibals for many years, scarcely daring to leave his cave and reduced to a cavemanlike existence. Then, in only a few minutes, he stops two cannibals and makes another his lifelong servant. Suddenly it seems that Crusoe has feared not the savages themselves, but his own exaggerated mental image of them. Thus, Crusoe’s self-awareness arises as a major theme of the novel, and Crusoe illustrates that a better understanding of himself and his fears leads him to more prosperity and satisfaction in life. Friday’s instantaneous servitude to Crusoe also raises questions about Crusoe’s sense of his own rank and power. Crusoe easily could lift Friday from the ground when Friday grovels before him, but he does not. Without so much as a second thought, Crusoe accepts Friday as a servant and an inferior, assuming his own superiority. Friday may be the first New World “savage” in English literature to force a questioning of whether white people should automatically assume superiority over other races.

Crusoe’s religious awareness continues to grow in these chapters. Almost every major event is taken either as cause for repentance or as proof of God’s mercy. Crusoe’s first assumption on seeing the footprint on the beach is that it is a mark of the devil, showing that supernatural or divine explanations have priority over natural ones in his mind. When the gunshots are heard from the wrecked ship, Crusoe is reading the Bible, and when he compares the fate of the shipwrecked men to his own fate, it seems as if he begins to see the whole process as a religious lesson. When Crusoe decides not to open fire on the cannibal feast, he does so out of a religious conviction that he has not the “authority or call . . . to pretend to be judge and executioner upon these men as criminals.” Though he later admits there were also practical reasons for not killing them, his religious reason comes across with sincerity. Perhaps most strikingly, in Chapter XXII Crusoe compares his disobedience of his father to Adam and Eve’s disobedience of God in Eden, referring to his own “original sin.” The Bible, the devil, and God are all becoming very closely entwined in the fabric of Crusoe’s everyday life on the island.


Summary: Chapter XXIV — We Make Another Canoe

Crusoe begins to love Friday and, in the course of rudimentary conversations with him, learns that the cannibals periodically visit the island. Crusoe also acquires enough geographical information to locate himself near Trinidad. Crusoe finds out that Friday is aware of mainland Spaniards who kill many men. Crusoe attempts to educate Friday in religious matters and finds that his servant easily understands the notion of God, to whom Friday draws similarities with his own deity Benamuckee. Friday has more difficulty understanding the devil, not grasping why God does not rid the world of this evil being permanently, and Crusoe has trouble answering this question. Crusoe admits that he lacks the religious knowledge necessary for instructing Friday in all the aspects of God and the devil. Friday reports that the cannibals have saved the men from the shipwreck discovered by Crusoe before Friday’s liberation and that those men are living safely among the natives now. When Friday expresses a yearning to return to his country, Crusoe fears losing him, and when Crusoe considers trying to join the shipwreck survivors, Friday becomes upset and begs Crusoe not to leave him. Together, the two build a boat in which they plan to sail to Friday’s land in November or December.

Summary: Chapter XXV — We March Out Against the Cannibals

My island was now peopled, and I thought myself very rich in subjects . . . how like a king I looked.

Before Crusoe and Friday have a chance for their voyage to the cannibals’ land, the cannibals visit Crusoe’s island. Twenty-one natives come in three canoes to carry out another cannibalistic attack on three prisoners. Hesitant on moral grounds to kill so many, Crusoe reasons that since Friday belongs to an enemy nation, the situation can be construed as a state of war in which killing is permissible. Approaching the shore, Crusoe observes that one of the prisoners is a European. Crusoe and Friday fall upon the cannibals and quickly overcome them with their superior weapons, allowing only four to escape. Friday is overjoyed to find that another of the prisoners is his own father. Crusoe and Friday feed the dazed prisoners and carry them back to Crusoe’s dwelling, where a tent is erected for them. Crusoe reflects contentedly on the peopling of his kingdom with loyal subjects.

Summary: Chapter XXVI — We Plan a Voyage to the Colonies of America

After conversing with his “two new subjects,” Friday’s father and the Spaniard, Crusoe revisits his earlier dream of returning to the mainland. Crusoe asks the Spaniard whether he can count on the support of the remaining men held on the cannibals’ territory. The Spaniard says yes, but reminds Crusoe that food production would have to be expanded to accommodate so many extra men. With the help of his new workers, Crusoe increases his agricultural capacity. He gives each of the new men a gun.

Summary: Chapter XXVII — We Quell a Mutiny

One day Friday comes running to Crusoe with news that a boat is approaching the island, and Crusoe, with his spyglass, discovers it to be English. Crusoe is suspicious. Near the shore, Crusoe and Friday discover that the boat contains eleven men, three of whom are bound as prisoners. Friday suspects that the captors are preparing for cannibalism. When the eight free men wander around the island, Crusoe approaches the prisoners, who mistake him for an angel. One prisoner explains that he is the captain of the ship and that the sailors have mutinied. Crusoe proposes that in exchange for liberating him and the other two, he and Friday should be granted free passage to England. The captain agrees and Crusoe gives him a gun. Crusoe realizes that the other seamen may notice something wrong and send more men onshore to overpower Crusoe’s men. They disable the boat to prevent the additional men from escaping.

Sure enough, ten seamen come in from the ship to discover the boat destroyed. Leaving three in the second boat as watchmen, the other seven come ashore. Crusoe then sends Friday and another to shout at the men from various directions, and Crusoe succeeds in confusing and tiring them so that they are finally separated. The men in the boat eventually come inland and are overwhelmed by Crusoe’s stratagems. On behalf of Crusoe, the captain, finally addressing the remaining men, offers to spare everybody’s life except that of the ringleader if they surrender now. All the mutineers surrender. The captain makes up a story that the island is a royal colony and that the governor is preparing to execute the ringleader the next day.

Analysis: Chapters XXIV–XXVII

The affectionate and loyal bond between Crusoe and Friday is a remarkable feature of this early novel. Indeed, it is striking that this tender friendship is depicted in an age when Europeans were engaged in the large-scale devastation of nonwhite populations across the globe. Even to represent a Native American with the individual characterization that Defoe gives Friday, much less as an individual with admirable traits, was an unprecedented move in English literature. But, in accordance with the Eurocentric attitude of the time, Defoe ensures that Friday is not Crusoe’s equal in the novel. He is clearly a servant and an inferior in rank, power, and respect. Nevertheless, when Crusoe describes his own “singular satisfaction in the fellow himself,” and says, “I began really to love the creature,” his emotional attachment seems sincere, even if we object to Crusoe’s treatment of Friday as a creature rather than a human being.

As the bond between Crusoe and Friday becomes stronger, the similarities between the two men’s cultures gain more importance than their differences. Crusoe is struck by the ease with which Friday learns about the Christian God, finding a close resemblance with the native’s own deity Benamuckee. Friday is less able to understand the devil, but it is soon revealed that Crusoe does not understand him perfectly either, when Crusoe admits that he has more “sincerity than knowledge” in the subject of religious instruction. Crusoe first believes the savages to be wicked, but we soon learn that the cannibals have shown an almost Christian charity in saving seventeen European men from the shipwreck. Moreover, Chapter XXVII, with its mutiny and scheduled execution, reminds us that Europeans kill their own kind too, just like Friday’s people. The coincidental numerical equivalence between the eleven savages arriving in Crusoe’s dream in Chapter XXII and the eleven Europeans now arriving after the mutiny is Defoe’s method of emphasizing the similarities between natives and Europeans. Both groups can be violent and murderous, yet both groups can also produce individuals—like Crusoe and Friday—who are kind and good. Generalizing them into the good and the bad, or the civilized and the wild, proves impossible.

Crusoe’s story, which has until now been mainly about his own individual survival, takes on a strong political and national dimension when Crusoe wonders whether he can trust the other sixteen Spaniards—who are, historically, often enemies of the British—as his comrades-in-arms against the cannibals. Ironically, it turns out that he can trust these foreigners much more than he can his own countrymen, the eight English mutineers he encounters later. Furthermore, the two non-European cannibal “nations,” as Friday terms them, enlarge this national dimension. Friday explains that the cannibals do not eat each other randomly, but that each nation eats only its enemy. Therefore, those cannibalistic actions that seem steeped in savagery are in fact governed by political motives. In Chapter XXV, Crusoe is reluctant to kill the cannibals until he reasons that Friday is in a state of war, thus making murder permissible. This nationalist thinking permeates Crusoe’s language too. As usual, our hero’s vocabulary reveals much about how he imagines his role on the island, and he starts to describe himself as “generalissimo” of an “army,” with Friday as his “lieutenant-general.” No longer a mere castaway, Crusoe now openly refers to himself as a national leader of military forces. When he refers to his two new guests on the island as his “subjects,” we sense how deeply ingrained his imagined national role as king of the island has become.


Summary: Chapter XXVIII — We Seize the Ship

Having defeated the mutineers, Crusoe decides that it is time to seize the ship, and he tells the captain of his plans. The captain agrees. Crusoe and the captain intimidate the captive mutineers with a fictitious report that the island’s governor intends to execute them all but would pardon most of them if they help seize the ship. To guarantee the men’s promises, Crusoe keeps five hostages. The plan works: the rebel captain on the ship is killed, and the ship is reclaimed. When Crusoe glimpses the ship, he nearly faints from shock. In gratitude, the captain presents Crusoe with gifts of wine, food, and clothing. The mutineers are offered the chance to remain on the island in order to avoid certain execution for mutiny in England. Gratefully, they accept. On December 19, 1686, Crusoe boards the ship with his money and a few possessions and sets sail for England after twenty-eight years on the island. Back in England, Crusoe discovers that the widow who has been guarding his money is alive but not prosperous. Crusoe’s family is dead, except for two sisters and the children of a brother. Crusoe decides to go to Lisbon to seek information about his plantations in Brazil.

Summary: Chapter XXIX — I Find My Wealth All About Me

It is impossible to express here the flutterings of my very heart . . . when I found all my wealth about me.

Arriving in Lisbon, Crusoe looks up his old friend and benefactor, the Portuguese captain who first took him to Brazil. The Portuguese captain tells Crusoe that his Brazilian lands have been placed in trust and have been very profitable. The captain is indebted to Crusoe for a large sum that he partially repays on the spot. Crusoe, moved by the captain’s honesty, returns a portion of the money. Obtaining a notarized letter, Crusoe is able to transfer his Brazilian investments back into his own name. He finds himself in possession of a large fortune. Crusoe sends gifts of money to his widow friend and to his two sisters. Tempted to move to Brazil, Crusoe decides against the idea because he is reluctant to become Catholic. He resolves to return to England, but he is averse to traveling by sea, removing his baggage from three different ships at the last moment. He later learns that two of those ships are either taken by pirates or foundered. Crusoe decides to proceed on land, assembling a traveling group of Europeans and their servants.

Summary: Chapter XXX — We Cross the Mountains

Crusoe and his group set out from Lisbon and reach the Spanish town of Pampeluna (Pamplona) in late autumn, and Crusoe finds the cold almost unbearable. The snow is excessive, forcing the group to stay several weeks in Pamplona. On November 15 they finally set out toward France, despite inclement weather. They encounter three wolves and a bear in the woods. Friday kills a wolf and drives away the others. Friday also amuses the group by teasing the bear before killing it. Proceeding onward, the group encounters a frightened horse without a rider, and then finds the remains of two men who have been devoured by wolves. Three hundred wolves soon surround Crusoe’s group. The group shoots the wolves and frightens them with an explosion of gunpowder, finally driving them away. Arriving at last in Toulouse, France, Crusoe learns that his group’s escape from the wolves was virtually miraculous.

Summary: Chapter XXXI — I Revisit My Island

Crusoe lands safely at Dover, England, on January 14. He deposits his personal effects with his widow friend, who cares for him well. Crusoe contemplates returning to Lisbon and going from there to Brazil, but he is once again dissuaded by religious concerns. He decides to stay in England, giving orders to sell his investments in Brazil. This sale earns Crusoe the large fortune of 33,000 pieces of eight. Since Crusoe is unattached to any family members and is used to a wandering life, he again thinks about leaving England, though the widow does all she can to dissuade him. Crusoe marries, but after the death of his wife he decides to head for the East Indies as a private trader in 1694. On this voyage he revisits his island. Crusoe finds that the Spaniards who have remained there have subjugated the mutineers, treating them kindly. Crusoe provides them with gifts of cattle, supplies, and even women. The colony has survived a cannibal invasion and is now prospering.

Analysis: Chapters XXVIII–XXXI

The last chapters force us to reevaluate the escape from the island of which Crusoe has spent decades dreaming. It is ironic that he has yearned, plotted, and labored to get off the island, but when he finally does, the return home seems curiously unsatisfying. We might imagine that Europe feels safe and comfortable to him after his ordeal, but the opposite is true: in Spain, Crusoe faces inclement weather, a bear, and 300 ravenous wolves. His island with its bower seems positively luxurious by comparison. Nor does Europe offer Crusoe the human society he has craved as a castaway. The widow and the Portuguese captain are kind, but we feel they do not offer him the love and intense affection Friday shows him. When Crusoe gets married in England, he seems indifferent to his wife, whose name he does not even bother to tell us. In short, with “no family” and “not many relations,” and with little interest in forging new relationships, Crusoe appears almost as isolated in England as he does on his island. Defoe thus invites us to wonder whether Crusoe would have been happier if he had remained in his little kingdom forever and makes us question the value of the return to civilization that Crusoe thinks he desires.

The religious dimension of Crusoe’s ordeal reaches its climax in his final salvation and reward. Crusoe so easily reclaims his earlier fortune—and, indeed, finds it so immensely multiplied—that the restoration of his possessions seems more like a miraculous windfall—manna from heaven—than mere good luck. We sense that Crusoe imagines God to be rewarding him for his devout patience, especially when he explicitly compares himself to Job: “I might well say now, indeed, that the latter end of Job was better than the beginning.” For Crusoe, the shipwreck, the decades of isolation, and the final rescue have not been merely events in a long adventure story, as children read it today, but elements in a religious or moral tale of instruction. Specifically, it is a Protestant tale, with its emphasis on the virtues of independence, self-examination, and hard work. Crusoe underscores this Protestant aspect by mentioning twice that he does not go to Brazil because he would have to convert and live as a Catholic there. Implicitly, Crusoe makes his survival into proof of God’s approval of his particular faith.

Crusoe’s story is often read in modern times as an allegory of colonialism, and there is much in the last chapters to defend this view. Friday’s subjugation to Crusoe reflects colonial race relations, especially in Crusoe’s unquestioning belief that he is helping Friday by making him a servant. Moreover, colonial terminology appears. When dealing with the hostile mutineers, Crusoe and the captain intimidate them by referring to a fictional “governor” of the island who will punish them severely. This fiction of a governor foreshadows the very real governor who will no doubt be installed on the island eventually, since Crusoe has apparently claimed the territory for England. The prosperity of the island after Crusoe leaves it is emphasized in the last chapter: it is no longer a wasteland, as when he first arrives, but a thriving community with women and children. This notion of triumphantly bringing the blessings of civilization to a desolate and undeveloped locale was a common theme of European colonial thought. Indeed, Crusoe explicitly refers to this community as “my new colony in the island,” which makes us wonder whether he really considers it his own, and whether it is officially a colony or merely figuratively so. In any case, Crusoe has turned his story of one man’s survival into a political tale replete with its own ideas about imperialism.


Daniel Defoe

Themes, Motifs & Symbols


The Ambivalence of Mastery

Crusoe’s success in mastering his situation, overcoming his obstacles, and controlling his environment shows the condition of mastery in a positive light, at least at the beginning of the novel. Crusoe lands in an inhospitable environment and makes it his home. His taming and domestication of wild goats and parrots with Crusoe as their master illustrates his newfound control. Moreover, Crusoe’s mastery over nature makes him a master of his fate and of himself. Early in the novel, he frequently blames himself for disobeying his father’s advice or blames the destiny that drove him to sea. But in the later part of the novel, Crusoe stops viewing himself as a passive victim and strikes a new note of self-determination. In building a home for himself on the island, he finds that he is master of his life—he suffers a hard fate and still finds prosperity.

But this theme of mastery becomes more complex and less positive after Friday’s arrival, when the idea of mastery comes to apply more to unfair relationships between humans. In Chapter XXIII, Crusoe teaches Friday the word “[m]aster” even before teaching him “yes” and “no,” and indeed he lets him “know that was to be [Crusoe’s] name.” Crusoe never entertains the idea of considering Friday a friend or equal—for some reason, superiority comes instinctively to him. We further question Crusoe’s right to be called “[m]aster” when he later refers to himself as “king” over the natives and Europeans, who are his “subjects.” In short, while Crusoe seems praiseworthy in mastering his fate, the praiseworthiness of his mastery over his fellow humans is more doubtful. Defoe explores the link between the two in his depiction of the colonial mind.

The Necessity of Repentance

Crusoe’s experiences constitute not simply an adventure story in which thrilling things happen, but also a moral tale illustrating the right and wrong ways to live one’s life. This moral and religious dimension of the tale is indicated in the Preface, which states that Crusoe’s story is being published to instruct others in God’s wisdom, and one vital part of this wisdom is the importance of repenting one’s sins. While it is important to be grateful for God’s miracles, as Crusoe is when his grain sprouts, it is not enough simply to express gratitude or even to pray to God, as Crusoe does several times with few results. Crusoe needs repentance most, as he learns from the fiery angelic figure that comes to him during a feverish hallucination and says, “Seeing all these things have not brought thee to repentance, now thou shalt die.” Crusoe believes that his major sin is his rebellious behavior toward his father, which he refers to as his “original sin,” akin to Adam and Eve’s first disobedience of God. This biblical reference also suggests that Crusoe’s exile from civilization represents Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden.

For Crusoe, repentance consists of acknowledging his wretchedness and his absolute dependence on the Lord. This admission marks a turning point in Crusoe’s spiritual consciousness, and is almost a born-again experience for him. After repentance, he complains much less about his sad fate and views the island more positively. Later, when Crusoe is rescued and his fortune restored, he compares himself to Job, who also regained divine favor. Ironically, this view of the necessity of repentance ends up justifying sin: Crusoe may never have learned to repent if he had never sinfully disobeyed his father in the first place. Thus, as powerful as the theme of repentance is in the novel, it is nevertheless complex and ambiguous.

The Importance of Self-Awareness

Crusoe’s arrival on the island does not make him revert to a brute existence controlled by animal instincts, and, unlike animals, he remains conscious of himself at all times. Indeed, his island existence actually deepens his self-awareness as he withdraws from the external social world and turns inward. The idea that the individual must keep a careful reckoning of the state of his own soul is a key point in the Presbyterian doctrine that Defoe took seriously all his life. We see that in his normal day-to-day activities, Crusoe keeps accounts of himself enthusiastically and in various ways. For example, it is significant that Crusoe’s makeshift calendar does not simply mark the passing of days, but instead more egocentrically marks the days he has spent on the island: it is about him, a sort of self-conscious or autobiographical calendar with him at its center. Similarly, Crusoe obsessively keeps a journal to record his daily activities, even when they amount to nothing more than finding a few pieces of wood on the beach or waiting inside while it rains. Crusoe feels the importance of staying aware of his situation at all times. We can also sense Crusoe’s impulse toward self-awareness in the fact that he teaches his parrot to say the words, “Poor Robin Crusoe. . . . Where have you been?” This sort of self-examining thought is natural for anyone alone on a desert island, but it is given a strange intensity when we recall that Crusoe has spent months teaching the bird to say it back to him. Crusoe teaches nature itself to voice his own self-awareness.


