Millstone Education:
World Literature

Two children reading books

Discussion Questions for
Gulliver's Travels

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Please read about these questions here.

Part I (pp. 21-76) / A Voyage to Lilliput

The real title of Gulliver's Travels is Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. Knowing that this is a satire, why do you think Swift uses the word "Remote"? (plate 2)

Why do you think Swift begins his story with so many mundane details about Gulliver's background and in so matter-of-fact a tone? (pp. 21-22)

On page 25 Gulliver says of one of the Lilliputians "who seemed to be a Person of Quality, made me a long Speech, whereof I understood not one Syllable." What might Swift be satirizing here? (p. 25)

Why do you think Swift describes Gulliver urinating and defecating? (pp. 27, 30)

Why does Gulliver tell us that he found it necessary to describe how the Lilliputians handled his bodily functions? Why is his answer funny? What does this tell us about Gulliver? About readers? (p. 30)

Do you think Swift is criticizing something when the Lilliputians surmise that Gulliver's watch must be the God that he worships? Why or why not? (p. 36)

Why do you think Swift has Gulliver say that his Spectacles and telescope would be of "no consequence to the Emperor"? (p. 38)

What does the "Dance of the Rope" have to say about politics? (p. 39)

Look up the word "Caper" in the dictionary. Do you think Swift used this word with its three different meanings in mind? If so, why would he do that? (p. 39)

What is Swift saying about politics with the colored threads that the Emperor gives to those who impress him the most? (p. 40)

Why do you think Swift has the Lilliputians swearing with such a ridiculous looking ritual? (p. 42, bottom)

When the Emperor grants Gulliver his freedom has he really done him a favor as he asserts? Why or why not? (p. 44)

What do we learn about the Lilliputians with the knowledge that they believe no other kingdoms exist except those of Lilliput and Blefuscu? (p. 48)

What do you think the controversy between the Big-Endians and the Small-Endians represents? (p. 48)

On page 48 it says:

That all true Believers shall break their Eggs at the convenient End: and which is the convenient End, seems, in my humble Opinion, to be left to every Man's Conscience, or at least in the power of the Chief Magistrate to determine.

What does this mean? (p. 48)

Why would Big-Endians and Small-Endians be so willing to kill one another for their beliefs? (p. 48)

Gulliver says, "Of so little weight are the greatest Services to Princes, when put into the Balance with a Refusal to gratify their passions." What does this mean? (p. 52)

Gulliver saves the Imperial Majesty's Apartment and possibly lives by putting out the fire, but the Empress is not happy. Why? What does this tell us about her? What do you think Swift is saying through this incident? (p. 53-54)

On page 56 we read, "The learned among them confess the Absurdity of this Doctrine, but the Practice still continues, in compliance to the Vulgar." What does this mean? (p. 56)

The Lilliputians have some very high moral standards (see page 57). Why is it that they do not seem to be able to live up to these standards? (p. 57)

What do you think about the way that the Lilliputians deal with parents and children? (p. 58)

Gulliver says,

I then had the Honour to be a Nardac, which the Treasurer himself is not; for all the World knows he is only a Clumglum, a Title inferior by one Degree, as that of a Marquis is to a Duke in England, although I allow he preceded me in right of his Post.

What do we learn about him from this statement? (p. 63)

On the possible loss of Gulliver's eyesight it is said, "it would be sufficient for you to see by the Eyes of the Ministers, since the greatest Princes do no more." What does this mean? (p. 67)

Gulliver says about the possible loss of his eyes,

And as to myself, I must confess, having never been designed for a Courtier either by my Birth or Education, I was so ill a Judge of Things, that I could not discover the Lenity and Favour of this Sentence, but conceived it (perhaps erroneously) rather to be rigorous than gentle.

. . . if I had then known the Nature of Princes and Ministers, which I have since observed in many other Courts, and their Methods of treating Criminals less obnoxious than myself, I should with great alacrity and readiness have submitted to so easy a Punishment.

