SUBJECTS — Literature/Ireland; World/Enlightenment;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Peace/Peacemakers; Courage in War; Humility;


AGE: 7+; MPAA Rating — PG for thematic elements;

Satire; 1996; 178 minutes; Color. Available from

Print Friendly, PDF & Email



Dr. Gulliver’s travels among the Lilliputians, the Brobdingnagians, the Houyhnhnms, and others, are vividly portrayed in this made for television adaptation of the classic novel by Jonathan Swift. Written in the tradition of the “traveler’s tale,” the story shows the progressive disillusion of an individual seeking to understand whether man’s corruption is innate or learned.


Selected Awards: 1996 Emmy Awards: [All awards are in the Mini-Series/Special Category] Outstanding Mini-Series/Special, Best Art Direction, Best Sound Mixing, Best Writing, Best Special Effects; Best Hair Styling; 1996 Emmy Awards Nominations: Best Direction; Best Cinematography; Best Single Camera Production; Best Costume Design; Best Sound; Best Supporting Actress (Woodard).

Featured Actors: Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, James Fox, Ned Beatty, Geraldine Chaplin, Edward Fox, Sir John Gielgud, Robert Hardy, Shashi Kapoor, Nicholas Lyndhurst, Phoebe Nicholls, Karyn Parsons, Edward Petherbridge, Kristin Scott Thomas, Omar Sharif, John Standing, John Wells, Richard Wilson, Alfre Woodard, Peter O’Toole, Edward Woodard, Phoebe Nicholls, Warwick Davis, Robert Hardy.

Director: Charles Sturridge.


This film is a gripping and effective adaptation of Swift’s classic novel and as such, successfully conveys many of his criticisms of Western Society. This version is especially noteworthy for its effective portrayal of the later portions of the book which are not usually presented to children.

Through class discussion and assignments at the end of the film, students will gain an understanding of satire as a literary form, the use of a symbol in literature, and knowledge about the benefits of social criticism in shaping new attitudes. Students will be encouraged to add their own thoughts to the ideas promulgated by important writers.


MINOR. A frame-plot about Gulliver’s family and his struggle to stay out of a mental institution has been added to the original work but do not distract from Swift’s themes.


The most important concept in Gulliver’s travels is that our society is like Yahoo society in many ways. Remind your child of the Yahoo society shown in the film and tell him or her that Gulliver’s Travels was written to try to correct the optimistic attitudes toward human nature that were popular when Swift was writing.


Gulliver’s Travels was first published anonymously in 1726. A bitter satire of the society of the day, it was immediately popular. Unfortunately, a strong argument can be made that the failings of mankind and the ills of society to which Swift objected have improved only slightly during the 250 years since the book was written.

The Age of Enlightenment refers, approximately, to the century before the French Revolution (1789). During this period, advances in science and social theory gave rise to a faith in logic, progress, and technical achievement. There was a feeling that mankind was finally coming out of the Dark Ages. Newton’s discovery of gravity in 1687 and of the laws of motion and of the calculus exemplify the type of important scientific discoveries that launched the Enlightenment.

The optimism of the age is shown by these lines from Jonathan Swift’s good friend, the poet Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744):

All Nature is but Art, unknown to thee; All Chance, direction that thou canst not see; All Discord, Harmony not understood, All partial Evil, universal Good…. One truth is clear, “Whatever is, is right.”

Swift sought to make a correction to the optimism of the Enlightenment. His goal was to reform society by showing the depravity of man and human culture. But some eight years after the first publication of Gulliver’s Travels, Swift, again writing as “Lemuel Gulliver,” added a preface to a new edition of the book. “Gulliver” first remarked that it had been a full seven months after the first publication of Gulliver’s Travels. “Gulliver” continued, stating that while his editor and friends had prevailed upon him to publish the story of his travels “on the motive of public good,” he had always thought:

