As the most successful adventure story, Gulliver’s Travels is the most popular and successful adventurous book of Jonathan Swift. It is comprised with several voyages of Lemuel Gulliver, a ship’s surgeon, who, because of a series of mishaps on the journey to recognized ports, ends up, instead, on several unknown islands living with people and animals of unusual sizes, behaviors, and philosophies, but who, after each adventure, is in the same way able to return to his home in England where he pulls through these unusual experiences and then sets out again on a new voyage.
In this story, Gulliver’s Travels implicitly poses the question of whether physical power or moral righteousness should be the governing factor in social life. As Gulliver experience 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.
Gulliver’s journey in Lilliput starts when he sleeps ashore and woke up tied by barbaric Lilliputian thought that captors are numerous and very short but brutally defensive of their monarchy.
These Lilliputians are purely evil and 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 huge carriage the Lilliputians have specially built. He is presented to the emperor, who is entertained by Gulliver, just as Gulliver is privileged by the consideration of royalty. In time, 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 can repair a boat he finds and set sail for England.
After staying in England with his family for two months. Gulliver undertake his next sea voyage, which takes him to a land of Giants which called Brobdingnang. Here, a field worker discovers him, at first, the farmer treat him as a little more than an animal and keeping him for amusement. Ultimately, the farmer sells Gulliver to the queen, and makes him a courtly diversion and he entertained 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.
After that, Gulliver initiates a jaunt again after an attack made by pirate; drop up in laputa, where a floating island populated by theoreticians and academics oppresses the land called Balnibarbi. The scientific research that undertaken in laputa and Balnibarbi seems to be illogical and impractical, and its inhabitant to appear wholly out to touch with reality, taking a short side trip to Glubbdubdrib, Gulliver may be able to witness the conjuring up of figures from history, such as Julius cacsar and other military leaders, whom he finds much less impressive than in books. After vacation to the luggnaggians and the struldbrugs, the latter of which are senile immortals who prove that age does not bring wisdom, therefore he traveled in Japan with boat in time and came back to England.
Finally, on his fourth journey, Gulliver sets out as captain of a ship, but after the mutiny of his crew and 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 discussions 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 Yahoo-like. 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.
By placing Gulliver amongst people of extremely different physical circumstances than his own, Gulliver’s adventures dramatize the distinction between moral and physical power. In Lilliput, Gulliver’s huge size advantage over the Lilliputians would make it easy for him to treat them like inhuman vermin and to assert himself against them by physical force. But Gulliver’s willingness to empathize, reason with, and respect the Lilliputians despite their diminutive size yields a much more meaningful, rewarding experience. Conversely, in Brobdingnag, the Brobdingnagians could easily dehumanize and squash Gulliver, but Gulliver is impressed by their kindness and willingness to listen and empathize with him. Through the example of the Lilliputians’ ridiculous, futile battles over how best to crack an egg, the novel suggests the absurdity of all warfare as a means to settle matters of the mind and faith. Through the example of the Laputian king and the Luggnaggian king, the novel presents a parody of tyrannical excess and shows the dangers of rulers who assert themselves through physical power. In Laputa, the king is totally out of touch with his people and maintains his hold over the people simply by making himself “taller” than they are by floating above them on his island. In Luggnagg, the king demands grotesque demonstrations of physical supplication, making subjects crawl on their stomachs licking the dirty floor before him.
As the novel considers the dangers of physical power in society, it also considers the physical characteristics of the individual and reflects on how best to handle one’s body. The Laputians’ and Lagadans’ obsession with reason and knowledge has rendered them utterly out of touch with their bodies. Their inability to function in the practical, physical world has, in turn, destroyed their society, and their example indicates that ignoring physical reality without doubt leads to suffering. Among the Yahoos and the Houyhnhnms, Gulliver learns that the possession of a human body does not automatically elevate a person over the animals. The Yahoos, it turns out, are much more bestial than the animal Houyhnhnms. This directly disagrees with the common European assertion of the time that human bodies were automatically superior to animal bodies because the human form necessarily contained moral and rational power. Indeed, the Houyhnhnms possess a stronger moral compass and sense of reason than the Yahoos and the Europeans alike. At each instance, the novel thus shows that true superiority and worthy power come from a moral, rational mind in harmony with the body it inhabits.