What do we learn about Gulliver and governments from these statements? (p. 69)

What did you think of Part I?

Why do you think Swift made the Lilliputians physically small?

How would you describe Gulliver?

Part II (pp. 79-139)

When Gulliver sees the breast of a woman nursing in Brobdingnag he is "disgusted" and "nauseous." He goes on to explain that in Lilliput he remembers a man who had closer view of him say it was a "shocking sight." Later Gulliver says watching the Queen eat was a "nauseous sight" and later his encounter with the beggars is "so nauseous" it "turned [his] stomach" and later he is struck with "Horror" and "Disgust" by the nakedness of the Maids of Honour. What is Swift saying about the human race through these incidents? (pp. 87, 99, 105, 110-111)

Just as in Lilliput, Gulliver takes time to explain his "natural Necessities" and the "one Thing, which another could not do for me." Gulliver says this to us in his defense for "dwelling" on the "Necessities of Nature":

I hope the gentle reader will excuse me for dwelling on these and the like particulars, which however insignificant they may appear to groveling vulgar minds, yet will certainly help a philosopher to enlarge his thoughts and imagination … which was my sole design in presenting this and other accounts of my travels to the world

What do think is Swift's purpose in mentioning the common bodily functions of defecating and urinating? (pp. 88-89)

What kind of man is the farmer who finds Gulliver? (pp. 91-94)

What might Swift be criticizing through the actions of farmer in regard to Gulliver? (pp. 91-94)

How would you describe Glumdalclitch's (the girl who takes care of Gulliver) personality?

Why is Gulliver declared to be Lusus Naturae (a freak of nature) by the three scholars? (p. 98)

Why is the King willing to believe Gulliver's story of who he is when the scholars will not? (p. 98)

What kind of person is the Queen?

What kind of person is the King?

Why doesn't the Queen's Dwarf like Gulliver?

How would you describe Gulliver's description of European culture to the King? (pp. 118-119)

Why do you think the King doubts this description? (pp. 120-121)

After Gulliver gives a "historical Account" of Europe the King ends his response with one of the most famous passages from Gulliver's Travels:

But by what I have gathered from your own Relation, and the Answers I have with much pains wringed and extorted from you, I cannot but conclude the Bulk of your Natives to be the most pernicious Race of little odious Vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the Surface of the Earth.

Is the King's evaluation valid? Why or why not? (p. 123)

Why is Gulliver so willing to "hide the Frailties and Deformities" of his homeland? (p. 124)

Gulliver dismisses the King's evaluation of his country in the following paragraph:

But, great Allowances should be given to a King who lives wholly secluded from the rest of the World, and must therefore be altogether unacquainted with the Manners and Customs that most prevail in other Nations: The want of which Knowledge will ever produce many Prejudices, and a certain Narrowness of Thinking, from which we and the politer Countries of Europe are wholly exempted. And it would be hard, indeed, if so remote a Prince's Notions of Virtue and Vice were to be offered as a standard for all Mankind.

What is Gulliver saying about the King? What do you think Swift is saying about Europe? (p. 124)

The King is mortified when Gulliver suggests that he use gun powder. He says,

that although few Things delighted him so much as new Discoveries in Art or in Nature, yet he would rather lose half his Kingdom than be privy to such a Secret, which he commanded me, as I valued my Life, never to mention any more.

Why doesn't the King want it? Couldn't he have used it for good? What might this passage have to say about certain kinds of knowledge? (p. 125)

The King says:

. . . that whoever could make two Ears of Corn, or two blades of Grass to grow upon a Spot of Ground where only one grew before, would deserve better of Mankind, and do more essential Service to his Country than the whole Race of Politicians put together.

