Gulliver's Travels: Novel Summary: Part III Chapters IV-XI
Part III Chapters IV-XI
Though Gulliver is not mistreated by the Laputans, they regard him with contempt because of his inferior understanding of music and mathematics. He finds them tedious companions and obtains permission from the King of Laputa to leave. He is let down into the capital city (called Lagado) of the mainland, a country called Balnibarbi, and takes a letter of introduction from the King of Laputa to the man who is to be his host, a lord called Munodi. Munodi takes Gulliver on a tour of the country. Gulliver sees miserable people in rags, buildings in disrepair, and workers in the fields, but no sign that they are producing any crops. Munodi takes Gulliver to his country estate, where the land is well cultivated and productive, and the house is beautifully built. He tells Gulliver that he may soon be forced to tear down his house and rebuild it according to Laputan standards, and to destroy his crops, if he is not to offend the King.
Munodi explains what happened to the country. Forty years ago some people went up to Laputa and came back determined to reform the arts, sciences, languages, and mechanics. Academies to teach the new ideas were set up in most towns. In these academies, professors would invent new methods whereby, for example, one man could do the work of ten. None of the new methods worked; the land and country went to ruin; and the people are without food or clothes. Munodi and a few other gentry are not of an enterprising spirit: they continue to live in the houses their ancestors built, and to do things in the old and tried ways, but are disapproved of as ignorant and selfish. Munodi encourages Gulliver to visit the Academy, and Gulliver enthusiastically takes him up on the suggestion.
Gulliver visits the Academy of Lagado. He meets an inventor who is working on a project to extract sunbeams out of cucumbers in order to supply the Governor's gardens. He thinks he may have some success in eight years' time. He begs Gulliver to give him money because cucumbers are expensive. Gulliver has been supplied with money for the purpose by Munodi, who is familiar with the academicians' habit of begging.
Another inventor is working on ways of reverse-engineering excrement into food. Another is trying to find a way of making spiders weave fabric of different colors by feeding them colored flies; yet another, a physician, tries to cure patients by blowing air up the anus. While Gulliver watches, he tries the technique on a dog, which dies.
A professor is trying to teach his students to improve knowledge using a machine that rearranges words. He speculates that new books could be written in this way on many subjects without the need for intelligence or study. He intends to give the world a new body of arts and sciences, but believes the public should fund the project.
At the school of languages, professors are working on shortening conversations by cutting out polysyllables and verbs, since only nouns are needed. The also have a project to abolish words altogether, as they believe that every word spoken shortens the life. Since words are names for things, an idea came up for men to carry about the objects that they need to express their purpose, but the women rebelled and quashed the project.
At the mathematical school, a master is trying to teach mathematical proofs by writing them on wafers that are fed to the students.
Gulliver feels depressed by what he has seen. The professors seem to him to be out of their minds. The people are pressing for an end to this senseless regime. They want the monarchs to choose favorites based on their wisdom and abilities; and they want the ministers to consult the public good.
Gulliver meets a doctor who believes that government is like the individual physical body, in that both suffer from the same diseases. He proposes to take the pulse of each politician after a debate and administer a suitable medicine to each in order to shorten debates and calm conflict. Also, because the favorites of monarchs have bad memories, whoever addresses the chief minister should tweak him by the nose or tread on his corns, to prevent forgetfulness.
Gulliver hears a debate between two professors about how to raise taxes without being unpopular. One idea is to tax every man's vice and folly, to be judged by his neighbors. Another is to allow people to set a taxable value on themselves according to how much wit, valor, and charm they possess: the more of these qualities they claim to have, the higher the tax they should pay. Virtues such as justice and honor, however, would not be taxed, as no man will allow that any other man has them, nor will he value them in himself.
Gulliver finds the idea of staying in Lagado unattractive, and wants to return to England.
Gulliver wants to travel to Luggnagg, as from there he will be able to travel to Japan and thence to Europe. No ship will be ready for a month, so while he is waiting, he takes a trip to the island of Glubbdubdribb, which means the Island of Magicians. Gulliver meets the Governor, who has the power of calling up and dismissing attendants from the spirit world. The Governor gives Gulliver the chance to call up and question whomever he likes from among the dead. Gulliver chooses Alexander the Great, who tells him that he did not die of poison, but of excessive drinking.
