Character Analysis Lemuel Gulliver

Gulliver is the undistinguished third of five sons of a man of very modest means. He is of good and solid — but unimaginative — English stock. Gulliver was born in Nottinghamshire, a sedate county without eccentricity. He attended Emmanuel College, a respected, but not dazzling, school. The neighborhoods that Gulliver lived in — Old Jury, Fetter Lane, and Wapping — are all lower-middle-class sections. He is, in short, Mr. British middle class of his time.

Gulliver is also, as might be expected, "gullible." He believes what he is told. He is an honest man, and he expects others to be honest. This expectation makes for humor — and also for irony. We can be sure that what Gulliver tells us will be accurate. And we can also be fairly sure that Gulliver does not always understand the meaning of what he sees. The result is a series of astonishingly detailed, dead-pan scenes. For example, when Gulliver awakens in Lilliput, he gradually discovers, moving from one exact detail to another, that he is a prisoner of men six inches tall.

In Book I, Gulliver's possesses moral superiority to the petty — and tiny — Lilliputians, who show themselves to be a petty, cruel, vengeful, and self-serving race. Morally and politically, Gulliver is their superior. Here, Swift, through Gulliver, makes clear that the normal person is concerned with honor, gratitude, common sense, and kindness. The representative person (a Lilliputian) is a midget, figuratively and literally, compared with a moral person (Gulliver).

In Brobdingnag (Book II), Gulliver is still an ordinary moral man, but the Brobdingnagians are moral giant men. Certainly they are not perfect, but their moral superiority is as great to Gulliver as is their physical size. In his loyalty to England, we see that Gulliver is, in deed, a very proud man and one who accepts the madness and malice of British politics and society as the natural and normal standard. For the first time, we see Gulliver as the hypocrite — he lies to the Brobdingnagian king in order to conceal what is despicable about his native England. Gulliver's moral height can never reach that of the Brobdingnagians. Swift reinforces the idea of the giant's moral superiority by having Gulliver identify the English with the Lilliputians. This association also makes Gulliver ridiculous. It demonstrates the folly and self-deception that Gulliver practices in identifying himself with the moral giants. Gulliver's pride is at the root of his trouble. Swift dramatizes this with the mirror Gulliver cannot bear to look into.

In Book IV, Gulliver represents the middle ground between pure reason (as embodied by the Houyhnhnms) and pure animalism (as embodied by the depraved Yahoos), yet Gulliver's pride refuses to allow him to recognize the Yahoo aspects in himself. Therefore, he identifies himself with the Houyhnhnms and, in fact, tries to become one. But the horses are alien to Gulliver; yet Gulliver thinks of the Yahoos as alien and animal. Separating himself from his naturally depraved cousins, the Yahoos, Gulliver also separates himself from the European Yahoos. He is near to madness — because of pride. Gulliver has "reasoned" himself into rejecting his species and his nature: Gulliver is virtually a madman. His attitudes when he arrives in London make him a source of derision, for Gulliver seeks to change his basic nature by thinking; reason becomes the sole guide of his life.

In the end, Gulliver is still trying to acclimate himself to life as — and among — the Yahoos. Concluding, he confesses that he could be reconciled to the English Yahoos "if they would be content with those Vices and Follies only which Nature hath entitled them to. I am not in the least provoked at the sight of a Lawyer, a Pick-pocket, a Colonel, a Fool, a Lord, a Gamster, a Politician, a Whoremunger, a Physician, . . . or the like: This is all according to the due Course of Things: but, when I behold a Lump of Deformity, and Diseases both in Body and Mind, smitten with Pride, it immediately breaks all the Measures of my patience."

Pop Quiz!

Gulliver’s visit to Lilliput allows Swift to satirize what sort of rulers?


My grandmother told me that she thinks grandpa should see an alienist. Does she think he's from another planet or what?

Back to Top