Counting and Measuring

Crusoe is a careful note-taker whenever numbers and quantities are involved. He does not simply tell us that his hedge encloses a large space, but informs us with a surveyor’s precision that the space is “150 yards in length, and 100 yards in breadth.” He tells us not simply that he spends a long time making his canoe in Chapter XVI, but that it takes precisely twenty days to fell the tree and fourteen to remove the branches. It is not just an immense tree, but is “five foot ten inches in diameter at the lower part . . . and four foot eleven inches diameter at the end of twenty-two foot.” Furthermore, time is measured with similar exactitude, as Crusoe’s journal shows. We may often wonder why Crusoe feels it useful to record that it did not rain on December 26, but for him the necessity of counting out each day is never questioned. All these examples of counting and measuring underscore Crusoe’s practical, businesslike character and his hands-on approach to life. But Defoe sometimes hints at the futility of Crusoe’s measuring—as when the carefully measured canoe cannot reach water or when his obsessively kept calendar is thrown off by a day of oversleeping. Defoe may be subtly poking fun at the urge to quantify, showing us that, in the end, everything Crusoe counts never really adds up to much and does not save him from isolation.


One of Crusoe’s first concerns after his shipwreck is his food supply. Even while he is still wet from the sea in Chapter V, he frets about not having “anything to eat or drink to comfort me.” He soon provides himself with food, and indeed each new edible item marks a new stage in his mastery of the island, so that his food supply becomes a symbol of his survival. His securing of goat meat staves off immediate starvation, and his discovery of grain is viewed as a miracle, like manna from heaven. His cultivation of raisins, almost a luxury food for Crusoe, marks a new comfortable period in his island existence. In a way, these images of eating convey Crusoe’s ability to integrate the island into his life, just as food is integrated into the body to let the organism grow and prosper. But no sooner does Crusoe master the art of eating than he begins to fear being eaten himself. The cannibals transform Crusoe from the consumer into a potential object to be consumed. Life for Crusoe always illustrates this eat or be eaten philosophy, since even back in Europe he is threatened by man-eating wolves. Eating is an image of existence itself, just as being eaten signifies death for Crusoe.

Ordeals at Sea

Crusoe’s encounters with water in the novel are often associated not simply with hardship, but with a kind of symbolic ordeal, or test of character. First, the storm off the coast of Yarmouth frightens Crusoe’s friend away from a life at sea, but does not deter Crusoe. Then, in his first trading voyage, he proves himself a capable merchant, and in his second one, he shows he is able to survive enslavement. His escape from his Moorish master and his successful encounter with the Africans both occur at sea. Most significantly, Crusoe survives his shipwreck after a lengthy immersion in water. But the sea remains a source of danger and fear even later, when the cannibals arrive in canoes. The Spanish shipwreck reminds Crusoe of the destructive power of water and of his own good fortune in surviving it. All the life-testing water imagery in the novel has subtle associations with the rite of baptism, by which Christians prove their faith and enter a new life saved by Christ.


The Footprint

Crusoe’s shocking discovery of a single footprint on the sand in Chapter XVIII is one of the most famous moments in the novel, and it symbolizes our hero’s conflicted feelings about human companionship. Crusoe has earlier confessed how much he misses companionship, yet the evidence of a man on his island sends him into a panic. Immediately he interprets the footprint negatively, as the print of the devil or of an aggressor. He never for a moment entertains hope that it could belong to an angel or another European who could rescue or befriend him. This instinctively negative and fearful attitude toward others makes us consider the possibility that Crusoe may not want to return to human society after all, and that the isolation he is experiencing may actually be his ideal state.

The Cross

Concerned that he will “lose [his] reckoning of time” in Chapter VII, Crusoe marks the passing of days “with [his] knife upon a large post, in capital letters, and making it into a great cross . . . set[s] it up on the shore where [he] first landed. . . .” The large size and capital letters show us how important this cross is to Crusoe as a timekeeping device and thus also as a way of relating himself to the larger social world where dates and calendars still matter. But the cross is also a symbol of his own new existence on the island, just as the Christian cross is a symbol of the Christian’s new life in Christ after baptism, an immersion in water like Crusoe’s shipwreck experience. Yet Crusoe’s large cross seems somewhat blasphemous in making no reference to Christ. Instead, it is a memorial to Crusoe himself, underscoring how completely he has become the center of his own life.

Crusoe’s Bower

On a scouting tour around the island, Crusoe discovers a delightful valley in which he decides to build a country retreat or “bower” in Chapter XII. This bower contrasts sharply with Crusoe’s first residence, since it is built not for the practical purpose of shelter or storage, but simply for pleasure: “because I was so enamoured of the place.” Crusoe is no longer focused solely on survival, which by this point in the novel is more or less secure. Now, for the first time since his arrival, he thinks in terms of “pleasantness.” Thus, the bower symbolizes a radical improvement in Crusoe’s attitude toward his time on the island. Island life is no longer necessarily a disaster to suffer through, but may be an opportunity for enjoyment—just as, for the Presbyterian, life may be enjoyed only after hard work has been finished and repentance achieved.

Analysis of Major Characters

Robinson Crusoe

While he is no flashy hero or grand epic adventurer, Robinson Crusoe displays character traits that have won him the approval of generations of readers. His perseverance in spending months making a canoe, and in practicing pottery making until he gets it right, is praiseworthy. Additionally, his resourcefulness in building a home, dairy, grape arbor, country house, and goat stable from practically nothing is clearly remarkable. The Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau applauded Crusoe’s do-it-yourself independence, and in his book on education,Emile, he recommends that children be taught to imitate Crusoe’s hands-on approach to life. Crusoe’s business instincts are just as considerable as his survival instincts: he manages to make a fortune in Brazil despite a twenty-eight-year absence and even leaves his island with a nice collection of gold. Moreover, Crusoe is never interested in portraying himself as a hero in his own narration. He does not boast of his courage in quelling the mutiny, and he is always ready to admit unheroic feelings of fear or panic, as when he finds the footprint on the beach. Crusoe prefers to depict himself as an ordinary sensible man, never as an exceptional hero.

But Crusoe’s admirable qualities must be weighed against the flaws in his character. Crusoe seems incapable of deep feelings, as shown by his cold account of leaving his family—he worries about the religious consequences of disobeying his father, but never displays any emotion about leaving. Though he is generous toward people, as when he gives gifts to his sisters and the captain, Crusoe reveals very little tender or sincere affection in his dealings with them. When Crusoe tells us that he has gotten married and that his wife has died all within the same sentence, his indifference to her seems almost cruel. Moreover, as an individual personality, Crusoe is rather dull. His precise and deadpan style of narration works well for recounting the process of canoe building, but it tends to drain the excitement from events that should be thrilling. Action-packed scenes like the conquest of the cannibals become quite humdrum when Crusoe narrates them, giving us a detailed inventory of the cannibals in list form, for example. His insistence on dating events makes sense to a point, but it ultimately ends up seeming obsessive and irrelevant when he tells us the date on which he grinds his tools but neglects to tell us the date of a very important event like meeting Friday. Perhaps his impulse to record facts carefully is not a survival skill, but an irritating sign of his neurosis.

Finally, while not boasting of heroism, Crusoe is nonetheless very interested in possessions, power, and prestige. When he first calls himself king of the island it seems jocund, but when he describes the Spaniard as his subject we must take his royal delusion seriously, since it seems he really does consider himself king. His teaching Friday to call him “Master,” even before teaching him the words for “yes” or “no,” seems obnoxious even under the racist standards of the day, as if Crusoe needs to hear the ego-boosting word spoken as soon as possible. Overall, Crusoe’s virtues tend to be private: his industry, resourcefulness, and solitary courage make him an exemplary individual. But his vices are social, and his urge to subjugate others is highly objectionable. In bringing both sides together into one complex character, Defoe gives us a fascinating glimpse into the successes, failures, and contradictions of modern man.


Probably the first nonwhite character to be given a realistic, individualized, and humane portrayal in the English novel, Friday has a huge literary and cultural importance. If Crusoe represents the first colonial mind in fiction, then Friday represents not just a Caribbean tribesman, but all the natives of America, Asia, and Africa who would later be oppressed in the age of European imperialism. At the moment when Crusoe teaches Friday to call him “Master” Friday becomes an enduring political symbol of racial injustice in a modern world critical of imperialist expansion. Recent rewritings of the Crusoe story, like J. M. Coetzee’s Foe and Michel Tournier’s Friday, emphasize the sad consequences of Crusoe’s failure to understand Friday and suggest how the tale might be told very differently from the native’s perspective.

Aside from his importance to our culture, Friday is a key figure within the context of the novel. In many ways he is the most vibrant character in Robinson Crusoe, much more charismatic and colorful than his master. Indeed, Defoe at times underscores the contrast between Crusoe’s and Friday’s personalities, as when Friday, in his joyful reunion with his father, exhibits far more emotion toward his family than Crusoe. Whereas Crusoe never mentions missing his family or dreams about the happiness of seeing them again, Friday jumps and sings for joy when he meets his father, and this emotional display makes us see what is missing from Crusoe’s stodgy heart. Friday’s expression of loyalty in asking Crusoe to kill him rather than leave him is more heartfelt than anything Crusoe ever says or does. Friday’s sincere questions to Crusoe about the devil, which Crusoe answers only indirectly and hesitantly, leave us wondering whether Crusoe’s knowledge of Christianity is superficial and sketchy in contrast to Friday’s full understanding of his own god Benamuckee. In short, Friday’s exuberance and emotional directness often point out the wooden conventionality of Crusoe’s personality.

Despite Friday’s subjugation, however, Crusoe appreciates Friday much more than he would a mere servant. Crusoe does not seem to value intimacy with humans much, but he does say that he loves Friday, which is a remarkable disclosure. It is the only time Crusoe makes such an admission in the novel, since he never expresses love for his parents, brothers, sisters, or even his wife. The mere fact that an Englishman confesses more love for an illiterate Caribbean ex-cannibal than for his own family suggests the appeal of Friday’s personality. Crusoe may bring Friday Christianity and clothing, but Friday brings Crusoe emotional warmth and a vitality of spirit that Crusoe’s own European heart lacks.

The Portuguese Captain

The Portuguese captain is presented more fully than any other European in the novel besides Crusoe, more vividly portrayed than Crusoe’s widow friend or his family members. He appears in the narrative at two very important junctures in Crusoe’s life. First, it is the Portuguese captain who picks up Crusoe after the escape from the Moors and takes him to Brazil, where Crusoe establishes himself as a plantation owner. Twenty-eight years later, it is again the Portuguese captain who informs Crusoe that his Brazilian investments are secure, and who arranges the sale of the plantation and the forwarding of the proceeds to Crusoe. In both cases, the Portuguese captain is the agent of Crusoe’s extreme good fortune. In this sense, he represents the benefits of social connections. If the captain had not been located in Lisbon, Crusoe never would have cashed in on his Brazilian holdings. This assistance from social contacts contradicts the theme of solitary enterprise that the novel seems to endorse. Despite Crusoe’s hard individual labor on the island, it is actually another human being—and not his own resourcefulness—that makes Crusoe wealthy in the end. Yet it is doubtful whether this insight occurs to Crusoe, despite his obvious gratitude toward the captain.

Moreover, the Portuguese captain is associated with a wide array of virtues. He is honest, informing Crusoe of the money he has borrowed against Crusoe’s investments, and repaying a part of it immediately even though it is financially difficult for him to do so. He is loyal, honoring his duties toward Crusoe even after twenty-eight years. Finally, he is extremely generous, paying Crusoe more than market value for the animal skins and slave boy after picking Crusoe up at sea, and giving Crusoe handsome gifts when leaving Brazil. All these virtues make the captain a paragon of human excellence, and they make us wonder why Defoe includes such a character in the novel. In some ways, the captain’s goodness makes him the moral counterpart of Friday, since the European seaman and the Caribbean cannibal mirror each other in benevolence and devotion to Crusoe. The captain’s goodness thus makes it impossible for us to make oversimplified oppositions between a morally bankrupt Europe on the one hand, and innocent noble savages on the other.


Jonathan Swift

Plot Overview

Gulliver’s Travels recounts the story of Lemuel Gulliver, a practical-minded Englishman trained as a surgeon who takes to the seas when his business fails. In a deadpan first-person narrative that rarely shows any signs of self-reflection or deep emotional response, Gulliver narrates the adventures that befall him on these travels.

Gulliver’s adventure in Lilliput begins when he wakes after his shipwreck to find himself bound by innumerable tiny threads and addressed by tiny captors who are in awe of him but fiercely protective of their kingdom. They are not afraid to use violence against Gulliver, though their arrows are little more than pinpricks. But overall, they are hospitable, risking famine in their land by feeding Gulliver, who consumes more food than a thousand Lilliputians combined could. Gulliver is taken into the capital city by a vast wagon the Lilliputians have specially built. He is presented to the emperor, who is entertained by Gulliver, just as Gulliver is flattered by the attention of royalty. Eventually Gulliver becomes a national resource, used by the army in its war against the people of Blefuscu, whom the Lilliputians hate for doctrinal differences concerning the proper way to crack eggs. But things change when Gulliver is convicted of treason for putting out a fire in the royal palace with his urine and is condemned to be shot in the eyes and starved to death. Gulliver escapes to Blefuscu, where he is able to repair a boat he finds and set sail for England.

After staying in England with his wife and family for two months, Gulliver undertakes his next sea voyage, which takes him to a land of giants called Brobdingnag. Here, a field worker discovers him. The farmer initially treats him as little more than an animal, keeping him for amusement. The farmer eventually sells Gulliver to the queen, who makes him a courtly diversion and is entertained by his musical talents. Social life is easy for Gulliver after his discovery by the court, but not particularly enjoyable. Gulliver is often repulsed by the physicality of the Brobdingnagians, whose ordinary flaws are many times magnified by their huge size. Thus, when a couple of courtly ladies let him play on their naked bodies, he is not attracted to them but rather disgusted by their enormous skin pores and the sound of their torrential urination. He is generally startled by the ignorance of the people here—even the king knows nothing about politics. More unsettling findings in Brobdingnag come in the form of various animals of the realm that endanger his life. Even Brobdingnagian insects leave slimy trails on his food that make eating difficult. On a trip to the frontier, accompanying the royal couple, Gulliver leaves Brobdingnag when his cage is plucked up by an eagle and dropped into the sea.

Next, Gulliver sets sail again and, after an attack by pirates, ends up in Laputa, where a floating island inhabited by theoreticians and academics oppresses the land below, called Balnibarbi. The scientific research undertaken in Laputa and in Balnibarbi seems totally inane and impractical, and its residents too appear wholly out of touch with reality. Taking a short side trip to Glubbdubdrib, Gulliver is able to witness the conjuring up of figures from history, such as Julius Caesar and other military leaders, whom he finds much less impressive than in books. After visiting the Luggnaggians and the Struldbrugs, the latter of which are senile immortals who prove that age does not bring wisdom, he is able to sail to Japan and from there back to England.

Finally, on his fourth journey, Gulliver sets out as captain of a ship, but after the mutiny of his crew and a long confinement in his cabin, he arrives in an unknown land. This land is populated by Houyhnhnms, rational-thinking horses who rule, and by Yahoos, brutish humanlike creatures who serve the Houyhnhnms. Gulliver sets about learning their language, and when he can speak he narrates his voyages to them and explains the constitution of England. He is treated with great courtesy and kindness by the horses and is enlightened by his many conversations with them and by his exposure to their noble culture. He wants to stay with the Houyhnhnms, but his bared body reveals to the horses that he is very much like a Yahoo, and he is banished. Gulliver is grief-stricken but agrees to leave. He fashions a canoe and makes his way to a nearby island, where he is picked up by a Portuguese ship captain who treats him well, though Gulliver cannot help now seeing the captain—and all humans—as shamefully Yahoolike. Gulliver then concludes his narrative with a claim that the lands he has visited belong by rights to England, as her colonies, even though he questions the whole idea of colonialism.


"The author giveth some account of himself and family; his first inducements to travel. He is shipwrecked and swims for his life; gets safe on shore in the country of Lilliput; is made a prisoner, and carried up the country."

  • Our hero, Lemuel Gulliver, starts out his adventures with a description of his origins: he's from Nottinghamshire in England, and he has spent several years at college at Cambridge.
  • Sadly, Gulliver's father runs out of money for young Gulliver's education, so he sends Gulliver as an apprentice (read: someone who works for a skilled tradesman in exchange for first-hand, practical training in said trade) to Mr. James Bates, a London surgeon.
  • Gulliver also spends a lot of time studying math and navigation, because he wants to travel.
  • Eventually, with the financial help of his uncle, his father, and some other relatives, Gulliver travels to Leyden (now Leiden, a city in Holland), where there is a famous university known for its teaching of medicine.
  • After studying at Leyden for a couple of years, Gulliver returns to England, where Mr. Bates gives Gulliver a recommendation to join the crew of the ship the Swallow as a surgeon.
  • Gulliver travels for three years on the Swallow and gets as far as the Levant (a.k.a. the eastern portion of the Mediterranean and the areas that border it, including parts of Egypt, Syria, Israel, Lebanon, and Turkey.)
  • He comes back to London and settles down to marry Mrs. Mary Burton, who comes with a dowry (read: a certain amount of money settled on her by her family once she marries) of 400 pounds – nice for Gulliver!
  • Gulliver's former boss and current patron, Mr. Bates dies a couple of years later, and Gulliver's business starts to go bad.
  • Gulliver decides to go to sea again, traveling this time to the Far East and the West Indies.
  • He spends a lot of time reading while he's at sea; when Gulliver is ashore, he enjoys observing the customs of the people he meets.
  • But even the sea starts to lose its interest for Gulliver, and he decides to head home to London to hang out with his wife.
  • Gulliver moves his business to various parts of London, but he continues to fail at making a living, so he hits the sea once again three years later.
  • He sets sail with Captain William Prichard on the Antelope, heading to the South Seas (in other words, the oceans south of the equator.)
  • As you might expect, things go wrong. All of the following happens in one long paragraph:

A storm blows up.

The ship winds up in the Northwest of "Van Diemen's Land" – what we now call Tasmania, an area in the southeast of Australia.

12 members of the ship's crew die and the rest are weakened by hard work and lack of food.

High currents and rough seas make it hard for the crew to get from the ship's anchorage point to shore.

So the Antelope sends six crew members, Gulliver included, in a small rowboat to go to shore.

The boat capsizes and all of the six sailors except for Gulliver drown.

In the water, Gulliver totally loses track of where he is, but he still manages eventually to find his way to a shore.

Gulliver's feeling a bit sleepy from all of this exercise and the half-pint of brandy he drank onboard ship before getting into this rowboat, so he lies down to sleep.

He wakes up at dawn after a lovely nap in the grass.

Gulliver tries to stand up, but he can't move at all. He's stuck lying on his back.

Gulliver notices that his arms and legs and even his long hair all appear to be tied down.

He can't look right or left, so he has no idea what is happening, but he does feel something moving across his chest towards his chin.

Gulliver turns his eyes down to look over his chin and he sees a tiny, tiny human being, no bigger than the length of Gulliver's finger.

The tiny fellow is carrying a tiny, tiny bow with lots of tiny, tiny arrows – and there are also around 40 other tiny guys following him. (Incidentally, these tiny people are the Lilliputians – residents of Swift's made-up island of Lilliput.)

Gulliver yells in fright at the sight of all of these tiny people. At this roar, they jump or fall back in fear.

Gulliver manages to break the strings tying down his left arm, but the strings attached to his hair really hurt, so he can still barely turn his head.

The little people all run away a second time – and they shoot his left hand full of about a hundred arrows. Some of them try to stick his sides with itsy bitsy spears, but they can't get through his leather vest.

Gulliver decides to lie still until nighttime, when he might be able to use his left hand to free himself.

But he can hear a huge number of people massing: more and more of the little people arrive, and they start building something near him.

It appears to be a stage, from which an important little person recites a speech to Gulliver. Gulliver can't understand the speech, but he does hear the words, "Langro Dehul san" (1.1.5). Gulliver deliberately acts as submissive as he can during this to indicate that he intends no harm.