… [T]he Yahoos were a species of animals utterly incapable of amendment by precepts or examples: and so it hath proved; for instead of seeing a full stop put to all abuses and corruptions, at least in this little island, as I had reason to expect: behold, after above six months warning, I cannot learn that my book hath produced one single effect according to my intentions: I desired you would let me know by a letter, when party and faction were extinguished; judges learned and upright; pleaders honest and modest, with some tincture of common sense; and Smithfield blazing with pyramids of law books; the young nobility’s education entirely changed; the physicians banished; the female Yahoos abounding in virtue, honour, truth and good sense; courts and levees of great ministers thoroughly weeded and swept; wit, merit and leaning rewarded; all disgracers of the press in prose and verse, condemned to eat nothing but their own cotton, and quench their thirst with their own ink. These, and a thousand other reformations, I firmly counted upon by your encouragement; as indeed they were plainly deducible from the precepts delivered in my book. And, it must be owned, that seven months were a sufficient time to correct every vice and folly to which Yahoos are subject; if their natures had been capable of the least disposition to virtue or wisdom.


Before Showing the Movie: In addition to your standard introduction to Gulliver’s Travels, ask the class to take brief notes of satiric scenes, events or characters shown in the movie. Tell students that there will be a class discussion after the movie in which the class will make a list of satiric scenes, events, and characters.


1. Elements of Yahoo society are familiar to everyone. What do you see around you in the behavior of others or in the news that are similar to Yahoo society?

Suggested Response:

Answers will vary. The responses must not be mean spirited but should point out the ignorance that drives much of our society today. They will note how people seem uneducated, uncultured and unthinking, as in the Yahoo population. Students may want to give examples of Yahoo-like behaviors from their school or local community rather than the nation as a whole. All illustrative examples are acceptable.

2. Gulliver’s Travels was published in 1726. After its publication, Swift wrote bitterly about how human nature would never change. He noted that none of the criticism he wrote about was taken seriously and there were no changes in the way the society conducted itself. In what ways, if any, do you think that now, after over almost 300 years since its publication, society has improved in ways Swift may have appreciated?

Suggested Response:

Dr. M.L. King said that “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice” and, generally, correct answers will be optimistic. However, there is still much to criticize about modern society.

Here are some talking points both pro and con:

We’re Less Yahooish – there’s hope after all: In 1726 there were no democratically elected governments existing in the world; today there are many and democratic government is recognized to be the best form of government. There is, in the modern world, universal suffrage, improvement in the lives of women, blacks, Hispanics and other minorities. Gays and lesbians are protected against discrimination and violence and in many places can marry. We have an active environmental movement. There is a growing movement of people seeking to correct the inhumane treatment of animals. While these movements have not brought as much change as many have hoped, they have pushed society in some good directions.

Internationally, Gandhian principles of non-violent mass action, as an alternative to violence, have become an effective way to change societies and governments. Examples are: U.S. Civil Rights Movement and changes in many governments, including the Soviet Union (Russia) in 1991 and many, many more. Human life is more valued. For example, in WWII, the Allies would take out whole cities in air raids killing tens of thousands of people in a day. Now, ten civilian casualties from a drone attack will cause a scandal.

We’re Just as Yahoo as Ever, OMG!: Gluttony! We’re undergoing an obesity epidemic. (Wouldn’t Swift have fun ridiculing our society for the fast food, the overeating etc.) Shallowness! Our society is increasingly focused on consumerism and movie stars. Greed: Greed and lack of financial responsibility are on the rise to such an extent that in 2008 we allowed them to crash our economy driving millions of people out of work and no one was punished!!! We ended up bailing out the idiots who caused the problem and, except for a very few, allowed them to keep their jobs; all of them got to keep their multi-million dollar unearned salaries and bonuses. Destroyers of the Environment: We are over-populating the earth and destroying it: look at Gobal Warming and the Pacific Gyre/Trash Vortex. The Victim Complex: People see themselves as victims and avoid personal responsibility for their actions.

3. [The purpose of this question is to develop a list, which the teacher can write on the board, of satiric scenes, events or characters shown in the film. Ask the class the following question and write brief 1 – 3 word indications of the responses on the board, until the class is out of ideas.] Give an example of a satiric image or scene from the film. In your example, show how Swift uses the devices of satire, such as exaggeration, name calling, reversing attributes, and changing a virtue to a vice.

Suggested Response:

Answers will vary.

Additional Discussion Questions.

1. Who was Swift referring to when he wrote about the Yahoos? What traits do you share with the Yahoos?

Suggested Response:

The Yahoos are uneducated, uncultured, or unthinking human beings. We are all Yahoos to one extent or another. The trick is to be as little like a Yahoo as possible.