What is Swift saying about politicians in this passage? (p. 126)

Gulliver says that Brobdingnag has "been troubled with the same Disease, to which the whole race of Mankind is subject; the Nobility often contending for Power, the People for Liberty, and the King for absolute Dominion." Is this a valid evaluation of mankind? Why or why not? (pp. 128-129)

Part III (pp. 143-201)

Whom or what is Swift criticizing with his description of the Laputians? (pp. 148-149)

What do you think the Flappers represent? (p. 148)

How would you describe the personality and intellect of a Laputian?

Explain the Laputian Tailor's method of measuring Gulliver for a suit of clothes. Why doesn't this work well? (p. 151)

Why do you think the Laputians despise "Practical Geometry"? What is "Practical Geometry"? (p. 152)

Why do you think the Laputians only concern themselves with Mathematics and Music? (p. 152)

How does the absence of "Imagination, Fancy, and Invention" contribute to the kind of people the Laputians are? (p. 152)

Gulliver writes,

But, I rather take this Quality [to comment on matters outside their expertise] to spring from a very common Infirmity of human Nature, inclining us to be more curious and conceited in Matters where we have least Concern, and for which we are least adapted either by Study or Nature. (p. 153)

Is this a valid criticism of human Nature? Why or why not?

Why are the Laputians so worried about the future? (p. 153)

Why do the Laputian women have so much contempt for their husbands? (p. 154)

Why do you think the Laputian women prefer live on the ground? (p. 154)

Why do you think Swift put Laputa in the sky?

When the King hovers the island over Lindalino depriving them of the sun and rain what might this represent in the dealings of one country with another? (p. 161)

How would you describe the "great Lord of Court, nearly related to the King" who comes to visit and talk with Gulliver? (p. 163)

Why do you think the Projector's plans (their "new Rules") fail so miserably? (p. 166)

What do you think is the common criticism of the Projectors at the Academy of Lagado? (pp. 167-174)

Why do the Projectors need to ask for money? (p. 168)

Even though it is clear that the inventions and ideas at the Academy of Lagado will not work why do the Projectors continually hope and believe they eventually will? (p. 169)

What about government officials is Swift criticizing when he writes, "Again, Because it is a general Complaint that the Favourites of Princes are troubled with short and weak Memories . . ."? (p. 176)

On what do the taxes proposed by the Professors at the School of Political Projectors depend? (p. 177)

What do you think Swift is saying about government and society with the following phrases? (p. 179) Gulliver says these things will help "discover" true and mysterious meanings.

Close stool to signify a Privy Council;
a Flock of Geese, a Senate;
a lame Dog, an Invader;
the Plague, a standing Army;
a Buzzard, a Minister;
the Gout, a High Priest;
a Gibbet, a Secretary of State;
a Chamber-pot, a Committee of Grandees;
a Sieve, a Court Lady;
a Broom, a Revolution;
a Mouse-Trap, an Employment;
a bottomless Pit, the Treasury;
a Sink, a Court;
a Cap & Bells, a Favourite;
a broken Reed, a Court of Justice;
an empty Tun, a General;
a running Sore, the Administration.

What is Swift saying about Caesar when he has him say "that the greatest Actions of his own Life were not equal by many Degrees to the Glory of taking it away"? (p. 182)

Swift has Aristotle say,

that new Systems of Nature were but new Fashions, which would vary in every Age; and even those who pretend to demonstrate them from Mathematical Principles, would flourish but a short Period of Time, and be out of Vogue when that was determined.

What does he mean by this? (p. 184)

Gulliver has the honor to "lick the Dust before his [the King's] footstool." What does this episode tell us about Swift's thoughts on Kings? (p. 189)

How would you describe the Struldbruggs? (pp. 191-98)

Why does Gulliver change his mind about wanting immortality? (p. 198)

 

Part IV (pp. 205-271)

Why does Gulliver have such a strong reaction against the Yahoos when he first sees them? (p. 207)

Why is Gulliver so horrified to see "a perfect human Figure" in that of a Yahoo? (p. 213)

Why does Gulliver work so hard not to be associated with the Yahoos? (p. 218)

Gulliver's Master says this about speech:

That the Use of Speech was to make us understand one another, and to receive Information of Facts; now, if any one said the thing which was not, these Ends were defeated, because I cannot properly be said to understand him; and I am so far from receiving information, that he leaves me worse than in Ignorance; for I am led to believe a Thing black, when it is White, and Short, when it is Long.