Gulliver is hungry, thirsty, and really has to pee, so he gestures with his left hand that he needs to eat and drink.

The important little person making speeches is called the "Hurgo" (1.1.5), and he orders his people to bring Gulliver food.

All the tiny people are amazed at how much Gulliver can eat and drink.

The tiny people keep dancing around in joy as they watch him stuffing himself and drinking their wine.

(By the way, Gulliver keeps talking about "hogsheads" of wine. A hogshead is a large barrel that, in normal human terms, holds many gallons. For these people, a hogshead holds less than half a pint.) They all shout, "Hekinah Degul."

Gulliver has to admit that he's impressed: these people seem totally fine with climbing onto his body and walking around even though they know his left hand is free – and even though he's a giant to them.

After Gulliver finishes eating, a representative of the Imperial House climbs the scaffolding to talk to Gulliver.

Through sign language, the representative of the Emperor manages to get across that Gulliver must be carried as their prisoner to the capital city about half a mile away. Gulliver wants to go free, but the Emperor won't allow it. Gulliver will be well treated, though.

Gulliver thinks about fighting, but changes his mind when he sees the number of little people has increased. He agrees.

The Hurgo and all of his people climb down and get out of the way.

The strings binding Gulliver's left side are loosened enough that Gulliver can roll over and pee (or "make water," as he puts it).

The little people also treat Gulliver's tiny arrow wounds, which makes his injuries stop stinging.

So all in all, what with the food, the peeing, and the medical treatment, Gulliver stops freaking out and starts feeling sleepy again.

He crashes for about eight hours – thanks, he discovers later, to a sleeping potion in his wine.

  • And that's the end of this super-long paragraph!
  • Gulliver discovers later that the Emperor is the one who ordered that Gulliver be tied up and fed in this way so that he could be brought to the capital city.
  • Gulliver says, you may think this whole drugging thing seems like a cowardly thing do, but really, it's smart. After all, if they had tried to kill Gulliver as he slept, their tiny weapons would have woken him up. His rage might have given him the strength to break the ropes they used to tie him.
  • These tiny people are great mechanics and already have lots of machines designed for hauling trees and other heavy things.
  • Using a system of pullies, they hoist Gulliver onto one of these machines and tie him to it.
  • 1,500 of the Emperor's horses, all of which are about four and a half inches high, drag Gulliver to the capital city.
  • Gulliver falls asleep yet again (what is up with this guy?), but he wakes up about four hours into their trip. Gulliver awakens because one of his guards climbs onto Gulliver's face and sticks his spear up Gulliver's left nostril. Gulliver sneezes violently, and the guards sneak off.
  • Finally, Gulliver and all of his guards make it to the capital city, where they are met by the Emperor and his Court.
  • Gulliver is tied to an old, huge (by these people's standards) temple, which is no longer in use for religious purposes because a murder was once committed there.
  • Gulliver is kept tied down to the ground as the tiny people build him a set of chains, and many thousands of the city's inhabitants use the opportunity to come climb all over him.
  • Finally, Gulliver's chains are done, and he is freed of his ropes. He can finally stand up, for the first time since arriving in this land.
  • Gulliver's chains allow him to move immediately around the gate to his temple, so he can lie down inside the building or stand up outside of it.


"The Emperor of Lilliput, attended by several of the nobility, comes to see the author in his confinement. The Emperor's person and habit described. Learned men appointed to teach the author their language. He gains favour by his mild disposition. His pockets are searched, and his sword and pistols taken from him."

  • When Gulliver stands up the next morning, he sees a beautiful landscape laid out in front of him, like a garden. None of the trees are taller than seven feet high, and all of the fields look like beds of flowers.
  • Gulliver's panicking a bit because it's now been about two days since he last peed. Finally, he decides to sneak back into his temple and go in a corner.
  • Gulliver assures us that this is the only time he does something as unsanitary as peeing in his own house.
  • For the rest of his stay in this country, every morning two tiny people come with wheelbarrows for him to relieve himself in, and then they take it away – not a job we envy.
  • Anyway, after relieving himself in the corner of the temple, Gulliver heads outside again. The Emperor comes to visit him and orders him to be given food and water.
  • Gulliver then describes the Emperor: he's a tiny bit taller than anyone else around him, with a strong, masculine face. He's around 28 and therefore "past his prime" (1.2.3), but he has been Emperor for seven years and has done a reasonably good job of it.
  • The Emperor wears simple clothing, but he also carries a gold, jewel-encrusted helmet and sword.
  • The Emperor and Gulliver try to speak to each other for a couple of hours, but even though Gulliver speaks a bit of German (what he called "High Dutch"), Dutch (or "Low Dutch"), Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, and Lingua Franca, they still can't talk to each other.
  • The Emperor and his Court clear out.
  • Gulliver has to deal with a huge crowd that has gathered around him in curiosity.
  • Six members of the crowd get rowdy and shoot at him with their arrows.
  • His guard catches the wrongdoers, ties them up, and gives them to Gulliver for punishment.
  • He puts five of them in his pocket and the sixth, he pretends that he is going to eat. But then he just takes out his pocketknife, cuts the guy's ropes, sets him on the ground, and lets him go. Gulliver's mercy makes him really popular with the little folk.
  • Gulliver spends about two weeks sleeping on the floor of his temple while the Emperor orders a bed to be made for him.
  • As the news spreads that Gulliver has arrived in the capital city, lots of curious people pour into the city to see him.
  • The Emperor is concerned that all of this curiosity is going to lead people to neglect their homes and businesses. He orders that anyone who has seen Gulliver once has to go home, and that no one is allowed to come within fifty yards of his house without a license. This turns into a great money-making industry for the court.
  • Throughout this time, the Emperor is discussing what to do with Gulliver over the long term. A highly-ranked friend of Gulliver's who is in on the discussion tells Gulliver that:
    1. The Emperor is worried that Gulliver's eating habits will send the country into famine.
    2. They think of starving him or shooting him in the face and neck with poisoned arrows to kill him off. But then they would have to deal with his giant rotting corpse, which might bring a plague to the capital city.
    3. Everyone is so impressed with Gulliver's treatment of the six people who shot him with arrows that the Imperial Commission sends out an order to all the country's villages that they must send a certain amount of food and drink to the city for Gulliver every day.
    4. The Emperor orders six hundred people to wait on Gulliver, 300 tailors to make him a suit, and 6 scholars to teach Gulliver their language.
    5. After three weeks, Gulliver's got a good grasp of their speech, so he chats with the Emperor. He asks him regularly for his own freedom, but the Emperor always says: "Lumos Kelmin pesso desmar lon Emposo" – "Swear a peace with him and his kingdom" (1.2.6).
    6. The Emperor requests Gulliver's permission to have him searched, and Gulliver agrees.
    7. Gulliver helps the Emperor's guards into all of his pockets except one secret one, where he keeps some objects that, he says, should only matter to him. Gulliver also won't let them look at his two fobs (read: small vest pockets usually used for holding a watch), which contain a silver watch and a small amount of gold.
    8. The two guards then give Gulliver a careful inventory of what they have found on him, which they give to the Emperor.
  • And we have reached the end of another super-long paragraph!
  • Gulliver transcribes the guards' inventory into English.
  • Apparently, they call him "the Great Man Mountain" (1.2.7).
  • They describe all of these relatively common objects (at least, common in the eighteenth century) – a handkerchief, snuff (a kind of powdered tobacco for sniffing), comb, razor, knife, journal, and pocket watch – from the perspective of people utterly unfamiliar with what they are looking at. For example, a comb is described as "a sort of engine, from the back of which were extended twenty long poles" (1.2.7).
  • It also turns out that, even though Gulliver does not offer to put them in his watch pocket, they notice his watch chain coming out of said pocket, so he has to show them the contents anyway.
  • After searching Gulliver's pockets, the two guards see that Gulliver is wearing a leather belt around his waist. Attached to this belt is a large sword and a pouch for carrying gunpowder and shells.
  • The Emperor hears this inventory of Gulliver's possessions and then orders Gulliver to show his sword and pocket pistols.
  • The Emperor also signals three thousand of his troops to stay on hand during this display of Gulliver's weapons just in case.
  • So, when Gulliver takes his scimitar (a kind of curved sword) out of its scabbard (a sheath for a sword), all of the Emperor's troops shout because they think Gulliver's about to assassinate their Emperor.
  • But he doesn't, of course: Gulliver puts the scimitar back in its scabbard and places it on the ground.
  • Gulliver also loads his pistols and shoots into the air to demonstrate how a gun works to the Emperor.
  • The tiny people are so shocked by the sound that hundreds of them fall to the ground; even the Emperor takes some time to collect himself.
  • Gulliver then places his pistols and his firearms on the ground next to his sword.
  • Gulliver gives his watch, money, knife, razor, comb, snuffbox, handkerchief, and journal to the Emperor to examine – but these things, he gets back. The scimitar, pistols, and ammunition, on the other hand, get carted off to the Emperor's storehouses.
  • Inside the super-secret pocket that Gulliver does not reveal to the Emperor, he has: his glasses, a "pocket perspective" (1.2.11) (probably a magnifying glass or telescope), and "several other little conveniences" (1.2.11) he won't describe. These are all delicate objects that Gulliver is worried might get lost or broken if he shows them to anyone.


"The author diverts the Emperor and his nobility of both sexes, in a very uncommon manner. The diversions of the court of Lilliput described. The author hath his liberty granted him upon certain conditions."

  • The Lilliputian court comes to like Gulliver thanks to his gentle behavior.
  • Because the Emperor admires Gulliver so much, the Emperor orders his people to put on a couple of shows for Gulliver
  • The main show is a kind of rope dancing, which is performed only by people who hold high office in Lilliput. In fact, in order to get a high office in Lilliput, you have to beat all the other candidates in this rope dancing competition. Skill at this dance is the main qualification for court positions.
  • Because the dance involves seeing who can jump the highest on a piece of rope without falling, there are lots of accidents. People try to jump too high or miss the rope and whatnot – and some of these falls are even fatal.
  • The Emperor also likes to make his court play a kind of limbo. Sometimes his courtiers creep under a stick he's holding and sometimes they jump over. Whoever jumps and crawls the best wins a prize from the emperor: a colored belt, like a karate belt, proving the winner's skills.
  • Gulliver invents a game to entertain the emperor: he sets up a raised stage using his handkerchief and a set of sticks.
  • On this stage, he sets a troop of 24 of the Emperor's horsemen to perform their maneuvers and drills.
  • This game goes on until one of the horses tears through the handkerchief with its hoof and injures itself; after that, Gulliver decides the handkerchief is too weak to support the Lilliputians.
  • As Gulliver gets busy entertaining the Emperor's court, he hears news that something else has washed ashore: a giant black thing that doesn't seem like a living creature.
  • It is, in fact, Gulliver's hat, which the Lilliputians drag to the capital. Gulliver is happy to get it back again.
  • The Emperor (whose sense of humor, we have to admit, seems kind of weak) decides that he wants Gulliver to pose standing with his legs as far apart as they can go.
  • The Emperor orders his troops to march between Gulliver's legs in rows of 24 men.
  • Even though the Emperor also tells his armies not to make any comments about Gulliver's body, a bunch of them can't help looking up and laughing.
  • Gulliver's pants are in such tatters at this point that he's flashing all of the Emperor's armies. There are, he tells us, "opportunities for laughter and admiration" (1.3.7) for the Lilliputians – after all, Gulliver implies, he's a giant, and his penis has to be proportionally huge.
  • Gulliver lobbies hard to be set free, and finally the whole court agrees, with one exception: Skyresh Bolgolam, who seems to feel he is Gulliver's enemy (Gulliver says, without reason).
  • Bolgolam at last agrees that Gulliver should be released, but only if Bolgolam can make the conditions for Gulliver's freedom.
  • The contract for Gulliver's freedom has the following rules:
    1. Gulliver won't leave Lilliput without permission;
    2. He won't come into the main city without the Emperor's permission and two hours of notice (because up until now, he's been chained to that temple just outside the city gates);
    3. The "man-mountain," as they continue to call him, will only walk on the kingdom's main roads, and will not lie down in any meadows or fields;
    4. He will be careful not to stomp on anyone or pick them up without their consent;
    5. Once a month, if there are particularly urgent messages the Emperor wants to send, Gulliver will have to carry the messenger and his horse to his destination and back again;
    6. Gulliver will defend Lilliput against their enemy, the island of Blefuscu;
    7. He will help workmen pick up stones to build walls and royal buildings;
    8. In two months' time, Gulliver will give the Emperor his calculation of how big the island of Lilliput is;
    9. If Gulliver observes all of these rules, the Emperor will provide Gulliver with food, drink, and "access to our royal person" (1.3.18) – in other words, Gulliver will get to spend as much time as he wants with the Emperor. Lucky guy!
  • Gulliver agrees to all of these rules, even though some of them seem to come from the pointless hatred of Skyresh Bolgolam.
  • The Emperor permits Gulliver to go free, and his chains are unlocked at last.


"Mildendo, the metropolis of Lilliput, described, together with the emperor's palace. A conversation between the author and a principal secretary, concerning the affairs of that empire. The author's offers to serve the emperor in his wars."

  • After Gulliver gets his freedom, the first thing he does is to ask the Emperor if he can go into Mildendo, the main city of Lilliput.
  • The Emperor agrees, and Gulliver steps into the town. He walks through the main streets and visits the Emperor's palace.
  • At this point, Gulliver spends some time describing the state of Lilliput itself, as told to him by Redresal, the country's principal secretary.
  • Apparently, there are two rival factions in the empire, the Tramecksans and the Slamecksans.
  • The Tramecksans are also called the "high heels" because they wear high-heeled shoes; the Slamecksans are the "low heels."
  • Even though the high heels are big fans of Lilliput's constitution, the Emperor will only staff his government with representatives of the low heels. (And of course, since Redresal, the principal secretary, has a high post in the Emperor's cabinet, we can figure out that Redresal is also a low heel.)
  • The two parties hate each other so much that they can't eat, drink, or talk to each other.
  • While the Emperor's heels are definitely low, his son, the heir to the throne, seems less decided: one of his heels is high, the other, low, which makes it tough for him to walk around. (For more on what the heck Swift is talking about, see our "Character Analysis" of the Lilliputians.)
  • Not only is Lilliput divided inside, but it's also threatened from the outside by the island of Blefuscu, a second island empire "almost as large and powerful as this of his majesty" (1.4.5).
  • Redresal admits that there may be countries outside the Lilliput/Blefuscu binary, but Lilliput's philosophers think there probably aren't. They like to believe that Gulliver is an alien who has dropped from the moon.
  • The war between Lilliput and Blefuscu has been going on for three years.
  • It all started with the grandfather of the current Emperor, who cut his finger on an eggshell when he was a kid.
  • The Emperor's great-grandfather thinks that the reason his son cut his finger was because he broke his egg on its rounded, big end rather than the little, pointed end.
  • Even though, up until this moment, everyone had always cracked their eggs on the big end, the current Emperor's great-grandfather decrees that, from now on, everyone will have to crack their eggs on the little end – for safety's sake!
  • Redresal calls people who crack their eggs at the larger end Big-Endians; those who break their eggs at the smaller end are called Little-Endians.
  • (All this stuff with the eggs may sound totally nuts, but Swift is making a larger point about English politics and religion – check out our "Character Analysis" of the Lilliputians for an explanation of this scene.)
  • The people are so against this new egg-cracking law that they keep rebelling against the Emperor. These uprisings get funding from Blefuscu, which is a country of Big-Endians.
  • In fact, Blefuscu is currently calling up its navy for a full-scale invasion of Lilliput, because so many Big-Endian refugees from Lilliput's Little-Endian government have found their way to Blefuscu.
  • The Emperor of Lilliput expects Gulliver to use his strength to defend the island, which is why he has commanded Redresal to tell Gulliver about the Big-End/Little-End conflict.
  • Gulliver promises Redresal that he will do everything he can to protect Lilliput.


"The author, by an extraordinary stratagem, prevents an invasion. A high title of honour is conferred upon him. Ambassadors arrive from the emperor of Blefuscu, and sue for peace. The empress's apartment on fire by an accident; the author instrumental in saving the rest of the palace."

  • Blefuscu is divided from Lilliput by a small channel about 800 yards wide – not even half a mile.
  • Gulliver plans to capture the whole Blefuscu fleet of ships, of which there are about 50.
  • He asks the Emperor for bars of iron and thick ropes. He twists the bars of iron into 50 separate hooks, which he attaches to lengths of the rope.
  • He wades and then swims across to the Blefuscudian fleet, where it is anchored in the shallows near the island of Blefuscu.
  • The Blefuscudians shoot arrows at Gulliver's face and neck, but he puts on a pair of glasses to protect his eyes and keeps going about his business.
  • Gulliver attaches each of his hooks to one of Blefuscu's ships, cuts the cables anchoring the ships in Blefuscu's harbor, and uses his hooks and bits of rope to tow the entire fleet across the channel.
  • As Gulliver approaches Lilliput, he's so deep in the water that the Emperor and his court can't see him. All they can see is the Blefuscudian fleet approaching Lilliput's shores.
  • Once Gulliver surfaces, they're all relieved to see that the fleet isn't attacking.
  • At first, the Emperor wants to use his military advantage to conquer Blefuscu and to destroy all Big-Endians forever.
  • Gulliver refuses to be a part of any plan that will make free people slaves.
  • The Emperor eventually gives in on this point, but he never forgives Gulliver for refusing to help him enslave Blefuscu. The Emperor starts to plot with some of his ministers to kill Gulliver.
  • About three weeks after Gulliver captures the Blefuscu fleet, a group of representatives of Blefuscu's Emperor come asking for a peace treaty with Lilliput.
  • They also invite Gulliver to come and visit Blefuscu.
  • Gulliver asks the Emperor of Lilliput for permission to go to Blefuscu. The Emperor agrees, but he's unhappy about it – Skyresh Bolgolam (Gulliver's enemy at court) and Flimnap (the treasurer of the country) both use Gulliver's desire to visit Blefuscu as evidence against his loyalty to Lilliput.
  • Even though the original terms of Gulliver's freedom include things like carrying messages and so on, his adventure with the fleet of Blefuscu leads him to become a nardac, a highly honored member of the kingdom.
  • Thanks to his new rank, everyone thinks that the rules of Gulliver's freedom are kind of beneath him now, and the Emperor never mentions Gulliver's supposed duties.
  • Even so, one night Gulliver does the Emperor a favor. He hears hundreds of people calling Burglum – fire! – and runs out to see what's wrong.
  • The Empress's rooms at the palace are on fire.
  • Luckily, Gulliver had had a lot of wine the night before and had not yet peed any of it, so he has plenty to use to put out the fire at the palace. Thanks to his quick thinking and huge bladder, Gulliver saves the palace from destruction.
  • Unfortunately, the Empress is not too pleased with Gulliver's method of putting out the fire – i.e., by peeing on it – so she's horribly offended and refuses to see that part of the palace repaired.


"Of the inhabitants of Lilliput; their learning, laws, and customs; the manner of educating their children. The author's way of living in that country. His vindication of a great lady."

