Quotes from "Gulliver's Travels"

Famous Passages from Jonathan Swift's Adventure Novel

Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. Getty Images

Jonathan Swift's " Gulliver's Travels" is a fantastic adventure filled with unusual people and places. The book serves as a political satire that follows the adventures of Lemuel Gulliver as he recounts them to a jury of his peers upon his return home.

While originally thought to be a madman, Gulliver eventually convinces his peers of the four strange lands he visited, all the while mocking the aristocracy who were serving as his jurors—to their faces!

The following quotes highlight the absurd realism of Swift's work as well as the political commentary he makes with naming such places as Liliputia (the land of the little people) and through his observation of the strange yet highly intellectual Houyhnhms. Here are a few quotes from "Gulliver's Travels" by Jonathan Swift, broken out into the four parts of the book.

Quotes from Part One

When Gulliver wakes up on the island of Lilliput, he comes to covered in tiny ropes and surrounded by 6-inch tall men. Swift writes in the first chapter:

"I attempted to rise, but was not able to stir: for as I happened to lie on my back, I found my arms and legs were strongly fastened on each side to the ground; and my hair, which was long and thick, tied down I the same manner. I likewise felt several slender ligatures across my body, from my armpits to my thighs. I could only look upwards, the sun began to grow hot, and the light offended mine eyes. I heard a confused noise about me, but in the posture I lay, could see nothing except the sky."

He mused at the "intrepidity of these diminutive mortals" and compared them to the Whig party in England through satire, even going as far as to satirize some of the rules of the Whigs in the following 8 rules the Lilliputians give Gulliver in Chapter 3:

"First, The Man-Mountain shall not depart from our dominions, without our license under our great seal.

"2nd, He shall not presume to come into our metropolis, without our express order; at which time the inhabitants shall have two hours warning to keep within their doors.

"3rd, The said Man-Mountain shall confine his walks to our principal high roads, and not offer to walk or lie down in a meadow or field of corn.

"4th, As he walks the said roads, he shall take the utmost care not to trample upon the bodies of any of our loving subjects, their horses, or carriages, nor take any of our said subjects into his hands, without their own consent.

"5th, If an express require extraordinary dispatch, the Man-Mountain shall be obliged to carry in his pocket the messenger and hors a six days' journey once in every moon, and return the said messenger back (if so required) safe to our Imperial Presence.

"6th, He shall be our ally against our enemies in the island of Blefescu, and do his utmost to destroy their fleet, which is now preparing to invade us.

"7th, That the said Man-Mountain shall, at his times of leisure, be aiding and assisting to our workmen, in helping to raise certain great stones, towards covering the wall of the principal park, and other our royal buildings.

"8th, That the said Man-Mountain shall, in two moons' time, deliver in an exact survey of the circumference of our dominions by a computation of his own paces round the coast. Lastly, That upon his solemn oath to observe all the above articles, the said Man-Mountain shall have a daily allowance of meat and drink sufficient for the support of 1728 of our subjects, with free access to our Royal Person, and other marks of our favor."

These men, Gulliver noted, were also set in their traditions even though these ideologies were grounded in absurdity, which they readily admitted. In Chapter 6, Swift writes "The learned among them confess the absurdity of this doctrine, but the practice still continues, in compliance to the vulgar."

Further, Swift goes on to describe the society as lacking in fundamental education but do provide for their sick and elderly, much like the Whigs of England, saying "Their education is of little consequence to the public, but the old and diseased among them are supported by hospitals: for begging is a trade unknown in this Empire."

In summary of his trip to Lilliput, Gulliver told the court during his trial that "That blindness is an addition to courage, by concealing dangers from us; that the fear you had for your eyes, was the greatest difficulty in bringing over the enemy's fleet, and it would be sufficient for you to see by the eyes of the Ministers, since the greatest princes do no more."

Quotes from Part Two

The second section of the book takes place a few months after returning home from his first journey to Lilliput, and Gulliver finds himself this time on an island inhabited by giant humans known as Brobdingnagians, where he meets a friendly one that takes him back to his farm.