Gulliver has the Governor call up the ancient Greek poet Homer and the philosopher Aristotle. He also arranges a visit from the French philosophers Ren� Descartes and Pierre Gassendi, whom he asks to explain their systems to Aristotle. Aristotle freely acknowledges his mistakes and explains that systems of explaining nature vary from age to age. Gulliver then questions a number of famous people from history, and finds that historians have misled posterity with lies. He also notes that wicked people have been promoted to positions of trust and responsibility, and that whores and parasites have influenced events. Conversely, Gulliver sees some virtuous people who have done good service to monarchs or countries, but who died in poverty and who were condemned as traitors by historians. By observing the ancestors of noble families, Gulliver is able to see how syphilis, once it has been introduced into the family line, causes each subsequent generation to degenerate.
Gulliver travels to Luggnagg, where he is confined despite his desire to go to England. He is summoned by the King of Luggnagg. It is the custom at court for subjects to lick the floor, and the King gets rid of his enemies by strewing the floor with poison. The King is delighted with Gulliver, and arranges for him to stay at court for three months.
The Luggnaggians tell Gulliver about a sort of people among them who can never die. They are called Struldbrugs, or Immortals, and are distinguished by being born with a red spot on the forehead. Gulliver is envious, and arranges to meet them. One man asks Gulliver what he would do with his life if he were immortal. Gulliver, who has often mused on the subject, says that he would be the wealthiest, wisest, and most learned person in the kingdom, and he would become a great teacher of men, with the aim of preventing corruption in the world.
The Luggnaggians laugh at him, and point out that though most humans think they desire immortality, Luggnaggians do not share the delusion, from the example of the Struldbrugs. Immortality, they explain, is not a matter of eternal youth and vigor, but an endless period of being afflicted with all the disorders of age. The Struldbrugs are like ordinary humans until they are about thirty, and thereafter become more depressed. They are incapable of affection or friendship. Their marriages are dissolved at the age of eighty, "For the law thinks it a reasonable indulgence, that those who are condemned without any fault of their own to a perpetual continuance in the world, should not have their misery doubled by the load of a wife." Also at eighty, their heirs immediately inherit their estate, with a small amount being held back to sustain them. By ninety, they have lost their memory, teeth, hair, and senses. Gulliver meets a few Struldbrugs, who appear to have no interest in anything and to be miserable. Gulliver loses his appetite for immortality.
Gulliver refuses the King of Luggnagg's offer of employment and travels to Japan. From there, he travels to England, where he finds that his wife and family are well.
In the character of Munodi, a man of sense in a senseless land, and in Gulliver's visit to the Academy, Swift continues to satirize the absurd pursuit of theoretical and abstract knowledge at the expense of common sense and practicality. While Munodi sticks to old and proven systems of architecture and agriculture, and as a result has a beautiful house and productive land, he is much disapproved of in the state, and faces being forced to destroy it in the name of ideology. The academicians, on the other hand, think up endless ingenious but pointless projects and are determined to reform systems that had worked very well before their meddling, while the people starve for lack of food.
This section also presents Swift's views on why immortality is not a desirable state. The Struldbrugs do not grow in wisdom with old age, but become more incapable and less loving.
Gulliver's meeting with famous historical figures raised from the spirit world gives Swift an opportunity to satirize what he saw as the lies of historians. History, he points out, is written by fallible people and is not impartial. The episode draws upon the Italian poet Dante Alighieri's fourteenth-century poem, "Inferno," in which he travels through hell and sees sinners being punished.
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Gullivers Travels Study GuideChoose to Continue
- Gulliver's Travels
- Novel Summary
- Part I Chapters I-III
- Part I Chapters IV-VI
- Part I Chapters VII-VIII
- Part II Chapters I-III
- Part II Chapters IV-VIII
- Part III Chapters IV-XI
- Part III Chapters I-III
- Part IV Chapters I-III
- Part IV Chapters IV-VII
- Part IV Chapters VIII-XII
- Character Profiles
- Metaphor Analysis
- Theme Analysis
- Top Ten Quotes
- Jonathan Swift
- Essay Q&A