  • Gulliver gives us some more details of Lilliput: first, all of the animals, trees, and buildings are proportional to the six-inch Lilliputians. In other words, everything on the island is equally tiny.
  • They do not read left to right (like in English), right to left (like in Arabic), nor up and down (like in Chinese or Japanese). Instead, they write diagonally across the page.
  • The Lilliputians bury their dead head down. They think that the Earth is flat and that, at the end of the world, it will be flipped over and all of their people will be brought back to life. Once this happens, head down will actually be right side up.
  • If someone in Lilliput accuses someone else of crimes against the state, these charges are taken very seriously.
  • On the other hand, if it turns out that the accused person is innocent, then the accuser is executed and the accused person gets a money reward from the emperor.
  • In fact, lying and fraud are considered worse crimes than theft in Lilliput, and they nearly always result in execution for the criminal.
  • Gulliver points out that our criminal justice system is totally based on punishment – you commit a crime, you get thrown in jail or whatever – but in Lilliput, there is a balance of punishment and reward.
  • If you can prove that you have gone 73 months (just over 6 years) without doing anything wrong, you get a special title (snilpall) and a cash reward from the Emperor.
  • The Lilliputians also believe that it is morally better for people in office to make mistakes out of ignorance rather than out of deliberate wrongdoing. They prefer to appoint guys who are good but dumb over those who are smart but bad.
  • As a result, the Lilliputians generally don't appoint geniuses to the government. Instead, they actively try to keep smart, gifted people out of important offices, so that, if anything goes wrong, it will be because of stupidity rather than corruption.
  • Also, men who do not believe in God's will ("Divine Providence" (1.6.8)) cannot serve in public office.
  • Since the Emperor believes himself to be king thanks to the will of God, he doesn't want to employ anyone who does not believe in the source of the Emperor's power (God) to serve under him.
  • People in Lilliput can be executed for ingratitude, because they think it's a sign of a lack of respect for all of mankind.
  • The Lilliputians believe that men and women come together to have children out of natural instinct, so kids don't owe their parents anything. After all, their parents are having sex and conceiving kids because they want to, not because they have any kind of self-sacrifice in mind.
  • Indeed, the Lilliputians think that, generally, life sucks, and that being born is pretty miserable. So, parents who bring kids into the world are the last people who should be responsible for raising and educating them.
  • They have big public nurseries for both boys and girls. These nurseries teach kids the skills they will need for their particular place in life, as decided by their parents' social position and their own interests.
  • Nurseries for boys of high social standing are staffed by solemn professors who teach the kids to take care of themselves. They are never allowed to hang out in groups without a professor present, and they are only allowed to see their parents for an hour twice a year. They stay in these nurseries until they are 15 (which is equivalent to 21 in our years).
  • Sons of middle and working class families get the same treatment, but they leave their nurseries younger. At 11 years of age, they become apprentices to learn the trades they'll practice as adults.
  • Girls receive about the same education as boys, only with less active physical exercise and more learning about how to keep house. At 12, they become eligible for marriage.
  • Poorer girls also receive instruction in how to do jobs appropriate for women (Swift doesn't spell out what he means). They leave the nursery at 7 to become apprentices.
  • Parents have to pay an allowance for the support of their children by the state.
  • The children of farmers and laborers stay at home, since they don't have to learn a trade and are therefore not of much interest to the Empire.
  • Gulliver lives in Lilliput for 9 months and 13 days.
  • During this time, he makes his own table and chair.
  • 200 seamstresses sew him a shirt out of tiny squares of fabric and 300 cooks prepare him 2 dishes apiece every day.
  • The Emperor invites himself over to Gulliver's home (remember, that giant former temple just outside the city gates) for dinner, along with his wife, children, and Flimnap the treasurer.
  • Gulliver notices that Flimnap keeps looking at him with a frown on his face.
  • Flimnap (like Skyresh Bolgolam) is a "secret enemy" (1.6.21) of Gulliver's.
  • Flimnap uses this visit to Gulliver's house to point out to the Emperor that Gulliver eats a huge amount, and that the Emperor's cash stores are starting to get low as a result.
  • One reason that Flimnap hates Gulliver is that there are rumors going around that Flimnap's wife is having an affair with Gulliver (which, not to get dirty-minded or anything, but how would that even work? She's six inches tall! Wait, let's pretend we didn't say that – it's probably best not to think about the logistics too much).
  • Anyway, so Gulliver protests a lot that there is absolutely no truth to this accusation.
  • Flimnap eventually makes up with his wife, but never forgives Gulliver.
  • Unfortunately, Flimnap has a lot of influence on the Emperor, and keeps persuading him that the kingdom needs to get rid of Gulliver.


"The author, being informed of a design to accuse him of high-treason, makes his escape to Blefuscu. His reception there."

  • For 2 months before Gulliver leaves Lilliput, there has been a plot building against him.
  • The thing is, Gulliver has never had any personal experience of courts in his own country, but he has read about them and all their backbiting and infighting.
  • Still, Gulliver thought that the high morals of the Lilliputians would keep him safe from plots against him.
  • He was wrong.
  • Just as Gulliver is planning to visit Blefuscu, one of his friends at court comes by in the dead of night to warn him that several committees have been formed to decide what should happen to Gulliver.
  • Skyresh Bolgolam the admiral, Flimnap the treasurer, Limtoc the general, Lalcon the chamberlain, and Balmuff the chief justice have issued articles of impeachment for treason against Gulliver.
  • (By the way, the specific use of this term "Articles of Impeachment" is another historical reference. Once again, please allow us to direct you to the Lilliputian "Character Analysis" for more information.)
  • The lord who has come to warn Gulliver has also brought a copy of the articles of impeachment against Gulliver, as follows:
  • Article 1: According to a degree by an earlier Emperor, it is treason to pee within the royal palace. When Gulliver put out the fire in the Empress's rooms using his urine, he broke this law.
  • Article 2: When the Emperor ordered Gulliver to destroy the remainder of Blefuscu's boats, conquer its lands, and execute all of the Lilliputian Big-Endian exiles and all those who would not convert to Little-Endianism, Gulliver refused.
  • Article 3: When ambassadors arrived from Blefuscu, Gulliver was nice to them, even though Lilliput is at war with Blefuscu.
  • Article 4: Gulliver is planning to go to Blefuscu, even though the Emperor has only given verbal (and not, we assume, written) permission.
  • Gulliver's enemies at court want him to be put to death in various miserable ways, but the Emperor feels bad about just killing Gulliver like that.
  • The Emperor asks Gulliver's friend Redresal, the principal secretary, his opinion.
  • Redresal tells the Emperor that, yes, maybe Gulliver has committed grave crimes, but the Emperor could still be merciful. Instead of killing Gulliver, why doesn't the Emperor just order Gulliver's eyes put out? That way, Gulliver would still be able to help the Emperor with his great strength.
  • The whole council is outraged at this suggestion, because Gulliver's strength is exactly the problem: Bolgolam warns that Gulliver might flood the whole country with his urine or carry the Blefuscudian fleet back to Blefuscu if he wanted to.
  • Flimnap the treasurer tells the Emperor that Gulliver has to die because the cost of feeding him will bankrupt Lilliput.
  • The Emperor doesn't want to kill Gulliver, but he also thinks that just blindingGulliver isn't enough. So Redresal suggests that they stop feeding Gulliver. That way, they'd save money. What's more, Gulliver's corpse would be relatively skinny, making it easier to get rid of.
  • Everyone agrees on this compromise: they plan to starve him and to blind him.
  • The plan is that, in three days, Redresal will come to Gulliver with the Articles of Impeachment.
  • The only punishment the Lilliputians are actually going to reveal to Gulliver is the loss of his eyes; the starvation part, they don't plan to tell him about directly.
  • The lord who is telling Gulliver all of this finishes his story and heads out in secrecy, under cover of night.
  • Gulliver can't exactly see the mercy in this sentence: to be blinded and thenstarved seems plenty bad to him.
  • Gulliver considers standing trial in the hopes of getting some kind of reduced sentence, but, with so many powerful enemies, he figures that won't work.
  • Gulliver also thinks about laying siege to the capital city by throwing stones at it, but he rejects that idea because he took an oath to the Emperor to be loyal.
  • Finally, Gulliver decides to run away. He walks across the channel to Blefuscu, where the Blefuscudian Emperor has been expecting him.
  • The Blefuscudian Emperor comes to meet Gulliver, and Gulliver thanks him for his hospitality.
  • Gulliver does not tell the Emperor of Blefuscu that he has fallen out of favor in Lilliput.


"The author, by a lucky accident, finds means to leave Blefuscu; and, after some difficulties, returns safe to his native country."

  • Three days after arriving in Blefuscu, Gulliver spots a real boat overturned in the shallows off the coast of the island. Gulliver assumes that a storm has pulled it free from the ship he arrived on, the Antelope.
  • He gets 2,000 Blefuscudians to help him turn the boat right side up. It looks undamaged.
  • Gulliver asks the Blefuscudian Emperor for permission to go back home to his own country, and the Emperor agrees.
  • Gulliver wonders why the Lilliputian Emperor hasn't sent for news of him from the Blefuscudian Emperor.
  • Later, the Blefuscudian Emperor tells Gulliver that the Lilliputian Emperor has sent a secret message to Blefuscu demanding the return of Gulliver in two hours, bound, so that he can be punished as a traitor.
  • The Blefuscudian Emperor replies that he can't do that to Gulliver because Gulliver has done Blefuscu a favor by making peace between Lilliput and Blefuscu.
  • But, the Blefuscudian Emperor adds, it's all okay: Gulliver has found a boat and is going to sail away on his own steam, which will rid both Lilliput and Blefuscu of the burden of his presence.
  • The Blefuscudian Emperor then offers Gulliver his protection in exchange for Gulliver's service. Gulliver thanks him, but insists on going home, which is actually a great relief to the Emperor of Blefuscu.
  • After about a month, Gulliver has stocked his boat with provisions and livestock (although he's not allowed to bring any Blefuscudians along, which he had wanted to do).
  • He sets out for Van Diemen's Land (modern-day Tasmania, in Australia) on September 24, 1701.
  • Two days later, Gulliver meets up by accident with a ship sailing back to England from Japan.
  • On the ship, there happens to be an old friend of Gulliver's, Peter Williams, who tells the captain (Mr. John Biddell) that Gulliver is a good guy. On this recommendation, Biddell lets Gulliver sail back to England with them.
  • They arrive back home and Gulliver makes some cash showing his tiny cattle to a paying audience.
  • He only stays back in England for two months before he gets the urge to travel again. He leaves behind his wife, son, and daughter, and boards the Adventurebound for Surat, India.


"A great storm described; the long boat sent to fetch water; the author goes with it to discover the country. He is left on shore, is seized by one of the natives, and carried to a farmer's house. His reception, with several accidents that happened there. A description of the inhabitants."

  • Gulliver heads out to sea again on June 20, 1702. His ship is called theAdventure, with Captain John Nicholas.
  • About a year passes as they jump around the world, but finally (as you might expect) the Adventure hits a storm that leaves them totally confused about where they are.
  • On June 17, 1703, the sailors of the Adventure spot land and row ashore with Gulliver.
  • The landing party spots a monster in the distance, a giant man about 60 feet high. All the sailors dash to their rowboat and start rowing hell for leather back to the Adventure – accidentally leaving our friend Gulliver behind on the island (which, by the way, is the island of Brobdingnag).
  • Gulliver finds a road through a field of corn that stands at least 40 feet high. As he walks along, he finds that the corn is being harvested by guys carrying extremely large scythes.
  • Gulliver runs through the corn, but he's having trouble making any progress because everything is so huge that he can't make his way past the leaves and branches of the corn plants.
  • Finally, Gulliver gives up and lies down in the furrows between the corn rows, thinking of his wife and children. He thinks he's going to be eaten by these giants.
  • Still, when one of the reapers comes close to Gulliver, he realizes that the guy might step on him and squash him by accident, so Gulliver screams as loud as he can.
  • The reaper sees him and picks him up. Gulliver clasps his hands in a praying gesture, which the guy seems to understand.
  • The giant puts Gulliver in his jacket pocket and goes to his employer, a farmer.
  • The farmer (whom Gulliver starts to call his Master) examines Gulliver closely, and realizes that he seems to be a thinking creature and not just an animal.
  • They try to speak to each other, but neither can follow the other's language.
  • Gulliver's new master takes Gulliver home and shows him to his wife, who screams as though Gulliver is a mouse or a snake or something. Soon she gets used to him, though, and comes to like him.
  • Gulliver's master has a kid around 10 years old.
  • Gulliver worries that the kid is going to tear him apart, since kids can be rough with animals. So, he sucks up to the boy by kissing his hands.
  • Gulliver's mistress (his new master's wife) has a cat, but Gulliver figures that, if he shows it no fear, the cat will not attack him. This proves to be true: it totally ignores him.
  • After dinner, a nurse brings in the mistress's baby. She gives Gulliver to the baby as a plaything and the child almost bites Gulliver's head off. It's only through Gulliver's quick thinking that he gets the child to drop him.
  • The child starts to wail and, to quiet him, Gulliver's mistress starts to breast feed the child.
  • Gulliver goes into a pretty lengthy description of how revolting her breasts look at this size – 6 feet tall and 16 feet around, with a nipple as big as his breast.
  • Gulliver decides that even the loveliest women only look good because we don't see them magnified – if you look too close, everyone's skin looks rough.
  • After all this excitement, Gulliver's mistress puts Gulliver to bed on her handkerchief.
  • After two hours, Gulliver wakes up.
  • He sees two rats crawling towards him up the curtains and freaks out – they're both as big as a large dog to Gulliver.
  • Gulliver gets a lucky shot and manages to kill one with his sword; the second rat runs away in fear.
  • The mistress comes in and sees Gulliver covered with blood and the dead rat.
  • She picks Gulliver up and washes him off.
  • Finally, he manages to indicate to her that he needs to take care of a call of nature, so she takes him out into the garden to do his business.
  • Gulliver apologizes to the reader for dwelling on his peeing habits, but he claims that they will be helpful to the philosopher seeking to apply lessons from his experience to public and private life. (We're pretty sure this is a joke.)


"A description of the farmer's daughter. The author carried to a market-town, and then to the metropolis. The particulars of his journey."

  • Gulliver's mistress has a 9-year old daughter who sews well and is generally really smart. She makes Gulliver some clothes and also starts teaching him the Brobdingnagian language.
  • Gulliver calls this girl Glumdalclitch, his little nurse, and she names him Grildrig.
  • Rumors are spreading through the whole area that the farmer, Gulliver's master, has found a strange little creature that seems to imitate human beings perfectly.
  • One of the master's neighbors comes by and suggests that he would make a huge profit by showing Gulliver at the local market for a fee.
  • The next market day, Gulliver's master follows this guy's advice and starts advertising for people to come and see his tiny human.
  • Gulliver does tricks and repeats what phrases he knows of the Brobdingnagian language for the entertainment of local audiences.
  • After a long day of these performances, Gulliver's master promises to bring him back the next market day.
  • Gulliver is so profitable that his master decides to take him on a tour of the cities of the kingdom.
  • Gulliver travels under the care of Glumdalclitch. She knows how much it tires Gulliver to be displayed at markets like this, so Glumdalclitch often complains to her father of her own exhaustion to get him to travel slowly.
  • After ten weeks of travel and eighteen different large towns, Gulliver's master, Glumdalclitch, and Gulliver himself all arrive at the central city, Lorbrulgrud.
  • Gulliver's master rents a large room and sets up a stage for Gulliver's performances.


"The author sent for to court. The queen buys him of his master the farmer, and presents him to the king. He disputes with his majesty's great scholars. An apartment at court provided for the author. He is in high favour with the queen. He stands up for the honour of his own country. His quarrels with the queen's dwarf."

  • All of this performing is having a terrible effect on Gulliver's health, and his master can see that he's getting sick.
  • Gulliver's master resolves to make as much money as he can off Gulliver before Gulliver dies.
  • One day, the Queen of Brobdingnag arrives at his apartment and offers to buy Gulliver for a huge sum of gold.
  • Gulliver agrees with the Queen's wishes as long as he can ask one tiny favor: he wants the Queen to employ Glumdalclitch as Gulliver's nurse.
  • The Queen agrees to his master's price and Gulliver's request, and his master leaves Gulliver to the Queen.
  • The Queen notices how cold Gulliver's farewell to his (now former) master is, and asks for an explanation.
  • Gulliver tells her that his former master exploited him, and suggests that, under Her Majesty's august protection, he might still be able to recover his former strength after all of this bad treatment.
  • The Queen brings Gulliver to the King of Brobdingnag and asks Gulliver to explain again how his former master treated him.
  • The King of Brobdingnag thinks that Gulliver is a mechanical toy, and that he is parroting a story to the royal couple that is not true.
  • He orders three scholars to come by his court and examine Gulliver to see what they can make of him.
  • The scholars decide that Gulliver is a lusus naturae – a freak of nature.
  • Gulliver interrupts to tell them that he comes from a country with millions of people like him and of his size.
  • The scholars dismiss him, but the Brobdingagian King slowly starts to think that Gulliver is telling the truth.
  • The King tells the Queen to keep watching over Gulliver, which she does with great pleasure – she really likes him.
  • The Queen outfits Gulliver with his own tiny pieces of furniture and itsy-bitsy dishes and silverware, so that he can sleep and eat comfortably.
  • Gulliver comes to dine with the royal family every Wednesday, where he gives descriptions of European manners, customs, religion, and philosophy to the Brobdingnagian King.
  • The Brobdingnagian King laughs as he asks Gulliver if he is a Whig or a Tory?
  • (The Whigs and the Tories were Britain's eighteenth-century equivalent of the Democrats and the Republicans. The Whigs supported restrictions on royal power, while the Tories wanted the conservation of the king's authority. Check out this article for more on these two political parties. Also, see our "Character Analysis" of the Lilliputians for a specific look at Swift, the Whigs, and the Tories).
  • Gulliver gets all offended because the Brobdingnagian King uses Gulliver's account of English customs as proof of human vanity: we all think our own politics and religion are so important, but from a wider perspective, they really aren't.
  • But with time, Gulliver starts to see himself more and more from the Brobdingnagian perspective: tiny and funny-looking.
  • What does still really tick Gulliver off is that there is a small person (only 30 feet tall!) in the Queen's service who totally rags on Gulliver because he has finally found someone smaller than he is. This person plays a number of practical jokes on Gulliver.
  • The Queen is surprised at Gulliver's fearfulness, and asks if all the people of his home country are such cowards?
  • Gulliver really can't help his fears: even the Brobdingnagian insects are as large as fat birds compared to him.


"The country described. A proposal for correcting modern maps. The king's palace; and some account of the metropolis. The author's way of travelling. The chief temple described."

  • The island is 6,000 miles long and between 3,000 and 5,000 miles wide. It's a whole continent right smack dab in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, between California and Japan.
  • The kingdom of Brobdingnag sits at the southern end of the island, surrounded on three sides by ocean and on one side by impassable mountains.
  • The country has 51 cities, the largest of which is Lorbrulgrud.
  • The king's palace in Lorbrulgrud is a mass of buildings about 7 miles around.
  • Glumdalclitch takes Gulliver on frequent outings into the city, accompanied by her governess (a woman who acts as both caretaker and private tutor for young kids).
  • When Gulliver goes on these outings, he is placed in a special box for travel, with windows on three sides to allow him to look out.
  • Whenever they travel through the city, passersby always stop to look at Gulliver – he has become very famous.
  • Gulliver and Glumdalclitch go out to see the primary temple of the city, which is both beautiful and 3,000 feet in height – about three-fifths of a mile.
  • (To give you a sense of scale, this makes the steeple of this temple almost three times the height of the Empire State Building.)
  • Believe it or not, Gulliver is disappointed – he expected the temple to be taller.
  • Gulliver tells us that the king's kitchen is also amazing: it's 600 feet high (just under half the height of the Empire State Building).
  • Gulliver is also most impressed by the sight of the Brobdingnagian King's military guard on parade, in detachments of 500. The horses are, of course, enormous – around 60 feet high.


"Several adventures that happened to the author. The execution of a criminal. The author shows his skills in navigation."

