Lemuel Gulliver has wanderlust. He takes every opportunity to abandon his loving wife and children, setting sail as a ship’s surgeon on whichever ship will hire him. Unfortunately, every ship he joins is either shipwrecked or attacked by pirates. It is following these unfortunate incidents that Gulliver discovers his new lands: worlds that reveal the meanness, vileness, idiocy, and barbarity of life.
His first voyage sees him washed ashore in Lilliput, whose inhabitants are less than six inches tall. They manage to take him prisoner, but he is soon released and becomes an honoured guest. Although he helps the Lilliputians in a war with their neighbours, their gratitude soon fades and he is charged with treason. He manages to put out to sea where he is rescued and returned home.
On his second voyage, Gulliver finds himself abandoned in Brobdingnag, a land of giants. He is well treated as a pet and curiosity, and is soon adopted by the Queen. She provides him with a miniature house, and he enjoys a comfortable life – except when he has to battle giant wasps. Eventually his house is seized by a giant eagle and carried off to sea. Again, he is rescued and returned home.
Undaunted, Gulliver puts to sea a third time, only to find himself on the flying island of Laputa, whose learned citizens waste their time in pointless scientific endeavours such as attempting to soften marble for pillows. On the same trip, Gulliver meets a magician and a race of wizened immortals, condemned to suffer forever the miseries of old age. He even visits Japan, where he encounters the Emperor.
The fourth and final voyage takes Gulliver to the land of the Houyhnhnms, wise and dignified horses who rule over savage humans called Yahoos. Gulliver identifies with the Houyhnhnms rather than the Yahoos, but they ultimately reject and expel him. He is once again rescued and returned home.
Back in England, Gulliver is unable to fit into society, preferring to talk to horses. His eyes have been opened to the monstrosity of the human condition. He has experienced too much, both awesome and fearsome. It takes years for him to be able to enjoy the company of his wife and grown children. He writes his diary, Gulliver’s Travels, as a warning for all of humanity.