Gulliver's Travels Questions and Answers
by Jonathan Swift

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Can you provide a character sketch of Lemuel Gulliver?  

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Lynnette Wofford eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Lemuel Gulliver is the protagonist of Swift's satire Gulliver's Travels. He was born in Nottinghamshire, England in approximately 1661 to a middle- or upper-middle-class family. He attended Emmanuel College at Cambridge University and was then apprenticed to a surgeon in London. Subsequently, he studied at the distinguished Dutch University of Leiden, which offered advanced courses in medicine. He had an excellent education and knew Latin, Spanish, French, Dutch, and Italian. His facility with languages is important to the plot, as it enables him to converse with the exotic new people he meets. His frequent travels and broad education suggest an intelligent and curious disposition.

He was married in 1688 to Miss Mary Burton, daughter of a prosperous London tradesman, and probably had children, although Swift does not give details about them. He seems clever and adaptable, able to handle himself in a wide range of situations, and open to new ideas. He is a prototypically cosmopolitan character who, rather than judging other societies from the narrow perspective of his own background, uses his knowledge of other cultures to see more clearly the flaws and idiosyncrasies of his own culture.

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Eleanora Howe eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Lemuel Gulliver is the main character in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, and so he merits special attention when approaching the novel. For the most part, Gulliver is thoroughly normal; he seems to have a comfortable income, he works as a surgeon, and he possesses few unusual or remarkable qualities. Indeed, we get the sense that Gulliver is something of an Everyman, and that the adventures he falls into are pure coincidence (or rotten luck) and could happen to just about anyone. However, it's worth noting that the one distinctive trait Gulliver does exhibit is a particularly enthusiastic curiosity. Throughout his journeys, Gulliver imbues his narrative with in-depth, rich descriptions of all he witnesses, and so he proves himself to be a deft observer of minute detail. Additionally, Gulliver does seem to become rather eccentric by the end of the novel. Indeed, his encounter with the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos leads him to distrust and shun most interactions with humans, and it's safe to say that this characteristic is pretty unusual. So, while Gulliver at first seems relatively unremarkable, he slowly reveals a handful of interesting, and even unusual, characteristics as the novel progresses.

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