  • Gulliver's life in Brobdingnag is pretty happy except that his tiny size makes him so vulnerable to danger.
    1. When Gulliver is walking under an apple tree, the Queen's dwarf shakes the tree, causing about 12 apples to drop. These apples almost brain Gulliver.
    2. Gulliver is sitting on a plot of grass when a sudden hail shower nearly crushes him to death with balls of ice about 1,800 times the size of European hail.
    3. The worst danger of all comes when Glumdalclitch leaves Gulliver in the palace gardens while she is talking to her governess. A small white dog gets loose in the garden and carries Gulliver (fortunately, very carefully) to the feet of her master, the head gardener. The gardener returns Gulliver to Glumdalclitch.
  • Glumdalclitch gets really terrified for Gulliver's safety after this, and decides not to let him out of her sight.
  • Gulliver is kind of bummed, because he likes being able to go on walks by himself – even though he is a bit accident prone.
  • On these walks alone, Gulliver observes that even the birds of Brobdingnag are not afraid of him; they come very close to him looking for worms.
  • He catches one but it pecks him almost to death – he's saved at the last minute by a servant, who kills the bird.
  • (A historical side note: here, Gulliver starts to tell us about Glumdalclitch and the Queen's maids of honor. The meaning of the phrase "maid of honor" has definitely changed over time; after all, the Queen is not about to get married. In eighteenth century England, maids of honor were junior attendants to the Queen – like fancy servants, only of higher rank than actual servants.)
  • These maids of honor like to have Gulliver come and play with them.
  • They frequently press his whole, tiny body against their bosoms – where Gulliver has a chance to observe that they smell really bad to him, because there's just so much of them.
  • The worst thing about being near these maids of honor is that none of them think of Gulliver as a real human being, so they regularly take off their clothes and even pee in front of him.
  • He is disgusted by their huge moles, big pores, hairy skins – he can see all of their imperfections totally magnified, and it is nasty.
  • Gulliver witnesses an execution in Brobdingnag: a criminal is beheaded, and the fountain of blood is huge.
  • The Queen knows that Gulliver is familiar with boats, so she has both a boat and a trough of water three hundred feet long made for him. He often goes to this trough to row or sail, to the amusement of the Queen and her ladies.
  • Once, one of the servants who is supposed to fill Gulliver's trough with water accidentally lets a frog loose. The frog nearly tips over Gulliver's boat.
  • But the worst danger Gulliver finds in Brobdingnag is from a monkey.
  • Glumdalclitch leaves Gulliver in her closet while she's out on some business, but the day is warm and the closet window is open.
  • This monkey swings in from outside and finds Gulliver.
  • It mistakes Gulliver for a baby monkey, grabs him, carries him out of Glumdalclitch's rooms, climbs to a roof nearby, and starts stuffing Gulliver with treats from a bag the monkey is carrying.
  • A small crowd gathers to try and get the monkey to free Gulliver, but they're also laughing hysterically at the sight of Gulliver being force-fed by his adoptive monkey parent.
  • Finally, the monkey drops Gulliver and runs away.
  • Glumdalclitch nurses him back to health.
  • Gulliver goes to visit the King to thank him for his kind thoughts during Gulliver's recovery.
  • The King asks Gulliver how he felt while being held by the monkey.
  • Gulliver claims that, if he hadn't been so frightened at seeing the monkey, he would have scared the beast away with his sword as soon as he saw it.
  • All of the King's courtiers start laughing at how ridiculous Gulliver is: he could never have stabbed that monkey with his sword, because he's way too cowardly.
  • In fact, Gulliver is always appearing like an idiot in front of the court.
  • He has an adventure with a cow pat that Glumdalclitch immediately tells the Queen to make her laugh.


"Several contrivances of the author to please the king and queen. He shows his skill in music. The king inquires into the state of England, which the author relates to him. The king's observations thereon."

  • Once or twice a week, Gulliver attends the King's levee, a kind of reception held every morning when a King gets out of bed.
  • He collects the hairs that drop from the King's twice-weekly shave to make himself a comb.
  • Gulliver also uses some of the Queen's hair from her brush to make a set of chairs (like cane chairs) that the Queen keeps as curiosities.
  • Glumdalclitch plays the spinet, which is like a miniature piano – miniature to Glumdalclitch, but huge to Gulliver.
  • Gulliver knows that the King is fond of music, so he makes himself some clubs to use to shove the keys of the instrument down, but it's such hard work that he can't play properly.
  • The Brobdingnagian King asks Gulliver to give him an exact account of English government, because the King wants to know if there is anything worth imitating there.
  • Gulliver starts off by explaining that his home is an empire uniting England, Ireland, Scotland, and plantations in America under one king.
  • This kingdom is governed by a Parliament made up of two Houses (much as the American Congress includes both the Senate and the House of Representatives). (Check out this link for more on the history of the English Parliament.)
  • The first is the House of Peers, now called the House of Lords, an assembly of members of the landed aristocracy.
  • The second house is the House of Commons, elected freely by the people.
  • Gulliver adds some information about England's law courts, treasury, armed forces, religion, and recent history.
  • After listening to all that Gulliver has to say, the Brobdingnagian King asks him several tough questions, including: how lords are educated to suit them for government? How do lords make laws without taking into account personal interest or greed? How does the government make sure that its elected officials are in it for the good of the state and not for their own glory or profit?
  • The King goes on to ask about the court system: does religion or politics ever factor into legal decisions? How can judges presume to interpret laws that they don't make?
  • As for taxes, the King finds it very strange that a state can run out of money and borrow money like a private person.
  • And how about differences in political and religious feeling – why should these private opinions be a matter of public knowledge or concern at all?
  • Furthermore, what's all this about gambling? Doesn't this give people a method of making (or losing) lots of money with no work of their own?
  • As for Gulliver's accounts of recent English history, it all just sounds like a pile of murders, massacres, and revolutions to the King of Brobdingnag.
  • In fact, even though Gulliver has tried really hard to convince the King of the greatness of his home country, the King concludes that England is governed by a pack of corrupt, unqualified, greedy thieves.
  • The King of Brobdingnag believes that most Englishmen must be "the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth" (2.6.18) – in other words, a disgusting, evil bunch of little creeps.


"The author's love of his country. He makes a proposal of much advantage to the king, which is rejected. The king's great ignorance in politics. The learning of that country very imperfect and confined. The laws, and military affairs, and parties in the state."

  • Gulliver sits and listens to the King's intense criticism of England. He keeps quiet (he says) because it would be ungrateful of him to contradict the King, his benefactor.
  • He also reassures us that we should forgive the Brobdingnagian King for his criticism of England – how could the King know better, when his own country is so remote from all other nations of the world?
  • To prove how ignorant and foolish the King is, Gulliver tells us, the readers, that he offered to show the King how to make gunpowder to subdue his enemies.
  • The Brobdingnagian King listens to Gulliver's description of guns and is totally horrified. He makes Gulliver promise never even to mention these weapons to him again.
  • Gulliver exclaims to the reader about the foolishness of the Brobdingnagian King, who has let this great opportunity for power slip through his fingers.
  • Gulliver also criticizes Brobdingnagian education, which focuses on practical applications of knowledge rather than on abstract mysteries.
  • No law in Brobdingnag can be longer than 20 words.
  • They also don't have very many books.
  • He comments on the clarity of their writing style: they never use too many words, and everything appears in simple language.
  • The King's army is well-disciplined because all of its soldiers are farmers and tradesmen who serve under their own landlords and chief citizens.
  • Gulliver wonders why the King bothers to have armies at all if there are no other countries nearby.
  • It turns out that Brobdingnag has had a number of civil wars between nobles, who want power, the people, who want freedom, and the king, who wants total authority.
  • In the aftermath of these civil wars, all three of these – the nobles, the people, and the king – have agreed that they need a militia to keep the peace.


"The king and queen make a progress to the frontiers. The author attends them. The manner in which he leaves the country very particularly related. He returns to England."

  • Gulliver really wants to go home.
  • He has now spent two years in Brobdingnag, and though his life has been comfortable, he wants to return to a place where he doesn't have to worry about being stomped to death by a puppy.
  • He and Glumdalclitch are going on a tour of the south coast of the kingdom with the Brobdingnagian King and Queen.
  • Both Gulliver and Glumdalclitch have colds, but Gulliver's is mild.
  • He manages to persuade Glumdalclitch to let him go down to the beach with a servant.
  • This servant carries Gulliver's traveling box down to the beach. Once they get to the beach, Gulliver decides to take a nap, so he shuts the entrance to his box and climbs into his hammock.
  • He wakes up when he feels a sudden jolt.
  • It would seem that the servant left Gulliver's box on the beach while going off for whatever reason, and that the box has now been snagged by an eagle.
  • The eagle flies high and then drops Gulliver's box; Gulliver feels by the bobbing of his box that he is at sea.
  • Gulliver feels really bad for Glumdalclitch, who is doubtless going to be blamed for his loss by the Queen.
  • He notices that water is slowly leaking into his box, so he's getting pretty worried for himself, too.
  • He hears something scraping at the two staples attached to the side of his box that has no windows, and wonders what it is.
  • Gulliver calls out, and a voice answers that his box has been lashed to the side of a ship.
  • A sailor saws a hole in the side of his box and Gulliver emerges, very weak.
  • Gulliver has been so long in Brobdingnag that he has lost perspective on regular humans – he's surprised to be surrounded by such small people, even though they are his own height.
  • The sailors salvage some of the contents of Gulliver's box.
  • The captain of the ship, Thomas Wilcox, asks Gulliver to tell him where he has been.
  • The captain thinks that Gulliver is (a) crazy, and/or (b) a convict who has been sent to sea in a giant box as punishment.
  • To prove the truth of his story, Gulliver shows the captain his comb, made from the beard stubble of the King of Brobdingnag, as well as his pants, which are made of mouse skin.
  • The captain agrees that Gulliver is telling the truth,
  • He asks Gulliver if the King or Queen of Brobdingnag were hard of hearing, because Gulliver keeps shouting. After all, Gulliver has spent the last two years yelling to make himself heard by Brobdingnagian giants.
  • The ship arrives back in England on June 3, 1706, 9 months after Gulliver leaves Brobdingnag.
  • He keeps acting as though he expects to see 60-foot people around him, so Gulliver's whole family thinks he has gone nuts.
  • Gulliver's wife tells him never again to go to sea, but there are two more parts left to Gulliver's Travels, so we think he's not going to listen to her.


"The author sets out on his third voyage. Is taken by pirates. The malice of a Dutchman. His arrival at an island. He is received into Laputa."

  • After 10 days back home, Gulliver gets a visit from a former captain of his, William Robinson, who offers him a position on Robinson's ship as a surgeon.
  • Gulliver agrees.
  • After a year of travel, the ship heads to Tonquin, part of modern-day Vietnam.
  • The captain has to stay ashore in Tonquin for several months, but he wants to make some profit.
  • The captain buys a small boat and appoints Gulliver the leader of it, with 14 sailors under him, so that they can continue doing business while the captain hangs out on land.
  • This small boat is captured by two ships of Japanese pirates (who were, incidentally, a serious threat to sailors in the seas around China and Southeast Asia, particularly in the seventeenth century.)
  • The Japanese pirates are accompanied by a Dutchman, who tells the English that he wants them to be tied up and thrown into the sea.
  • Gulliver begs him to let them go, but his requests seem only to make the Dutchman angrier – especially Gulliver's references to the Dutchman as a "brother Christian" (3.1.7).
  • (For an explanation of this oddness, check out "Why Swift Seems to Hate the Dutch So Much," under the "Japan" section of "Character Analysis.")
  • The pirate captains finally decide to split Gulliver's crew between their two ships and to set Gulliver adrift in a small canoe with a little bit of food.
  • Gulliver uses his canoe to row to some tiny local islands nearby, but he can't find much food or shelter on any of them.
  • While he's standing on the fifth and last island, Gulliver sees a shadow blot out the sun.
  • He takes out his telescope, looks up, and sees that it is a floating islandcovered with people. (This is the island of Laputa.)
  • Gulliver manages to signal to these people that he needs help, and they eventually steer overhead and let down a chain for Gulliver to climb up.


"The humours and dispositions of the Laputians described. An account of their learning. Of the king and his court. The author's reception there. The inhabitants subject to fear and disquietudes. An account of the women."

  • The people surrounding Gulliver when he gets up to the island look totally bizarre: all of their heads lean either to the right or the left, one of their eyes points in and the other up, and they are all dressed in clothes decorated with stars, moons, and musical instruments.
  • Gulliver sees a lot of servants standing around holding these things he calls flappers, little rattles on the end of a long stick.
  • The people of Laputa are so caught up in their own thoughts that they need someone else to remind them to speak or listen.
  • So whenever a group of them gets together, the job of their servants is to touch the mouth of the person who should be speaking and the ears of those who should be listening.
  • And when they go walking, their servants have to tap their eyes with the flapper to be sure that they watch where they're going.
  • The Laputians bring Gulliver to the King.
  • The King's room is full of mathematical instruments and globes, and he is so deep in thought that it takes him an hour to become conscious enough of his surroundings to notice Gulliver.
  • The King provides Gulliver with a tutor to teach him their language; most of the words he learns are for different signs of the zodiac, mathematical figures – really abstract stuff, in other words.
  • What helps Gulliver to learn Laputian language is his knowledge of math and music, which dominate Laputian culture.
  • At the same time, the Laputians don't seem able to make anything right: Gulliver's suit doesn't fit and all of their houses have weird angles because no one knows how to apply their equations to real life.
  • Gulliver also discovers that Laputa controls the continent under it, Balnibarbi, and that there are frequent visitors and deliveries from sea level up to Laputa by means of rope. In fact, Laputa is the King's personal home, but Balnibarbi is where the capital city sits.
  • What surprises Gulliver is that, even though all the Laputians know only math and music, they still like to talk endlessly about politics – proof, to Gulliver, that all humans most enjoy discussing what they know least.
  • He also finds it weird that the Laputians live in such constant fear of the end of the world that they can hardly sleep at night or enjoy life. Their science has actually become a terror to them.
  • The women of Laputa despise their husbands and love strangers.
  • In fact, whenever guys come up to the island from the lands below, the women have affairs with them pretty freely. Their husbands never notice because they are so busy with science.
  • Gulliver becomes pretty fluent in Laputian after a month.
  • The Laputian King doesn't bother asking him about the countries he has seen; all of his questions revolve around math.


"A phenomenon solved by modern philosophy and astronomy. The Laputians' great improvements in the latter. The king's method of suppressing insurrections."

  • Gulliver then launches into a long description of how exactly Laputa functions: first of all, the island has a crater in the center of it that collects rain water, which is why rain doesn't just fall off it.
  • At the center of the island is a deep canyon with a giant lodestone, a naturally occurring magnet, in the middle of it.
  • The King uses this lodestone to raise and drop the island and to keep it moving in relation to the Earth's own magnetic poles.
  • The movement of Laputa has limits: it can't go beyond the king's own dominions, in other words, the islands that he controls at sea level. It also can't rise higher than four miles above the Earth.
  • It is the job of the King's astronomers to do the actual manipulation of the lodestone at his orders.
  • They also spend a lot of time discovering things about the solar system and the stars.
  • The only thing that limits the King's control of the Earth below him is that all of his cabinet members have estates on the islands below Laputa, so they find the idea of dominating the islands under them to be pretty risky for their own families.
  • At the same time, the King still has two methods for keeping his authority over the lower islands without absolutely enslaving them:
  • (1) if any of them refuse to pay tribute, he can make his island float directly overhead, blocking their sunlight and rain, until they give in;
  • and (2) if they continue to refuse to obey him, the King can drop his island directly on their heads.
  • The King has rarely ordered this kind of total destruction because (a) his ministers have their homes down below, and (b) his own people would revolt against him.
  • Well, and there's one more reason why the King doesn't do this: secretly, he worries that the power of his magnet might not be strong enough to lift the island again if it comes crashing to earth.
  • Laputa also has a law that neither the King nor his two eldest sons, nor the queen (while she can still have children) are allowed to leave the island.


"The author leaves Laputa; is conveyed to Balnibarbi; arrives at the metropolis. A description of the metropolis, and the country adjoining. The author hospitably received by a great lord. His conversation with that lord."

  • Gulliver feels disrespected, because no one wants to talk about anything but math or music, and he can't compete with the Laputians in either field.
  • Also, he has become totally sick of the Laputians themselves and their dull conversation.
  • There is a lord in Laputa who has done many great things for the state, but he gets no respect, because he has no ear for music and no talent for math.
  • He and Gulliver bond, because they can talk sensibly to each other.
  • Gulliver asks this lord (Lord Munodi) to request to the King that Gulliver be let down in Lagado, the capital city.
  • The King agrees, and sends him down to the continent of Balnibarbi with Lord Munodi and some money.
  • Gulliver is relieved to be on firm ground again.
  • He is disappointed at the sight of Lagado, though: all of the people working there look hungry and unhappy.
  • Gulliver expresses his opinions of the poverty of Lagado to Lord Munodi, who suggests that they keep this conversation for a later time, when they are safely at Lord Munodi's own estates.
  • Lord Munodi's estates are beautiful, well-cultivated, and seem prosperous – totally the opposite of the other Balnibarbi lands.
  • Lord Munodi tells Gulliver that his estates (which look so great to Gulliver) bring frequent criticisms from other Laputians for mismanagement – he has left his orchards, fields, and home in the old model of his forefathers, while the rest of Balnibarbi has gone over to new ideas of farming.
  • The problem is, about 40 years before, some people from Balnibarbi went up to Laputa and came back filled with ideas for reform of everything – arts, science, all of it.
  • These guys found an academy in Lagado, filled with professors who promise all kinds of miracles – auto-ripening fruit, reduction of working hours, etc., etc.
  • Their plans have become total fads in all of the cities in the kingdom, but the problem is – all their calculations don't actually work.
  • So, these impractical men (Swift calls them "Projectors" (3.4.15)) have completely ruined the buildings and farmland of Balnibarbi with their farfetched ideas and equations.
  • Lord Munodi promises to get Gulliver an invitation to Lagado's Royal Academy if he wants it, which Gulliver does.


"The author permitted to see the grand academy of Lagado. The academy largely described. The arts wherein the professors employ themselves."

  • Gulliver spends many days at the Royal Academy in Lagado, where there are at least 500 Projectors (impractical students of science) hanging out and thinking.
  • Their projects include:
    1. To take sunbeams out of cucumbers;
    2. To turn human poo back into food (ugh);
    3. To melt ice into gunpowder;
    4. To build houses from the roof down;
    5. To paint without sight, but according to the texture and smell of the colors;
    6. To use pigs to plough fields;
    7. To use spider webs to replace silk threads;
    8. To change the course of the moon and sun so that we can combine weathervanes and sundials.
  • Gulliver gets a bit sick, so he goes to a physician at the academy who is famous for treating gas. This doctor's treatment is really, really surprising: he wants to stick a bellows up the butt of his patient to physically draw wind out of his body.
  • After pumping the wind out, the physician fills his bellows with air from the outside, replaces the bellows in the anus of his patient, and fills the poor guy with air.
  • The idea is that the patient is then supposed to expel both the outside air and the bad air inside of him, thus curing him.
  • But Gulliver sees this doctor testing his bellows on a dog, and what actually happens is that the dog essentially dies of explosive diarrhea.
  • Gulliver's last visit in the experimental part of the Academy is to "the universal artist," a man who is supposed to be working to benefit mankind with lots of projects.
  • Gulliver sees the guy's 50 apprentices working busily.
  • Currently, the artist has two plans: (1) to plant fields with chaff (the shells of plant seeds), because he believes that's what causes seeds to grow (not true!).
  • And (2), he wants to breed a herd of naked sheep. Not exactly helpful.
  • Following this meeting, Gulliver heads over to the part of the Academy that'sless practical, and deals with abstract sciences.
  • His first meeting is with a professor who has a giant square strung with wires, on which are written all the words of the Laputian language.
  • This giant square has handles on all sides for the professor's students to use to turn the frame.
  • By turning the frame, the professor's students shake up the words hanging inside the square.
  • Whenever three or four of the words together seem to make sense, the students write down these phrases.
  • Out of this random word frame, the professor hopes to create a complete set of all the world's arts and sciences. Ambitious!
  • Another set of professors is trying to think of how to avoid miscommunication between people. One person suggests cutting all long words down to one syllable and leaving out verbs.
  • Another has an even more amazing idea: stop speaking altogether, and justcarry around the objects that will give your listeners an idea of what you mean.
  • (As Gulliver points out, this might mean you'll have to carry around a lot of stuff if your ideas are at all complex.)
  • At the math school at the Academy, Gulliver sees a professor trying to get his students literally to absorb the material he's teaching, by feeding them a cracker with equations written on it. It doesn't work, sadly.