In the first chapter of this section, he compares the women of the giant people to the women back home saying "This made me reflect upon the fair skins of our English ladies, who appear so beautiful to us, only because they are of our own size, and their defects not to be seen through a magnifying glass, where we find by experiment that the smoothest and whitest skins look rough and coarse, and ill colored."

On the island of Surat, Gulliver met the Giant Queen and her people, who ate and drank in excess and suffered terrible ailments like the ones described in Chapter 4:

"There was a woman with a cancer in her breast, swelled to a monstrous size, full of holes, in two or three of which I could have easily crept, and covered my whole body. There was a fellow with a wen in his neck, larger than five woolpacks, and another with a couple of wooden legs, each about twenty foot high. But, the most hateful sight of all was the lice crawling on their clothes. I could see distinctly the limbs of these vermin with my naked eyes, much better than those of an European louse through a microscope, and their snouts with which they rooted like swine."

This seriously made Gulliver question his value as compared with others, and the results of people attempting to merge into cultures of others as he suffers through the torture and humiliation of the h and maids and a giant monkey who steals him:

"This made me reflect how vain an attempt it is for a man to endeavor doing himself honor among those who are out of all degree of equality or comparison with him. And yet I have seen the moral of my own behavior very frequent in England since my return, where a little contemptible varlet, without the least title to birth, person, wit, or common sense, shall presume to look with importance, and put himself upon a foot with the greatest persons of the kingdom."

In Chapter 8, Gulliver returns home humbled by his experience among the giants and describes himself as feeling like a giant only compared to his servants:

"When I came to my own house, for which I was forced to enquire, one of the servants opening the door, I bent down to go in (like a goose under a gate) for fear of striking my head. My wife ran out to embrace me, but I stooped lower than her knees, thinking she could otherwise never be able to reach my mouth. My daughter kneeled to ask me blessing, but I could not see her till she arose, having been so long used to stand with my head an eyes erect to above sixty foot; and then I went to take her up with one hand, by the waist. I looked down upon the servants and one or two friends who were in the house, as if they had been pygmies, and I a giant."

Quotes from Part Three

In Part Three, Gulliver finds himself on the floating island of Laputa where he meets its inhabitants, a peculiar bunch who have very limited attention spans and are especially interested in music and astrology:

"Their heads were all reclined either to the right, or the left; one of their eyes turned inward, and the other directly up to the zenith. Their outward garments were adorned with the figures of suns, moons, and stars, interwoven with those of fiddles, flutes, harps, trumpets, guitars, harpsichords, and many more instruments of music, unknown to us in Europe. I observed here and there many in the habit of servants, with a blown bladder fastened like a flail to the end of a short stick, which they carried in their hands. In each bladder was a small quantity of dried pease or little pebbles (as I was afterward informed). With these bladders they now and then flapped the mouths and ears of those who stood near them, of which practice I could not then conceive the meaning; it seems, the minds of these people are so taken up with intense speculations, that they neither can speak, nor attend to the discourses of others, without being roused by some external taction upon the organs of speech and hearing."

In Chapter 4, Gulliver grows increasingly discontent with his stay on the Flying Island, noting that the he "never knew a soil so unhappily cultivated, houses so ill contrived and so ruinous, or a people whose countenances and habit expressed so much misery and want."

This, Swift describes, was caused by newcomers to the Flying Island who wanted to change the fundaments of math and science and agriculture, but whose plans failed—only one person, who followed the traditions of his ancestors, had a fertile plot of land:

"By all which, instead of being discouraged, they are fifty times more violently bent upon prosecuting their schemes, driven equally on by hope and despair; that as for himself, being not of an enterprising sprit, he was content to go on in the old forms, to live in the houses his ancestors had built, and act as they did in every part of life without innovation. That, some few other persons of quality and gentry had done the same, but were looked on with an eye of contempt and ill-will, as enemies to art, ignorant, and ill commonwealth's-men, preferring their own ease and sloth before the general improvement of their country."

These changes came from a place called the Grand Academy, which Gulliver visited in Chapter 5 and 6, describing a variety of social projects the newcomers were trying out in Laputa, saying "The first project was to shorten discourse by cutting poly-syllables into one, and leaving out verbs and particles, because in reality, all things imaginable are but nouns," and that:

"The highest tax was upon men who are the greatest favorites of the other sex, an the assessments according to the number and natures of the favors they have received; for which they are allowed to be their own vouchers. Wit, valor, and politeness were likewise proposed to be largely taxed, and collected in the same manner, by every person's giving his own word for the quantum of what he possessed. But as to honor, justice, wisdom and learning, they should not be taxed at all, because they are qualifications of so singular a kind, that no man will either allow them in his neighbor, or value them in himself."