What does this mean? (p. 221)

Why are the "Wants and Passions" of the Houyhnhnms less than those of humans? (p. 223)

Why are men of "desperate Fortunes" willing to risk their lives with Gulliver on his ship? (p. 224)

Why is the Houyhnhnm unable to comprehend the vices of humans? (p. 225)

Gulliver gives the reasons for war on pages 226-227. What are the main reasons nations go to war according to Gulliver? (pp. 226-227)

If you had to choose one word that best describes why nations go to war (according to Gulliver) what would it be? (pp. 226-227)

The Houyhnhnm after hearing about the devastations of modern warfare commands Gulliver to be silent. What does the Houyhnhnm mean when says he, "thought his Ears being used to such abominable Words, might by Degrees admit them with less Detestation"?

Why does the Houyhnhnm think that the European humans "instead of Reason . . . were only possessed of some Quality fitted to increase [their] natural Vices"? What does he mean by this? (p. 228)

What is Swift saying when he criticizes Lawyers by saying they use "Words multiplied" for the purpose of proving that "White is Black" and "Black is White"? (p. 229)

Gulliver says that the society of lawyers has a language all its own. What advantage is gained by any group of people who have a language than cannot be understood by outsiders? (p. 230)

Explain what Gulliver means by "the Rich Man enjoyed the Fruit of the Poor Man's Labour." (p. 231)

How would you describe the Chief Minister of State that Gulliver tells the Houyhnhnm about? (pp. 234-235)

Why do you think Gulliver has such great respect for his Master? (p. 237)

Why does Gulliver begin to view humanity differently? (p. 237)

Do you think Gulliver is overreacting? Why or why not? (p. 237)

Gulliver says he will sacrifice all for the sake of "Truth." Is this wise? Why or why not? (p. 237)

Why does the Houyhnhnm think that humans have used Reason poorly? (p. 238)

The Houyhnhnms' Maxim is, "to cultivate Reason, and to be wholly governed by it." What does this mean? (p. 246)

Why does the Houyhnhnm laugh that a "Creature pretending to Reason, should value itself upon the Knowledge of other People's Conjectures . . ."? (p. 246)

What do you think about the Houyhnhnms' methods of Marriage? What are the advantages? What are the disadvantages? (p. 247)

If you were a Houyhnhnm would you have voted for or against the extermination of the Yahoos? Why? (p. 249)

The Houyhnhnms show little or no grief when one of their own die. Is this a good or bad way to react to death? Explain your answer. (p. 252)

What do you think about Gulliver's changed view of his homeland, his family and humanity? Is he right to come to the conclusions he has? (p. 255)

Notice how matter-of-fact Gulliver is in describing that his sails are made of the skins of Yahoos: "I made use of the youngest I could get, the older being too tough and thick . . ." What does this say about Gulliver? What is Swift trying to say? (p. 258)

What is the significance of Gulliver being wounded by an arrow when he is nearly at the end of all his journeys? (p. 261)

Why is Gulliver so sure he does not want to go home? He's even willing to kill himself. (p. 263)

Gulliver says, ". . . my principal Design was to inform, and not to amuse thee." If we take this as Swift, telling us as readers what his intent was, of what have then been informed? (p. 266)

What do you think about Gulliver at the end of the novel?

Did you like Gulliver's Travels? Why or why not?

Is humanity as bad as Gulliver thinks it is at the end of the novel?

What do you think Swift's view of humanity is? Do you agree with it? Why or why not?

 

 

 

 

 

 

©2005-2014 Glen Draeger (all rights reserved)
Millstone Education: World Literature / http://www.millstoneeducation.com/worldLit