"A further account of the academy. The author proposes some improvements, which are honorably received."

  • Gulliver finds the political school less funny, because all the professors seem nuts. The political projectors want to come up with ways to reward merit andability in public service – poppycock!
  • (Sorry, it's just that we've been reading so much Swift that we're getting pretty sarcastic ourselves.)
  • Anyway, Gulliver tells us that this kind of madness is so far-fetched that it goes past funny into sad.
  • But actually, some of the political projectors are less crazy and therefore amusing, Gulliver reassures: there's one guy who suggests that, if a political assembly is like a body, then it stands to reason that cures for the body might also cure problems in the assembly itself.
  • So, he offers that all senators should receive regular medical treatment to make sure that they don't fall into greed, corruption, or bribery.
  • The same guy also suggests various "cures" for the weak memories and poor decision-making of senators.
  • Possibly our favorite suggestion from this particular fellow is that, if political party division becomes too bad, we should take 100 guys from each political party and split their brains. In this way, each skull will now have half a conservative and half a liberal brain in it. Then they can literally argue it out among themselves.
  • To raise money, there's a proposal to tax everything bad in a man, as decided by his neighbors; a second fellow suggests that they tax everything good about a man, again, as assessed by his neighbors. The problem is, how can we be sure that jealous neighbors will admit the virtues of their friends?
  • To choose who will serve in high office, a professor proposes a raffle, which will keep hope alive among senators who might otherwise turn against the crown.
  • And another professor (this suggestion is also kind of awesome) advises that you can tell if a man is plotting against the government if you measure and analyze his poo. This professor uses his own poo as an example: it was kind of green when he wanted to kill the King, but totally different when he was only planning rebellion.
  • Gulliver offers to tell this professor about a land he's seen, "Tribnia" (a.k.a. Britain), which its residents call "Langden" (England).
  • Gulliver says that the plots in "Tribnia" are generally on the part of informers who want to raise their own reputations by making up stuff.
  • Usually, the accusers decide who to target in advance so they can raid the homes of the accused.
  • There, they steal all the letters belonging to the accused so they can find "proof" of treason by assigning special meanings and fake codes to the words of the accused.
  • The political professor thanks Gulliver for his information, and Gulliver starts thinking of going back to England.


"The author leaves Lagado: arrives at Maldonada. No ship ready. He takes a short voyage to Glubbdubdrib. His reception by the governor."

  • Gulliver claims that Balnibarbi is situated in the Pacific, west of California, which has not yet been charted (much like Brobdingnag).
  • To the north of Lagado is the island of Luggnagg, which is not far southeast of Japan.
  • These two countries have trade relations, so Gulliver plans to go to Luggnagg, sail for Japan, and then head for Europe.
  • Gulliver has to wait for a month before a boat will arrive at the port city of Maldonada to take him to Luggnagg.
  • Since he has nothing to do for a month, a local guy suggests that he try visiting the small island of Glubbdubdrib, an island of sorcerers.
  • These sorcerers are very private and only marry among each other.
  • The Governor of Glubbdubdrib can raise the dead, but only for one day, and he can't call them back again until three months have gone by.
  • Gulliver goes to meet this Governor, who asks Gulliver about his adventures.
  • All of the servants in the Governor's household are ghosts.
  • After 10 days on Glubbdubdrib, Gulliver stops worrying about the ghosts so much, which leads the Governor to make him an offer: Gulliver can speak to any ghosts he chooses and as many as he wants.
  • The one thing he has to promise is that he will only ask them questions about their own time.
  • Gulliver agrees, and gets to speak to:
    1. Alexander the Great (who died from drinking too much);
    2. Hannibal (who is supposed to have broken a rock blocking him from crossing the Alps using vinegar, but who tells Gulliver that really, he had no vinegar in his camp (source: Robert Greenberg, Editor, Gulliver's Travels: An Annotated Text With Critical Essays. New York: Norton, 1961, 167).);
    3. Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great in the midst of their greatest battles;
    4. Brutus, Julius Caesar's assassin, whom Gulliver admires for his bravery and commitment to the end of dictatorship.
  • Gulliver doesn't want to bore the reader with a complete list of who he spoke to, but most of his conversations were with great men of history who killed tyrants and fought for liberty.


"A further account of Glubbdubdrib. Ancient and modern history corrected"

  • Gulliver sets aside a day to talk to learned men. He gets to meet Homer and Aristotle, both of whom are really smart and neither of whom know any of the guys who have commented on their works.
  • (By the way, for more on who all of these people are, please see our "Character Analysis" of the Ancients.)
  • Gulliver also talks to a number of thinkers dealing with the nature of the universe, including René Descartes and Pierre Gassendi.
  • These men all agree that each new age of humanity comes up with a new system to explain nature, but they never last long.
  • Gulliver also meets most of the Emperors of Rome.
  • Then he moves on to the more recently deceased.
  • This gets a little depressing: he asks to see the family lines of the royal houses of Europe, and finds a lot of commoners mixed in there: a barber, an abbot, two fiddlers – those queens have been getting busy, Swift is saying.
  • He makes similar discoveries with the lines of the aristocracy, in which he sees plenty of evidence of family degeneration into stupidity and lying.
  • Speaking to the ghosts of the recent past shows Gulliver exactly how much lying goes around today, and how much history has been airbrushed to look better (or worse) than it really is.
  • Gulliver wants to find out how people have gotten their official and court positions and finds that it's through horrible means: bribery, lying, sucking up, oppression, prostitution of wives and daughters, treason, poisoning, and incest all come up.
  • Gulliver discovers that the only really great services done to the state have been by people who history calls traitors and criminals.
  • In fact, he also realizes that this kind of hypocrisy was present even in Rome, once the Empire started to grow rich and luxurious.
  • The introduction of similar wealth to England has made English people progressively, visibly less healthy, complains Gulliver.
  • Total corruption has caused England to grow repulsive over the previous 100 years.


"The author returns to Maldonada. Sails to the kingdom of Luggnagg. The author confined. He is sent for to court. The manner of his admittance. The king's great lenity to his subjects."

  • Gulliver finally leaves Glubbdubdrib and heads for Luggnagg. He arrives in Luggnagg on April 21, 1708.
  • Gulliver starts speaking to a customs officer in Luggnagg, where he pretends to be Dutch.
  • Since Gulliver's eventual destination is Japan, and the Japanese will only allow Dutch traders access to their harbors, he figures this is a good plan.
  • (By the way, kudos to Swift for being absolutely correct on this historical point – after 1637, Japan refused to allow non-Dutch European traders onto its islands until the 1850s.)
  • Gulliver gets held up in Luggnagg by red tape, so he hires an interpreter who speaks both Luggnagg and Balnibarbi and answers frequent questions about his travels and the countries he has seen.
  • Eventually, Gulliver is granted an audience with the King of Luggnagg.
  • The King orders Gulliver to follow the local custom of crawling to the King's feet and licking the dust in front of his footstool. Seriously.
  • If the King wants one of his court dead, he has poison sprinkled on the floor in front of him where they have to eat it.
  • Gulliver exchanges ritual greetings with the King and then speaks to him through his interpreter.
  • Apparently, the King really likes Gulliver: he gives him some money and lets him stay at the palace.
  • Gulliver lives in Luggnagg for three months, but decides that, overall, it will be safer to go home to his wife and kids.


"The Luggnaggians commended. A particular description of the Struldbrugs, with many conversations between the author and some eminent persons upon that subject."

  • Gulliver finds the Luggnaggians pretty nice overall.
  • One day, he's chatting with some locals, and one of them asks him if he has seen "any of their struldbrugs, or immortals" (3.10.2).
  • Every now and again, a child will be born with a mark on its forehead, over its left eyebrow, which shows that it will never die. These are the struldbrugs.
  • Gulliver is really excited to find a country where every child has a chance of being born immortal.
  • The person Gulliver is speaking to asks Gulliver what he would do, if he had been born immortal.
  • Gulliver jumps in: he would make lots of money, invest it and save it, become the wealthiest man in the kingdom, learn everything there is to know about everything, and write down all the events and fashions that he sees to provide future knowledge for the nation.
  • Gulliver would also take care to instruct young people, but most of his friends would be fellow immortals, since what would be the point of hanging out with lots of people without the benefit of his experience?
  • Gulliver goes on to exclaim about all the discoveries he and his struldbrugfriends would make – it would be amazing.
  • The person Gulliver's talking to tells him he's being an idiot: in fact, the terrible thing about being a struldbrug is that you are immortal but you are noteternally young.
  • The struldbrugs age at the same rate as other humans, the difference being, that at 80 years old, they're much more miserable than other old people because they have the prospect of living on and on beyond their 80 years.
  • As soon as a struldbrug turns 80, he is dead in terms of the law, so all of his money goes to his heirs – he's totally poor.
  • Struldbrug marriages are also dissolved at 80, since they would make the couple so much more unhappy.
  • At 90, they start losing their teeth, so they don't enjoy eating anymore.
  • Their memories get bad enough that they can't read without forgetting, at the end of a sentence, how it began.
  • Because language evolves with time, older struldbrugs can't understand younger people at all.
  • They have to beg for money, since otherwise, they must get by on a tiny state allowance.
  • Gulliver feels ashamed of wishing to be a struldbrug, since being one is so completely awful.
  • At the same time, the Luggnaggian King does remind him that the sight of astruldbrug cures everyone of fear of death.


"The author leaves Luggnagg, and sails to Japan. From thence he returns in a Dutch ship to Amsterdam, and from Amsterdam to England"

  • The Luggnaggian King offers Gulliver a job at court, but Gulliver wants to go home.
  • The King sends him off with a generous gift of gold.
  • Gulliver heads to Japan, where he uses a letter of recommendation from the Luggnaggian King to get an audience with the Emperor of Japan.
  • The two talk to each other using Dutch.
  • Gulliver tells the Emperor that he is a Dutch merchant looking for passage to "Nangasac" (3.10.4) – presumably Nagasaki, home to a large Dutch settlement in the eighteenth century.
  • Gulliver also asks the Emperor if he could please be excused from the Dutch custom of trampling on the cross, as a favor to his patron, the King of Luggnagg.
  • The Emperor agrees, but warns Gulliver not to let any of the Dutch know or he'll have his throat cut on the trip home.
  • Gulliver, of course, has lived in Holland – you may remember, way back in Part 1, Chapter 1, Gulliver mentions studying medicine at the University of Leiden.
  • His Dutch is great, and he manages to convince some Dutch sailors to let him sail with them.
  • They all ask if he's had a chance to stomp on the crucifix yet, and he dodges the question by saying he has "satisfied the Emperor [...] in all particulars" (3.11.5).
  • Gulliver's trip home is uneventful, and he finally gets to see his family after 5 and a half years away.


"The author sets out as captain of a ship. His men conspire against him, confine him a long time to his cabin, and set him on shore in an unknown land. He travels up into the country. The Yahoos, a strange sort of animal, described. The author meets two Houyhnhnms."

  • Gulliver spends 5 months at home with his family before he heads out yet again, leaving his wife pregnant.
  • This time, he gets to be captain of his ship, the Adventurer. Their job is to trade goods with residents of the South Seas.
  • They set sail on September 7, 1710.
  • Several of Gulliver's sailors die of "calentures," a fever of the Tropics, so he has to hire some new guys.
  • These new guys form a conspiracy to mutiny against Gulliver. They keep Gulliver a prisoner in his own cabin as they sail around trading with the locals.
  • In May, 1711, one of the sailors comes down to Gulliver's cabin to tell him that they have decided to maroon Gulliver ashore.
  • Gulliver starts exploring his new island, where he sees some of its inhabitants from a distance: they look like naked, hairy monsters with claws for climbing trees. Gulliver finds them disgusting.
  • One of these beasts approaches Gulliver, and he hits it with the flat of his sword – he doesn't want to damage the animal, for fear that the inhabitants of the island will be angry that he's damaging their livestock.
  • The hairy thing roars, and about 40 other hairy things come running over.
  • Gulliver takes refuge in a tree, shaking his sword to keep the animals back, but they start throwing their excrement at him in rage. Gulliver is worried he's going to be smothered under all of this feces.
  • Suddenly, all the animals turn around and run away.
  • Gulliver looks over his shoulder and sees a horse coming his way. He looks rather surprised at the sight of Gulliver, and when Gulliver reaches to touch him, he shies away.
  • The horse neighs several times in a way that seems to have meaning.
  • A second horse arrives, and the two seem to be talking to each other.
  • Gulliver tries to sneak away, but one of the horses neighs at him and he returns as though he has been ordered.
  • What really seems to surprise the horses is Gulliver's clothes, which they keep indicating and talking over.
  • Gulliver finally addresses them, asking for their help in exchange for a knife and a bracelet he happens to be carrying. He thinks the horses are probably magicians in disguise.
  • The horses keep saying the word "Yahoo," which Gulliver repeats back to them.
  • They correct his pronunciation, and then teach him another word: "Houyhnhnm" (generally pronounced "whinnim," obviously coming from "whinny," the sound a horse makes).
  • The two horses part, and one of them (who is gray) indicates that Gulliver should follow him.


"The author conducted by a Houyhnhnm to his house. The house described. The author's reception. The food of the Houyhnhnms. The author in distress for want of meat. Is at last relieved. His manner of feeding in this country."

  • Gulliver and the gray horse go about three miles, to a long, low building.
  • Gulliver sees several horses doing housework and thinks that the people who tamed these animals to such a degree must be the smartest people who ever were.
  • Gulliver starts to think he's hallucinating, because he can't figure out (a) where the people are, and (b) what kind of man needs to be served by horses.
  • Finally, Gulliver arrives at a building far from the main house, which has three of those gross, hairy animals from the previous chapter chained to the wall.
  • They are eating roots and meat from animals that have died by accident – donkeys, dogs, and cows.
  • The horse leader orders "the sorrel nag" ("sorrel" meaning a kind of chestnut or reddish color, "nag" meaning horse) to unchain one of the beasts and bring him to Gulliver.
  • When Gulliver sees this beast close up, he realizes that what the horses have been calling Yahoos are actually men: their hands have uncut nails, and they are a bit hairier and more calloused than Gulliver, but still, they are unmistakably human beings.
  • What is clearly confusing the horses is that Gulliver has the head of a Yahoo, but his body is pretty different: they don't understand that his clothes are not part of his skin.
  • The horses see that Gulliver truly loathes the Yahoos, and that he also can't eat the raw meat they eat.
  • Gulliver sees a cow passing and indicates that he will milk her, which is how he finally feeds himself.
  • Around noon, an elderly horse appears in a carriage drawn by 4 Yahoos.
  • He settles down with the gray horse to a lunch of hay, mashed oats, and milk.
  • They all appear extremely well-mannered, modest, and decent.
  • After lunch, the gray horse (whom Gulliver has started calling the Master Horse) indicates that he's worried that Gulliver has eaten so little.
  • Finally, Gulliver figures out a way to make a kind of bread out of oats, which he eats with milk. And even though it's not the most delicious food in the world, a steady diet of this stuff makes him really healthy.
  • Gulliver spends his first night lying in straw between the house and the Yahoo stable.


"The author studies to learn the language, the Houyhnhnm, his master, assists in teaching him. The language described. Several Houyhnhnms of quality come out of curiosity to see the author. He gives his master a short account of his voyage."

  • Gulliver spends most of his early days in Houyhnhnm Land learning the language with the help of the sorrel nag, the reddish servant to the Master Horse.
  • Houyhnhnm language sounds a lot like German, but is more "graceful" (4.3.2).
  • The Master Horse is really interested in Gulliver because he is clearly a Yahoo, but he is so clean and teachable.
  • The Master Horse asks where Gulliver can possibly come from, to be so smart, but he also refuses to believe that Yahoos could ever build a boat or that there are countries across the sea.
  • Gulliver discovers that, in their language, "Houyhnhnm" means both horse and "perfection of nature" (4.3.5).
  • Many Houynhnhnms come to see Gulliver, staring in wonder at a Yahoo who seems to possess reason.
  • As we've said before, they don't really get clothes, but one night, as Gulliver is getting ready for bed, he accidentally exposes himself to the sorrel nag of the Master Horse. The servant thinks that Gulliver changes skins as he sleeps.
  • Gulliver has been trying to cover up the fact that underneath his clothes, he really is like the other Yahoos, but now his secret's out.
  • So Gulliver explains clothes to the Master Horse.
  • Even without his clothes, the Master Horse is impressed by how different Gulliver is from the other Yahoos, because his skin is so pale, soft, and relatively hairless.
  • Gulliver asks the Master Horse to stop calling him a Yahoo and to keep the secret of his clothes. The Master Horse agrees.
  • The Master Horse tells Gulliver to learn the Houyhnhnm language ASAP so that he can ask Gulliver more questions.
  • Gulliver is finally able to tell the Master Horse that he arrived at his island in a ship made by men and sailed by men, that he was set ashore thanks to an argument between men.
  • The Master Horse asks how the Houyhnhnms of Gulliver's country allowed a ship to be sailed by brutes.
  • Gulliver makes the Master Horse promise not to get mad, and then he explains that, in his country, the Houyhnhnms are the brutes and the men are the reasonable beings.


"The Houyhnhnm's notion of truth and falsehood. The author's discourse disapproved by his master. The author gives a more particular account of himself, and the accidents of his voyage."

  • The Master Horse is confused because he feels doubt, but he is also completely unfamiliar with the idea of lying.
  • Gulliver tells the Master Horse about the poor treatment horses often receive as work animals in his home country.
  • The Master Horse is utterly disgusted to hear that Yahoos ride Houyhnhnms where Gulliver comes from. How dare they, when Houynhnhnms are so much stronger than Yahoos?
  • Gulliver talks about the process of breaking horses.
  • The Master Horse continues to be outraged. He admits that, if horses in Gulliver's country are stupid, then it make sense that the Yahoos win out, because reason beats strength every time.
  • The Master Horse wants to know if the Yahoos in Gulliver's country are more like Gulliver or like the Yahoos of Houyhnhnm Land?
  • Gulliver answers that they are more like him, which the Master Horse actually thinks is something of a disadvantage. Sure, they're better-looking, but they're also physically even weaker and less suited to survival.
  • It takes Gulliver ages to explain to the Master Horse about his own origins, because there are no words in Houyhnhnm language for things like deception, power, wealth, lust, or envy.
  • The Master Horse finally grasps what Gulliver is getting at when he describes human nature, and wants to hear more about European culture.


"The author at his master's command, informs him of the state of England. The causes of war among the princes of Europe. The author begins to explain the English constitution.