2. For each society described in the movie, what ills in our society was Swift describing?

Suggested Response:

E.g., Yahoos: the insatiable need for more than enough and for sensual pleasure.

3. Why couldn’t the Houyhnhnms see that Gulliver was not a Yahoo? What was Gulliver trying to tell us with this literary device?

4. If you were Gulliver, would you have been willing to abandon hope of returning to your wife and family to live with the Houyhnhnms?

5. Do you agree with the Queen of the Brobdingnagians (it was a king in the book) that “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?”

6. Define satire as a literary form and give three examples of satiric images or scenes from the film. In your examples, show how Swift uses the devices of satire, such as exaggeration, name calling, reversing attributes, and changing a virtue to a vice.

7. Do you think that there is a reason that the hero of this story is called “Gulliver?” Explain the role of symbolism in literature.

8. How did Gulliver change as a result of his travels? Did his view of wealth and its relation to happiness change?



1. Swift defined a soldier as “a Yahoo hired to kill in cold blood as many of his own species, who have never offended him, as possibly he can.” Do you agree with this definition? Remember that Swift wrote at a time when wars were usually started only for conquest or loot. Does this make a difference in your analysis? What about soldiers serving in each of the following wars: the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars; the Spanish American War, the wars against the Indians, the wars against Mexico, the Civil War (see Chamberlain’s speech to the Second Maine deserters in Gettysburg), or the First and Second World Wars? What about the other side in those conflicts?

2. Do you think that the failings of man and society described by Swift in his book have been corrected since Gulliver’s Travels first appeared in 1726? Do you think, on the other hand, that we are just as bad as we were back in the 18th century?


No questions at this time.


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.

1. Evaluate the societies of the Yahoos, the Lilliputians, the Brobdingnagians, and the Houynhynms. Which of the The Six Pillars of Character do they honor and which do they not comply with?


(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends, and country)


(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don’t threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements)


(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)


(Play by the rules; Take turns and share; Be open-minded; listen to others; Don’t take advantage of others; Don’t blame others carelessly)


(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)


(Do your share to make your school and community better; Cooperate; Stay informed; vote; Be a good neighbor; Obey laws and rules; Respect authority; Protect the environment)


Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:

1. Research the literary tool known as satire and write an expository essay in which you define satire as a literary form and give three examples of satiric works that are well known in literature. Then show the devices of satire, used by Swift in his novel, such as exaggeration, name calling, reversing attributes, and changing a virtue to a vice, as they are presented in the film. Cite specific scenes.

2. Explore the Internet to gather information that may explain why the hero of this story is called “Gulliver.” Write an essay in which you define symbolism as a literary device and explain its role in literature. Illustrate your understanding of the term with three examples of its use in the film, aside from the name Gulliver.

3. Write a new section into the film wherein Gulliver would travel to somewhere in your school, neighborhood or anywhere in your country, that would continue the satirical commentary on the behavior of the population. Use the narrative form, as if you were telling a story that a filmmaker could then convert to visual media. In your narrative describe action (including dialogue), reveal thoughts (including internal monologues), describe observations by the characters, use descriptive language (including images of people, places and things), and compare one thing to another.

See Additional Assignments for use with any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

To prepare for this assignment, have students complete TWM’s Exercise in “Showing Rather than Telling” When Writing a Narrative. Also, check out the Narrative Writing Lesson Plan.



The first two chapters of Gulliver’s Travels are frequently recommended for reading by or to children. The book is renowned for its simple and clear prose.



yahoo, Lilliputian, misanthrope.



Multimedia: Anchor Standard #7 for Reading (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). (The three Anchor Standards read: “Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media, including visually and quantitatively as well as in words.”) CCSS pp. 35 & 60. See also Anchor Standard # 2 for ELA Speaking and Listening, CCSS pg. 48.

Reading: Anchor Standards #s 1, 2, 7 and 8 for Reading and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 35 & 60.

Writing: Anchor Standards #s 1 – 5 and 7- 10 for Writing and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 41 & 63.

Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards #s 1 – 3 (for ELA classes). CCSS pg. 48.

Not all assignments reach all Anchor Standards. Teachers are encouraged to review the specific standards to make sure that over the term all standards are met.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email