Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

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Gulliver's Travels Characters

  • Lemuel Gulliver: an average man of the middle class who possesses a keen curiosity and a facility with languages. His courage and resourcefulness allow him to survive the challenges of his voyages, but Swift also pokes fun at Gulliver’s inability to see his own flaws and those around him.
  • Don Pedro de Mendez: the Portuguese captain who brings Gulliver back from the Houyhnhms. Don Pedro’s goodness and generosity contrast with Gulliver’s misanthropy.
  • Empress of Lilliput: The Empress initially takes a liking to Gulliver but later turns against him after he urinates on her palace to extinguish a fire. She represents Queen Anne, who refused to give Swift a position in the Church of England because she felt his writing was too vulgar.
  • Flimnap: the acrobatic Treasurer of Lilliput who is meant to represent politician Robert Walpole. Flimnap is two-faced and conniving.
  • Emperor of Lilliput: The Emperor is intended to represent King George I. He is corrupt, arrogant, and concerned with meaningless pomp.

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Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Lemuel Gulliver

Lemuel Gulliver, a surgeon, sea captain, traveler, and the narrator of these travel accounts, the purpose of which is to satirize the pretentions and follies of humans. Gulliver is an ordinary man, capable of close observation; his deceptively matter-of-fact reportage and a great accumulation of detail make believable and readable a scathing political and social satire. On his first voyage, he is shipwrecked at Lilliput, a country inhabited by people no more than six inches tall, where pretentiousness, individual as well as political, is ridiculed. The second voyage ends in Brobdingnag, a land of giants. Human grossness is a target here. Moreover, Gulliver does not find it easy to make sense of English customs and politics in explaining them to a king sixty feet high. On Gulliver’s third voyage, pirates attack the ship and set him adrift in a small boat. One day he sees and goes aboard Laputa, a flying island inhabited by incredibly abstract and absent-minded people. From Laputa he visits Balnibari, where wildly impractical experiments in construction and agriculture are in progress. Then he goes to Glubbdubdrib, the island of sorcerers, where he is shown apparitions of such historical figures as Alexander and Caesar, who decry the inaccuracies of history books. Visiting Luggnagg, Gulliver, after describing an imaginary immortality of constant learning and growing wisdom, is shown a group of immortals called Struldbrugs, who are grotesque, pitiable creatures, senile for centuries, but destined never to die. Gulliver’s last journey is to the land of the Houyhnhnms, horse-like creatures in appearance, possessed of great intelligence, rationality, restraint, and courtesy. Dreadful human-like creatures, called Yahoos, impart to Gulliver such a loathing of the human form that, forced to return at last to England, he cannot bear the sight of even his own family and feels at home only in the stables.

Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The character who merits thorough discussion is Lemuel Gulliver. In many ways Gulliver is an average human being with a profession (surgeon), a family, and a desire to be comfortable and secure. He is middle-class with no special ambitions that separate him from his contemporaries. In many ways he is an ordinary person who we would hardly expect to experience the adventures described. In other respects, Gulliver is not so typical. His acute curiosity leads him to discover much more about the societies he encounters than most travelers would. He measures, weighs, scrutinizes, and compares, giving the reader an accurate picture of all that he sees. He enjoys sitting for hours learning the customs and procedures of other societies, and he is just as willing to describe his own to a curious listener.

Because of his facility with languages, he quickly learns to communicate with the inhabitants, even to the point of learning to talk with horses (whose language is somewhat more sophisticated than the...

(The entire section is 1,157 words.)