  • Gulliver tells the Master Horse about some recent English history: the Glorious Revolution in 1689 and the War of the Spanish Succession from 1701 to 1714.
  • (The Glorious Revolution took place when the Protestant English Parliament decided that it did not want a hereditary monarchy of Catholics to rule the country – then-king James II and VII was a Catholic. So, Parliament decided that it had the power to appoint kings, and invited Dutch Protestant leader William of Orange to become William III of England. James II and VII fled to France and became the center of the Jacobite movement. The Glorious Revolution ushered in the reign of William and Mary, from 1689 to 1702 (source).
  • (The War of the Spanish Succession – oh God, this is complicated. Okay, so basically, there are four major European powers in competition at this point, the Spanish, the English, the French, and the Austrians. They are competing not only in Europe, but also for control of their colonial properties in the Americas.
  • King Charles II of Spain is growing old and has no children, so everyone's just waiting to see who's going to control the lands Spain has conquered.
  • England and France form an alliance against Leopold I of the Austrian Empire, but then France strikes out on its own and everything gets even less stable.
  • Finally, after plenty of expensive warfare, the upshot for England is that France signs over several of its territories in Eastern Canada, Britain gets commercial privileges in Spanish colonies in America, and the French promise not to support any of the exiled members of deposed king James II and VII's family (source).
  • The Master Horse wants to know why humans go to war. Gulliver answers: (1) ambition to conquer, (2) corruption of the government, (3) differences of opinion. Wars over opinions are the worst kind.
  • Here, the Master Horse says something really quite tragic: he tells Gulliver that, with all of this warlike nature, it's lucky that humans can't do too much damage to each other because their mouths aren't designed for easy biting.
  • Gulliver explains weapons and the damage that humans can do to each other.
  • The Master Horse stops Gulliver here, and says that he can't hear any more about war because it's too disturbing. Gulliver's tales have only made him hate Yahoos more and more.
  • The Master Horse thinks we don't have reason or rationality at all – we have some other thing that allows us to practice our bad qualities as much as possible.
  • The Master Horse is confused about law: how can laws be bad? How can laws ruin men, when they are designed to save them?
  • Gulliver explains about lawyers, who, he says, are trained from babyhood to defend anything, especially lies, so they have no sense of justice.
  • What's more, judges often prefer to agree with what appears obviously untrue, so people with right on their side may only win if they pretend that right is wrong.
  • Gulliver talks about precedent: anything that has been done before may legally be done again.
  • Lawyers like to split hairs and talk about irrelevant details to distract from the simple facts of all their cases.
  • They have their own private way of speaking, which excludes ordinary people from either understanding or making laws.
  • People in power can decide to convict others accused of crimes against the state because they have influence over the judges.
  • The Master Horse comments that it's a shame that they spend so much time training lawyers to be lawyers and not teaching them to be knowledgeable and wise.


"A continuation of the state of England under Queen Anne. The character of a first minister of state in European courts."

  • Next up, Gulliver tries to explain the concept of greed to the Master Horse.
  • He claims that England grows enough food to support its population comfortably, but because they want luxury, they must export what they grow in exchange for things that they don't need.
  • This luxury – wine, rich food, too much sex – all leads the English to diseases, the likes of which the Houyhnhnms have never seen.
  • Another group of people have arisen to treat these diseases – to profit off them – using fake potions to make people purge their insides.
  • This group of people (doctors, of course) make so much profit on disease that they encourage people to think that they are sick even when they aren't.
  • They also use their wisdom to poison people who have become inconvenient: when husbands and wives have gotten tired of their partners or sons have gotten fed up with their fathers, doctors can take care of the problem.
  • The Master Horse wants to know what a "Minister of State" is (in American terms, something like a Cabinet Member for the President).
  • Gulliver tells the Master Horse that the First Minister of State is someone totally without any emotion besides ambition for money and power.
  • The chief qualifications for the First Minister of State are: (1) to know how to get rid of an inconvenient wife, daughter, or sister; (2) to betray the Minister who has come before you; (3) to shout endlessly against corruption at court (though, of course, Ministers always lie).
  • Chief Ministers of State dedicate themselves to bribing and intimidating others to follow their orders.
  • And Gulliver's tirade continues: he tells the Master Horse that the nobility in his country are educated to be lazy and ignorant, and that there is frequent mixing of classes that damages noble bloodlines.
  • Despite their total uselessness, they still have authority over all lower-born people in the country.


"The author's great love of his native country. His master's observations upon the constitution and administration of England, as described by the author, with parallel cases and comparisons. His master's observations upon human nature."

  • Gulliver starts to hate the Yahoos and love the Houyhnhnms.
  • In fact, he decides that he never wants to leave Houyhnhnm Land and return to humankind.
  • The Master Horse gives Gulliver his conclusions: the European Yahoos have only enough reason to make their natural corruption worse.
  • By clipping our nails, cutting our hair, and generally growing soft, we have also deprived ourselves of the natural protection the Yahoos in Houyhnhnm Land have.
  • Even though there are outward differences between Gulliver and the Houyhnhnm Land Yahoos, their essential natures are the same: they hate each other more than other animals do, and will fight even without a reason.
  • The Yahoos of Houyhnhnm Land also love shiny rocks, which none of the Houyhnhnms understand, but which sees to be a trait of the whole human species.
  • Yahoos are the only animals in Houyhnhnm land who get sick, and they treat each other with medicine made from a mix of pee and poo (urgh).
  • The Master Horse does admit that European Yahoos have a lot more art than their local Yahoos.
  • Still, their natures seem essentially identical: for example, Houyhnhnm Land Yahoos also like to choose a leader, usually the weakest and ugliest of the group.
  • As for women (what the Master Horse calls "she Yahoos" (4.7.15)), he observes that Yahoos are the only ones among animal kind that still have sex even when the woman is pregnant. (Swift's point here seems to be that sex is for procreation, so once a woman's pregnant, she shouldn't need sex – which, if we may editorialize, is kind of icky of him.)
  • He also notes that Yahoos are unique in having both males and females fighting equally violently with one another.
  • The Master Horse continues: Yahoos love filth more than most animals.
  • Also, Yahoos sometimes fall into bad moods or think they are sick for no reason; the only cure for this hypochondria is hard work.
  • Women Yahoos like to seduce men. Sometimes, if an unknown female comes up to a group of three or four women, those women will clearly judge and then reject her.
  • Gulliver hears these words and realizes that "lewdness, coquetry, censure, and scandal" (4.7.19) all seem to be instinctive for human women. (For a discussion of Gulliver's views on women, check out our theme on "Gender.")


"The author relates several particulars of the Yahoos. The great virtues of the Houyhnhnms. The education and exercise of their youth. Their general assembly."

  • Gulliver asks the Master Horse for permission to observe the Yahoos, which the Master Horse gives as long as Gulliver is always accompanied by a Houyhnhnm guard – the sorrel nag.
  • Yahoo children are agile, and they also smell bad.
  • Yahoos are strong but cowardly, stubborn, lying, and deceitful.
  • The Yahoos also swim well, which leads Gulliver to an adventure.
  • One day, the weather is so hot that he wants to go for a swim, so he asks the sorrel nag if he may go for a dip in the river.
  • The sorrel nag agrees.
  • A young female Yahoo finds Gulliver so hot that she goes running into the river to try and seduce him on the spot.
  • Gulliver freaks out and yells.
  • At the sight of his Houyhnhnm guard, she runs away.
  • Gulliver is truly embarrassed, because this is the final proof he needs that he is, in fact, a Yahoo.
  • Gulliver has spent three years in Houyhnhnm Land and is ready to tell the reader a bit more about the Houyhnhnms.
  • The Houyhnhnms do not understand the word "opinion" truly, because they are totally devoted to reason, and you can only have an opinion about something you do not know absolutely.
  • It doesn't make sense to argue over something you can't know; the Houyhnhnms believe that you should respect other people's ideas without trying to dominate with your own.
  • The Houyhnhnms are equally good to their neighbors and strangers; they value friendship above all else.
  • When a female Houyhnhnm has had a foal of each gender, a couple will stop producing children. This is to keep Houyhnhnm Land from becoming overpopulated.
  • The rule is slightly relaxed for servant-class Houyhnhnms , who can have up to three kids of each gender.
  • The Houyhnhnms do not believe in mixing races, so a Houyhnhnm will only marry another Houyhnhnm of the same color. (For a discussion of race inGulliver's Travels, check out our "Character Analyses" of the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos.)
  • The Houyhnhnms apply their rules of reason even to marriage, which is always arranged for a couple by their parents. Houyhnhnm couples are always faithful.
  • The Houyhnhnms believe in equality of education for the sexes, since it's not rational to leave half the species knowing nothing except how to bear children.
  • Children are strictly disciplined, with a restricted grass diet and lots and lots of exercise.
  • The Houyhnhnms have assemblies representing the whole nation every four years, where they check in to make sure everyone has all the supplies they need.
  • If one Houyhnhnm couple has two sons and another has two daughters, they'll trade one to make sure that they have the set quantity of one boy and one girl.
  • If one family has lost one or both children, another Houyhnhnm couple has to have a child to supply their loss.


"A grand debate at the general assembly of the Houyhnhnms, and how it was determined. The learning of the Houyhnhnms. Their buildings. Their manner of burials. The defectiveness of their language."

  • The Houyhnhnms hold one of their four-year grand assemblies while Gulliver is there.
  • They go back to an old debate: whether Yahoos should be wiped off the face of the Earth.
  • On the side of "yes": they're disgusting and they have to be watched constantly to keep them from doing bad things.
  • Also, Yahoos are not native to Houyhnhnm Land: a man and a woman arrived one day, washed up on the shores of the island.
  • The Houyhnhnms caught and tamed their children.
  • The Master Horse speaks up to say, yes, it seems likely that these two original Yahoos came from over the sea, because the Master Horse has found one (Gulliver) who is a much better specimen of the Yahoo kind.
  • The Master Horse tells his fellows that, in Gulliver's land, Houyhnhnms are the servants and Yahoos are the rational animals.
  • The Master Horse also informs them about the human practice of castrating horses to make them less aggressive – why don't the Houyhnhnms try this method on young Yahoos of their own country?
  • This way, the Houyhnhnms could make the Yahoos more docile, which would mean they wouldn't need to kill them all.
  • The Houyhnhnms don't write anything down; they rely on oral records for their history.
  • They also don't have much in the way of astronomy, except to measure months and years.
  • They write beautiful poetry about friendship and in praise of their athletes.
  • Unless they have some kind of accident, they only die of old age, usually at around 70 or 75.
  • All of their words for something bad are connected to Yahoos, so a poorly built house is ynholmhmrohlnw Yahoo, and a stone that cuts their feet,ynlhmndwihlma Yahoo.


"The author's economy, and happy life, among the Houyhnhnms. His great improvement in virtue by conversing with them. Their conversations. The author has notice given him by his master, that he must depart from the country. He falls into a swoon for grief; but submits. He contrives and finishes a canoe by the help of a fellow-servant, and puts to sea at a venture."

  • Gulliver is absolutely content: he has all the shelter (thanks, in part, to the building skills of the sorrel nag), clothing, and clothes he needs, and he feels completely calm and at peace.
  • Gulliver has lots of nice friends among the Houyhnhnms; in fact, he's proud that the Houyhnhnms sometimes say that he "trots like a horse" (4.10.4).
  • Sadly, one morning the Master Horse comes to see Gulliver and to tell him that the Houyhnhnms have voted that Gulliver must go away. They worry that such a smart Yahoo might encourage the other Yahoos to rise up and kill the Houyhnhnm's cattle.
  • The Master Horse tells Gulliver that he will be sorry to see him go – but he will have to.
  • Gulliver is heartbroken at this news, so much so that he actual faints.
  • The Master Horse gives Gulliver two months to finish his boat, which he builds with the help of the sorrel nag.
  • Gulliver explores the coast with his telescope and finds a small island about three and a half miles away that he can reach in his boat.
  • Finally, when the day comes for Gulliver to leave, the Master Horse and his whole family come to see him off.
  • Gulliver cries and kisses the hoof of the Master Horse.


"The author's dangerous voyage. He arrives at New Holland, hoping to settle there. Is wounded with an arrow by one of the natives. Is seized and carried by force into a Portuguese ship. The great civilities of the captain. The author arrives in England."

  • It is February 15, 1714.
  • The Master Horse and his family keep watching Gulliver from the shore until he floats out of sight.
  • The sorrel nag calls to Gulliver to take care of himself.
  • Gulliver hopes to find the island uninhabited, but still with enough resources to support him.
  • He really doesn't want to return to the Yahoos.
  • On the fourth day, he sees people – they are naked and sitting around a fire.
  • He jumps into a canoe and rows away, but not before the people shoot his knee with a poisoned arrow, which leaves a scar.
  • As Gulliver is rowing away as fast as he can, he sees a sail in the distance, from a European ship.
  • Gulliver finally decides to go back to where he saw the natives: he would rather hang around with them than with the European Yahoos.
  • But, unfortunately, the ship's sailors land and stumble on Gulliver anyway. They address Gulliver in Portuguese, and he answers that he is a "poor Yahoo banished from the Houyhnhnms" (4.11.7).
  • Gulliver tells them that he is from England.
  • Since the English and the Portuguese are not at war, he hopes they will not be mean to him.
  • The sailors bring Gulliver aboard their ship, which is heading for Lisbon in Portugal.
  • Gulliver meets the captain, Don Pedro de Mendez, who wants to know where Gulliver is from. He's so distressed to be back among the Yahoos that he won't tell the captain – in fact, he tries to throw himself into the sea to swim away, but he is caught before he can.
  • Don Pedro thinks Gulliver is lying at first, as he starts talking about Houyhnhnm land.
  • Gulliver is confused at his doubt – it has been many years since Gulliver has heard a lie.
  • Don Pedro makes Gulliver promise that he will not try to kill himself on the way home.
  • Gulliver promises, and he also tries not to talk endlessly about how much he hates people now (though he can't help himself).
  • They arrive at Lisbon, and Don Pedro insists that Gulliver stay at his own house and borrow some clothes (again, over Gulliver's protests, since he's not used to thinking about style or fit any longer).
  • After 10 days in Portugal, Don Pedro tells Gulliver that it is his responsibility to go back home to his family.
  • It would be impossible for Gulliver to find a solitary island to maroon himself on, but in his own home, he could be as much of a hermit as he wants to be.
  • Gulliver grudgingly agrees, and heads back to his home.
  • His wife and children are delighted to see him, because they thought he was dead.
  • But Gulliver is disgusted: he is still having trouble looking at Yahoos.
  • The thought that he had sex with one, his wife, and brought three more Yahoos onto this earth, fills him with despair.
  • In fact, it's been five years since he's gotten back to England, and he can still barely stand to be in their presence.
  • Gulliver has bought two young stallions, which he keeps in a good stable. He visits them and talks to them at least four hours a day (!).


"The author's veracity. His design in publishing this work. His censure of those travellers who swerve from the truth. The author clears himself of any sinister ends in writing. An objection answered. The method of planting colonies. His native country commended. The right of the crown to those countries described by the author is justified. The difficulty of conquering them. The author takes his last leave of the reader; proposes his manner of living for the future; gives good advice, and concludes."

  • Gulliver claims that absolutely everything he has written is absolutely true.
  • In fact, he thinks it's a disgrace that so many travelers embroider or exaggerate their published accounts of their trips around the world.
  • Gulliver's motto is: Nec si miserum Fortuna Sinonem/Finxit, vanum etiam, menacemque improba finget (4.12.3) – "Though Fortune has made Sinon wretched, she has not made him untrue and a liar." (citation: Robert Greenberg, Editor, Gulliver's Travels: An Annotated Text With Critical Essays. New York: Norton, 1961, 256). In other words, though Gulliver is bummed about having left Houyhnhnm Land, he still refuses to lie about any of his experiences.
  • The purpose of writing his memoirs is not to gain fame, but to share the superior example of the Houyhnhnms with the world.
  • Gulliver has been warned that he must first relate his experiences to an English secretary of state in order to give England the opportunity of invading the lands he has visited.
  • It wouldn't be profitable to try: the Lilliputians are too small to be worth it, the Brobdingnagians, too large and dangerous, and the Laputians, literally out of reach.
  • While the Houyhnhnms are totally inexperienced with war, still, the English shouldn't invade them.
  • The Houyhnhnms are smart, strong, and love their country – they would figure out how to defend it quickly enough.
  • In fact, Gulliver wishes that the Houyhnhnms would come over and teach all of their virtues to the European Yahoos.
  • A further reason why Gulliver doesn't want the Europeans to conquer the lands he has seen is because they don't seem to want to be conquered.
  • Taking their lands against their will is cruel.
  • So now, Gulliver is nearing the end of his tale.
  • Gulliver is sitting in his garden thinking; he is instructing his family as best he can; he is applying the lessons of Houyhnhnm Land; he is looking at his face in the mirror to get used to the features of Yahoos; and he is mourning the treatment of Houyhnhnms in England.
  • Just this last week (after five years home), Gulliver is able to let his wife sit at dinner with him – at the far end of the table.
  • What he really hates is not the bad qualities that Yahoos can't seem to escape. It's the pride they feel in themselves even though they are so disgusting, diseased, and detestable.
  • The Houyhnhnms, who possess good natures, are not proud, because they are born good, and cannot help but be good. They don't need to congratulate themselves.
  • The only way that Gulliver will ever be able to sit in the company of an English Yahoo again is if they avoid at least this one sin: the sin of pride.


Jonathan Swift

Themes, Motifs & Symbols


Might Versus Right

Gulliver’s Travels implicitly poses the question of whether physical power or moral righteousness should be the governing factor in social life. Gulliver experiences the advantages of physical might both as one who has it, as a giant in Lilliput where he can defeat the Blefuscudian navy by virtue of his immense size, and as one who does not have it, as a miniature visitor to Brobdingnag where he is harassed by the hugeness of everything from insects to household pets. His first encounter with another society is one of entrapment, when he is physically tied down by the Lilliputians; later, in Brobdingnag, he is enslaved by a farmer. He also observes physical force used against others, as with the Houyhnhnms’ chaining up of the Yahoos.

But alongside the use of physical force, there are also many claims to power based on moral correctness. The whole point of the egg controversy that has set Lilliput against Blefuscu is not merely a cultural difference but, instead, a religious and moral issue related to the proper interpretation of a passage in their holy book. This difference of opinion seems to justify, in their eyes at least, the warfare it has sparked. Similarly, the use of physical force against the Yahoos is justified for the Houyhnhnms by their sense of moral superiority: they are cleaner, better behaved, and more rational. But overall, the novel tends to show that claims to rule on the basis of moral righteousness are often just as arbitrary as, and sometimes simply disguises for, simple physical subjugation. The Laputans keep the lower land of Balnibarbi in check through force because they believe themselves to be more rational, even though we might see them as absurd and unpleasant. Similarly, the ruling elite of Balnibarbi believes itself to be in the right in driving Lord Munodi from power, although we perceive that Munodi is the rational party. Claims to moral superiority are, in the end, as hard to justify as the random use of physical force to dominate others.

The Individual Versus Society

Like many narratives about voyages to nonexistent lands, Gulliver’s Travels explores the idea of utopia—an imaginary model of the ideal community. The idea of a utopia is an ancient one, going back at least as far as the description in Plato’sRepublic of a city-state governed by the wise and expressed most famously in English by Thomas More’s Utopia. Swift nods to both works in his own narrative, though his attitude toward utopia is much more skeptical, and one of the main aspects he points out about famous historical utopias is the tendency to privilege the collective group over the individual. The children of Plato’s Republic are raised communally, with no knowledge of their biological parents, in the understanding that this system enhances social fairness. Swift has the Lilliputians similarly raise their offspring collectively, but its results are not exactly utopian, since Lilliput is torn by conspiracies, jealousies, and backstabbing.

The Houyhnhnms also practice strict family planning, dictating that the parents of two females should exchange a child with a family of two males, so that the male-to-female ratio is perfectly maintained. Indeed, they come closer to the utopian ideal than the Lilliputians in their wisdom and rational simplicity. But there is something unsettling about the Houyhnhnms’ indistinct personalities and about how they are the only social group that Gulliver encounters who do not have proper names. Despite minor physical differences, they are all so good and rational that they are more or less interchangeable, without individual identities. In their absolute fusion with their society and lack of individuality, they are in a sense the exact opposite of Gulliver, who has hardly any sense of belonging to his native society and exists only as an individual eternally wandering the seas. Gulliver’s intense grief when forced to leave the Houyhnhnms may have something to do with his longing for union with a community in which he can lose his human identity. In any case, such a union is impossible for him, since he is not a horse, and all the other societies he visits make him feel alienated as well.