By Chapter 10, Gulliver becomes overwhelming fed up with the governance of the Flying Island, complaining at length:

"That the system of living contrived by me was unreasonable and unjust, because it supposed a perpetuity of youth, health, and vigor, which no man could be so foolish to hope, however extravagant he might be in his wishes. That the question therefore was not whether a man would choose to be always in the primes of youth, attended with prosperity and health, but how he would pass a perpetual life under all the usual disadvantages which old age brings along with it. For although few men will avow their desires of being immortal upon such hard conditions, yet in the two kingdoms before-mentioned of Balnibari an Japan, he observed that every man desired to put off death for some time longer, let it approach ever so late, and he rarely heard of any man who died willingly, except he were incited by the extremity of grief or torture. And he appealed to me whether in those countries I had traveled, as well as my own, I had not observed the same general disposition."

Quotes from Part Four

In the final section of "Gulliver's Travels," the titular character finds himself marooned on an island inhabited by primate-like humanoids called Yahoos and horse-like creatures called Houyhnhnms, the former of which Swift described in Chapter 1:

"Their heads and breasts were covered with a thick hair, some frizzled and others lank; they had beards like goats, and a long ridge of hair down their backs, and the foreparts of their legs and feet, but the rest of their bodies were bare, so that I might see their skins, which were of a brown buff color. They had no tails, nor any hair at all on their buttocks, except about the anus; which, I presume, Nature had placed there to defend them as they sat on the ground; for this posture they used, as well as lying down, and often stood on their hind feet."

After being attacked by the Yahoos, Gulliver is saved by the noble Houyhnhnms and taken back to their home where he was treated as a halfway point between the civility and rationality of the Houyhnhnms and barbarism and depravity of the Yahoos:

"My master heard me with great appearances of uneasiness in his countenance, because doubting and not believing, are so little known in this country, that the inhabitants cannot tell how to behave themselves under such circumstances. And I remember in frequent discourses with my master concerning the nature of manhood, in other parts of the world, having occasion to talk of lying, and false representation, it was with much difficulty that he comprehended what I meant, although he had otherwise a most acute judgment."

The leaders of these noble horsemen were above all unfeeling, relying heavily on rationality over emotion. In Chapter 6, Swift writes more about the Chief Minister of State:

"A First or Chief Minister of State, whom I intended to describe, was a creature wholly exempt from joy and grief, love and hatred, pity and anger; at least made use of no other passions but a violent desire of wealth, power, and titles; that he applies his words to all uses, except to the indication of his mind; that he never tells a truth, but with an intent that you should take it for a lie; nor a lie, but with a design that you should take it for a truth; that those he speaks worst of behind their backs are in the surest way to preferment; and whenever he begins to praise you to others or to yourself, you are from that day forlorn. The worst mark you can receive is a promise, especially when it is confirmed with an oath; after which every wise man retires, and gives over all hopes."

Swift ends the novel with a few observations about his intention for writing "Gulliver's Travels," saying in Chapter 12:

"I write without any view towards profit or praise. I never suffered a word to pass that may look like reflection, or possibly give the lease offense even to those who are most ready to take it. So that I hope I may with justice pronounce myself an author perfectly blameless, against whom the tribe of answers, considerers, observers, reflectors, detecters, remarkers, will never be able to find matter for exercising their talents."

And finally, he compares his fellow countrymen to those of a hybrid between the two island peoples, the barbaric and the rational, the emotional and the pragmatic:

"But the Houyhnhms, who live under the government of Reason, are no more proud of the good qualities they posses, than I should be for not wanting a leg or an arm, which no man in this wits would boast of, although he must be miserable without them. I dwell the longer upon this subject from the desire I have to make the society of an English Yahoo by any means not insupportable, and therefore I here entreat those who have any tincture of this absurd vice, that they will not presume to appear in my sight."