Gulliver’s Travels could in fact be described as one of the first novels of modern alienation, focusing on an individual’s repeated failures to integrate into societies to which he does not belong. England itself is not much of a homeland for Gulliver, and, with his surgeon’s business unprofitable and his father’s estate insufficient to support him, he may be right to feel alienated from it. He never speaks fondly or nostalgically about England, and every time he returns home, he is quick to leave again. Gulliver never complains explicitly about feeling lonely, but the embittered and antisocial misanthrope we see at the end of the novel is clearly a profoundly isolated individual. Thus, if Swift’s satire mocks the excesses of communal life, it may also mock the excesses of individualism in its portrait of a miserable and lonely Gulliver talking to his horses at home in England.

The Limits of Human Understanding

The idea that humans are not meant to know everything and that all understanding has a natural limit is important in Gulliver’s Travels. Swift singles out theoretical knowledge in particular for attack: his portrait of the disagreeable and self-centered Laputans, who show blatant contempt for those who are not sunk in private theorizing, is a clear satire against those who pride themselves on knowledge above all else. Practical knowledge is also satirized when it does not produce results, as in the academy of Balnibarbi, where the experiments for extracting sunbeams from cucumbers amount to nothing. Swift insists that there is a realm of understanding into which humans are simply not supposed to venture. Thus his depictions of rational societies, like Brobdingnag and Houyhnhnmland, emphasize not these people’s knowledge or understanding of abstract ideas but their ability to live their lives in a wise and steady way.

The Brobdingnagian king knows shockingly little about the abstractions of political science, yet his country seems prosperous and well governed. Similarly, the Houyhnhnms know little about arcane subjects like astronomy, though they know how long a month is by observing the moon, since that knowledge has a practical effect on their well-being. Aspiring to higher fields of knowledge would be meaningless to them and would interfere with their happiness. In such contexts, it appears that living a happy and well-ordered life seems to be the very thing for which Swift thinks knowledge is useful.

Swift also emphasizes the importance of self-understanding. Gulliver is initially remarkably lacking in self-reflection and self-awareness. He makes no mention of his emotions, passions, dreams, or aspirations, and he shows no interest in describing his own psychology to us. Accordingly, he may strike us as frustratingly hollow or empty, though it is likely that his personal emptiness is part of the overall meaning of the novel. By the end, he has come close to a kind of twisted self-knowledge in his deranged belief that he is a Yahoo. His revulsion with the human condition, shown in his shabby treatment of the generous Don Pedro, extends to himself as well, so that he ends the novel in a thinly disguised state of self-hatred. Swift may thus be saying that self-knowledge has its necessary limits just as theoretical knowledge does, and that if we look too closely at ourselves we might not be able to carry on living happily.



While it may seem a trivial or laughable motif, the recurrent mention of excrement in Gulliver’s Travels actually has a serious philosophical significance in the narrative. It symbolizes everything that is crass and ignoble about the human body and about human existence in general, and it obstructs any attempt to view humans as wholly spiritual or mentally transcendent creatures. Since the Enlightenment culture of eighteenth-century England tended to view humans optimistically as noble souls rather than vulgar bodies, Swift’s emphasis on the common filth of life is a slap in the face of the philosophers of his day. Thus, when Gulliver urinates to put out a fire in Lilliput, or when Brobdingnagian flies defecate on his meals, or when the scientist in Lagado works to transform excrement back into food, we are reminded how very little human reason has to do with everyday existence. Swift suggests that the human condition in general is dirtier and lowlier than we might like to believe it is.

Foreign Languages

Gulliver appears to be a gifted linguist, knowing at least the basics of several European languages and even a fair amount of ancient Greek. This knowledge serves him well, as he is able to disguise himself as a Dutchman in order to facilitate his entry into Japan, which at the time only admitted the Dutch. But even more important, his linguistic gifts allow him to learn the languages of the exotic lands he visits with a dazzling speed and, thus, gain access to their culture quickly. He learns the languages of the Lilliputians, the Brobdingnagians, and even the neighing tongue of the Houyhnhnms. He is meticulous in recording the details of language in his narrative, often giving the original as well as the translation. One would expect that such detail would indicate a cross-cultural sensitivity, a kind of anthropologist’s awareness of how things vary from culture to culture. Yet surprisingly, Gulliver’s mastery of foreign languages generally does not correspond to any real interest in cultural differences. He compares any of the governments he visits to that of his native England, and he rarely even speculates on how or why cultures are different at all. Thus, his facility for translation does not indicate a culturally comparative mind, and we are perhaps meant to yearn for a narrator who is a bit less able to remember the Brobdingnagian word for “lark” and better able to offer a more illuminating kind of cultural analysis.


Critics have noted the extraordinary attention that Gulliver pays to clothes throughout his journeys. Every time he gets a rip in his shirt or is forced to adopt some native garment to replace one of his own, he recounts the clothing details with great precision. We are told how his pants are falling apart in Lilliput, so that as the army marches between his legs they get quite an eyeful. We are informed about the mouse skin he wears in Brobdingnag, and how the finest silks of the land are as thick as blankets on him. In one sense, these descriptions are obviously an easy narrative device with which Swift can chart his protagonist’s progression from one culture to another: the more ragged his clothes become and the stranger his new wardrobe, the farther he is from the comforts and conventions of England. His journey to new lands is also thus a journey into new clothes. When he is picked up by Don Pedro after his fourth voyage and offered a new suit of clothes, Gulliver vehemently refuses, preferring his wild animal skins. We sense that Gulliver may well never fully reintegrate into European society.

But the motif of clothing carries a deeper, more psychologically complex meaning as well. Gulliver’s intense interest in the state of his clothes may signal a deep-seated anxiety about his identity, or lack thereof. He does not seem to have much selfhood: one critic has called him an “abyss,” a void where an individual character should be. If clothes make the man, then perhaps Gulliver’s obsession with the state of his wardrobe may suggest that he desperately needs to be fashioned as a personality. Significantly, the two moments when he describes being naked in the novel are two deeply troubling or humiliating experiences: the first when he is the boy toy of the Brobdingnagian maids who let him cavort nude on their mountainous breasts, and the second when he is assaulted by an eleven-year-old Yahoo girl as he bathes. Both incidents suggest more than mere prudery. Gulliver associates nudity with extreme vulnerability, even when there is no real danger present—a pre-teen girl is hardly a threat to a grown man, at least in physical terms. The state of nudity may remind Gulliver of how nonexistent he feels without the reassuring cover of clothing.



The Lilliputians symbolize humankind’s wildly excessive pride in its own puny existence. Swift fully intends the irony of representing the tiniest race visited by Gulliver as by far the most vainglorious and smug, both collectively and individually. There is surely no character more odious in all of Gulliver’s travels than the noxious Skyresh. There is more backbiting and conspiracy in Lilliput than anywhere else, and more of the pettiness of small minds who imagine themselves to be grand. Gulliver is a naïve consumer of the Lilliputians’ grandiose imaginings: he is flattered by the attention of their royal family and cowed by their threats of punishment, forgetting that they have no real physical power over him. Their formally worded condemnation of Gulliver on grounds of treason is a model of pompous and self-important verbiage, but it works quite effectively on the naïve Gulliver.

The Lilliputians show off not only to Gulliver but to themselves as well. There is no mention of armies proudly marching in any of the other societies Gulliver visits—only in Lilliput and neighboring Blefuscu are the six-inch inhabitants possessed of the need to show off their patriotic glories with such displays. When the Lilliputian emperor requests that Gulliver serve as a kind of makeshift Arch of Triumph for the troops to pass under, it is a pathetic reminder that their grand parade—in full view of Gulliver’s nether regions—is supremely silly, a basically absurd way to boost the collective ego of the nation. Indeed, the war with Blefuscu is itself an absurdity springing from wounded vanity, since the cause is not a material concern like disputed territory but, rather, the proper interpretation of scripture by the emperor’s forebears and the hurt feelings resulting from the disagreement. All in all, the Lilliputians symbolize misplaced human pride, and point out Gulliver’s inability to diagnose it correctly.


The Brobdingnagians symbolize the private, personal, and physical side of humans when examined up close and in great detail. The philosophical era of the Enlightenment tended to overlook the routines of everyday life and the sordid or tedious little facts of existence, but in Brobdingnag such facts become very important for Gulliver, sometimes matters of life and death. An eighteenth-century philosopher could afford to ignore the fly buzzing around his head or the skin pores on his servant girl, but in his shrunken state Gulliver is forced to pay great attention to such things. He is forced take the domestic sphere seriously as well. In other lands it is difficult for Gulliver, being such an outsider, to get glimpses of family relations or private affairs, but in Brobdingnag he is treated as a doll or a plaything, and thus is made privy to the urination of housemaids and the sexual lives of women. The Brobdingnagians do not symbolize a solely negative human characteristic, as the Laputans do. They are not merely ridiculous—some aspects of them are disgusting, like their gigantic stench and the excrement left by their insects, but others are noble, like the queen’s goodwill toward Gulliver and the king’s commonsense views of politics. More than anything else, the Brobdingnagians symbolize a dimension of human existence visible at close range, under close scrutiny.


The Laputans represent the folly of theoretical knowledge that has no relation to human life and no use in the actual world. As a profound cultural conservative, Swift was a critic of the newfangled ideas springing up around him at the dawn of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, a period of great intellectual experimentation and theorization. He much preferred the traditional knowledge that had been tested over centuries. Laputa symbolizes the absurdity of knowledge that has never been tested or applied, the ludicrous side of Enlightenment intellectualism. Even down below in Balnibarbi, where the local academy is more inclined to practical application, knowledge is not made socially useful as Swift demands. Indeed, theoretical knowledge there has proven positively disastrous, resulting in the ruin of agriculture and architecture and the impoverishment of the population. Even up above, the pursuit of theoretical understanding has not improved the lot of the Laputans. They have few material worries, dependent as they are upon the Balnibarbians below. But they are tormented by worries about the trajectories of comets and other astronomical speculations: their theories have not made them wise, but neurotic and disagreeable. The Laputans do not symbolize reason itself but rather the pursuit of a form of knowledge that is not directly related to the improvement of human life.


The Houyhnhnms represent an ideal of rational existence, a life governed by sense and moderation of which philosophers since Plato have long dreamed. Indeed, there are echoes of Plato’s Republic in the Houyhnhnms’ rejection of light entertainment and vain displays of luxury, their appeal to reason rather than any holy writings as the criterion for proper action, and their communal approach to family planning. As in Plato’s ideal community, the Houyhnhnms have no need to lie nor any word for lying. They do not use force but only strong exhortation. Their subjugation of the Yahoos appears more necessary than cruel and perhaps the best way to deal with an unfortunate blot on their otherwise ideal society. In these ways and others, the Houyhnhnms seem like model citizens, and Gulliver’s intense grief when he is forced to leave them suggests that they have made an impact on him greater than that of any other society he has visited. His derangement on Don Pedro’s ship, in which he snubs the generous man as a Yahoo-like creature, implies that he strongly identifies with the Houyhnhnms.

But we may be less ready than Gulliver to take the Houyhnhnms as ideals of human existence. They have no names in the narrative nor any need for names, since they are virtually interchangeable, with little individual identity. Their lives seem harmonious and happy, although quite lacking in vigor, challenge, and excitement. Indeed, this apparent ease may be why Swift chooses to make them horses rather than human types like every other group in the novel. He may be hinting, to those more insightful than Gulliver, that the Houyhnhnms should not be considered human ideals at all. In any case, they symbolize a standard of rational existence to be either espoused or rejected by both Gulliver and us.


As the site of his father’s disappointingly “small estate” and Gulliver’s failing business, England seems to symbolize deficiency or insufficiency, at least in the financial sense that matters most to Gulliver. England is passed over very quickly in the first paragraph of Chapter I, as if to show that it is simply there as the starting point to be left quickly behind. Gulliver seems to have very few nationalistic or patriotic feelings about England, and he rarely mentions his homeland on his travels. In this sense, Gulliver’s Travels is quite unlike other travel narratives like theOdyssey, in which Odysseus misses his homeland and laments his wanderings. England is where Gulliver’s wife and family live, but they too are hardly mentioned. Yet Swift chooses to have Gulliver return home after each of his four journeys instead of having him continue on one long trip to four different places, so that England is kept constantly in the picture and given a steady, unspoken importance. By the end of the fourth journey, England is brought more explicitly into the fabric ofGulliver’s Travels when Gulliver, in his neurotic state, starts confusing Houyhnhnmland with his homeland, referring to Englishmen as Yahoos. The distinction between native and foreign thus unravels—the Houyhnhnms and Yahoos are not just races populating a faraway land but rather types that Gulliver projects upon those around him. The possibility thus arises that all the races Gulliver encounters could be versions of the English and that his travels merely allow him to see various aspects of human nature more clearly.


Jonathan Swift

Analysis of Major Characters

Lemuel Gulliver

Although Gulliver is a bold adventurer who visits a multitude of strange lands, it is difficult to regard him as truly heroic. Even well before his slide into misanthropy at the end of the book, he simply does not show the stuff of which grand heroes are made. He is not cowardly—on the contrary, he undergoes the unnerving experiences of nearly being devoured by a giant rat, taken captive by pirates, shipwrecked on faraway shores, sexually assaulted by an eleven-year-old girl, and shot in the face with poison arrows. Additionally, the isolation from humanity that he endures for sixteen years must be hard to bear, though Gulliver rarely talks about such matters. Yet despite the courage Gulliver shows throughout his voyages, his character lacks basic greatness. This impression could be due to the fact that he rarely shows his feelings, reveals his soul, or experiences great passions of any sort. But other literary adventurers, like Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey, seem heroic without being particularly open about their emotions.

What seems most lacking in Gulliver is not courage or feelings, but drive. One modern critic has described Gulliver as possessing the smallest will in all of Western literature: he is simply devoid of a sense of mission, a goal that would make his wandering into a quest. Odysseus’s goal is to get home again, Aeneas’s goal in Virgil’s Aeneid is to found Rome, but Gulliver’s goal on his sea voyage is uncertain. He says that he needs to make some money after the failure of his business, but he rarely mentions finances throughout the work and indeed almost never even mentions home. He has no awareness of any greatness in what he is doing or what he is working toward. In short, he has no aspirations. When he leaves home on his travels for the first time, he gives no impression that he regards himself as undertaking a great endeavor or embarking on a thrilling new challenge.

We may also note Gulliver’s lack of ingenuity and savvy. Other great travelers, such as Odysseus, get themselves out of dangerous situations by exercising their wit and ability to trick others. Gulliver seems too dull for any battles of wit and too unimaginative to think up tricks, and thus he ends up being passive in most of the situations in which he finds himself. He is held captive several times throughout his voyages, but he is never once released through his own stratagems, relying instead on chance factors for his liberation. Once presented with a way out, he works hard to escape, as when he repairs the boat he finds that delivers him from Blefuscu, but he is never actively ingenious in attaining freedom. This example summarizes quite well Gulliver’s intelligence, which is factual and practical rather than imaginative or introspective.

Gulliver is gullible, as his name suggests. For example, he misses the obvious ways in which the Lilliputians exploit him. While he is quite adept at navigational calculations and the humdrum details of seafaring, he is far less able to reflect on himself or his nation in any profoundly critical way. Traveling to such different countries and returning to England in between each voyage, he seems poised to make some great anthropological speculations about cultural differences around the world, about how societies are similar despite their variations or different despite their similarities. But, frustratingly, Gulliver gives us nothing of the sort. He provides us only with literal facts and narrative events, never with any generalizing or philosophizing. He is a self-hating, self-proclaimed Yahoo at the end, announcing his misanthropy quite loudly, but even this attitude is difficult to accept as the moral of the story. Gulliver is not a figure with whom we identify but, rather, part of the array of personalities and behaviors about which we must make judgments.

The Queen of Brobdingnag

The Brobdingnagian queen is hardly a well-developed character in this novel, but she is important in one sense: she is one of the very few females in Gulliver’s Travelswho is given much notice. Gulliver’s own wife is scarcely even mentioned, even at what one would expect to be the touching moment of homecoming at the end of the fourth voyage. Gulliver seems little more than indifferent to his wife. The farmer’s daughter in Brobdingnag wins some of Gulliver’s attention but chiefly because she cares for him so tenderly. Gulliver is courteous to the empress of Lilliput but presumably mainly because she is royalty. The queen of Brobdingnag, however, arouses some deeper feelings in Gulliver that go beyond her royal status. He compliments her effusively, as he does no other female personage in the work, calling her infinitely witty and humorous. He describes in proud detail the manner in which he is permitted to kiss the tip of her little finger. For her part, the queen seems earnest in her concern about Gulliver’s welfare. When her court dwarf insults him, she gives the dwarf away to another household as punishment. The interaction between Gulliver and the queen hints that Gulliver is indeed capable of emotional connections.

Lord Munodi

Lord Munodi is a minor character, but he plays the important role of showing the possibility of individual dissent within a brainwashed community. While the inhabitants of Lagado pursue their attempts to extract sunbeams from cucumbers and to eliminate all verbs and adjectives from their language, Munodi is a rare example of practical intelligence. Having tried unsuccessfully to convince his fellows of their misguided public policies, he has given up and is content to practice what he preaches on his own estates. In his kindness to strangers, Munodi is also a counterexample to the contemptuous treatment that the other Laputians and Lagadans show Gulliver. He takes his guest on a tour of the kingdom, explains the advantages of his own estates without boasting, and is, in general, a figure of great common sense and humanity amid theoretical delusions and impractical fantasizing. As a figure isolated from his community, Munodi is similar to Gulliver, though Gulliver is unaware of his alienation while Munodi suffers acutely from his. Indeed, in Munodi we glimpse what Gulliver could be if he were wiser: a figure able to think critically about life and society.

Don Pedro de Mendez

Don Pedro is a minor character in terms of plot, but he plays an important symbolic role at the end of the novel. He treats the half-deranged Gulliver with great patience, even tenderness, when he allows him to travel on his ship as far as Lisbon, offering to give him his own finest suit of clothes to replace the seaman’s tatters, and giving him twenty pounds for his journey home to England. Don Pedro never judges Gulliver, despite Gulliver’s abominably antisocial behavior on the trip back. Ironically, though Don Pedro shows the same kind of generosity and understanding that Gulliver’s Houyhnhnm master earlier shows him, Gulliver still considers Don Pedro a repulsive Yahoo. Were Gulliver able to escape his own delusions, he might be able to see the Houyhnhnm-like reasonableness and kindness in Don Pedro’s behavior. Don Pedro is thus the touchstone through which we see that Gulliver is no longer a reliable and objective commentator on the reality he sees but, rather, a skewed observer of a reality colored by private delusions.

Mary Burton Gulliver

Gulliver’s wife is mentioned only briefly at the beginning of the novel and appears only for an instant at the conclusion. Gulliver never thinks about Mary on his travels and never feels guilty about his lack of attention to her. A dozen far more trivial characters get much greater attention than she receives. She is, in this respect, the opposite of Odysseus’s wife Penelope in the Odyssey, who is never far from her husband’s thoughts and is the final destination of his journey. Mary’s neglected presence in Gulliver’s narrative gives her a certain claim to importance. It suggests that despite Gulliver’s curiosity about new lands and exotic races, he is virtually indifferent to those people closest to him. His lack of interest in his wife bespeaks his underdeveloped inner life. Gulliver is a man of skill and knowledge in certain practical matters, but he is disadvantaged in self-reflection, personal interactions, and perhaps overall wisdom.

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