Gulliver's giant feet walking in the diminuative forest of the lilliputians

Gulliver's Travels

by Jonathan Swift

Start Free Trial

Discussion Topic

The character and personality traits of Gulliver in "Gulliver's Travels."

Summary:

Gulliver is depicted as curious, adventurous, and open-minded, traits that drive his voyages. He is also rational and observant, often analyzing the cultures he encounters. Despite his intelligence, he can be naïve and overly trusting, leading to his exploitation. His experiences gradually make him more cynical and misanthropic, reflecting his disillusionment with humanity.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How is Gulliver portrayed as gullible in "Gulliver's Travels"?

To be gullible is to unquestioningly believe what you are told or to be easily persuaded to accept absurdity or falsehood. As his name implies, one of Gulliver's chief traits is gullibility. To be a "gull," especially in the early eighteenth century, meant to be a dupe, which is someone who is easy to deceive or cheat. We might call Gulliver "clueless" today.

Much of the humor of the work comes from Gulliver's tendency to believe whatever he is told. For example, he wholly accepts what he has been taught all his life about Europeans being more civilized than the rest of the peoples of the world. He therefore quite innocently and openly tells the king of Brobdingnag in graphic detail all about European warfare, including the way bombs blow people to bits. Gulliver argues that this shows that the Europeans are an advanced race, while the king is recoiling in horror from the barbarity being described. Likewise, Gulliver believes the Lilliputians self description as a good and humane people, when all of their behavior shows them to be petty, vain, and cruel.

When he goes to Academy of Lagado, Gulliver maintains his gullibility for a time, recording in a straight-faced way the ridiculous experiments going on there as if they are worth taking seriously, such as turning ice into gunpowder or extracting sunbeams from cucumbers. However, even the gullible Gulliver begins to grow critical of Lagado's so-called scholarship.

Through Gulliver's gullibility, Swift shows his readers the cruelty or absurdity of much that goes on in their own society while allowing them to laugh at this title character.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Describe the character of Gulliver in Gulliver's Travels.

Gulliver is an adventurous soul, possessed with an insatiable wanderlust that makes it impossible for him to settle down in any one place for too long. No sooner is he back in the bosom of his family than his feet start getting itchy, and he yearns to head out to sea once more. Gulliver's undoubtedly a good man, as he shows on any number of occasions, but if one had to venture a criticism, one would say he's a tad immature, a man whose boyish taste for adventure often gets him into trouble.

Nevertheless, Gulliver's basic decency means that he's someone we'd always want to have on our side in a conflict. Observe how he expertly sends the Blefuscans packing when they try to invade Lilliput. And yet this episode also illustrates the man's decency. He'll happily deter the Blefuscans from invading, but what he won't do, even at the Emperor's express insistence, is wade over to Blefuscu and wipe out their entire fleet. Gulliver is much too good a man to contemplate doing something so wantonly destructive.

Another of Gulliver's positive traits is his intellectual curiosity. He loves nothing more than finding out about all the many weird and wonderful customs of the various lands he visits. In learning about other cultures, he also learns a lot about himself, about his strengths, weaknesses, and limitations. Not only that, but as his encounter with the Houyhnhnms ably demonstrates, he also gains a unique insight into the manifest deficiencies of the human race.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Describe the character of Gulliver in Gulliver's Travels.

Gulliver is kind of an every man's man.  He's not too rich and not too poor.  He's not a scrawny guy, but Gulliver also isn't a hulk of a man either.  He's well educated, but not super intelligent.  For example, he studied medicine at a university and served as an apprentice under a master surgeon, but Gulliver also never really engineered any of his escapes from danger.  Normally, a hero character that is caught in a tight spot figures out some miraculous way to escape.  That's just not the case with Gulliver.  He seems more content to just wait out his situations instead of engineering them to his favor. Perhaps that makes him patient.  

Gulliver is also a people watcher.  He'd have a blast in a busy airport.  I suppose that curiosity about people is what led him to go on his travels in the first place. 

"My hours of leisure I spent [...] in observing the manners and dispositions of the people"

His genuine interest in other people allow Gulliver to easily adapt to the different cultures that he comes across in his travels.  His propensity to pick up other languages also helps him to adapt quickly.  

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What are Gulliver's personality traits in Gulliver's Travels?

As his name indicates, Lemuel Gulliver's main personality trait is his gullibility. He easily believes what people tell him, and because he has a good memory, he can often recall their words verbatim. Much of the humor of the book comes from the deadpan way Gulliver will repeat the most absurd assertions he has heard or experiments he has witnessed, treating them as if they are sensible and reasonable. Gulliver also tends to be honest, which means he doesn't disguise the absurdity or cruelty he witnesses or has heard of. For example, he horrifies the Brobdingnagian king with his candid descriptions of the destructive power of European cannon balls.

Gulliver is an average person in many ways, though he learns languages very quickly and has an eye for detail. When he comes to believe in something, such as the superiority of the Houyhnhnms, he has a personality that clings passionately—and even irrationally—to his conviction.

Gulliver is also likable and humane. He accepts people on their own terms and does kind acts, such as peeing on the fire threatening the Lilliputian palace, a good deed that does not go unpunished.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What does Gulliver represent in Gulliver's Travels?

Lemuel Gulliver is a classic everyman character, perhaps even an extreme version of such a character type. The everyman is usually a humble character designed to serve as either a stand-in for the audience and/or as someone to whom a large amount of the audience can relate. Gulliver would appear to fit this role to an almost ludicrous level. He has precious few distinguishing characteristics, no real narrative goal or dreams, no strong feelings for his family back home, and a muted sense of wonder during his adventure. He comes from a modest social background, being neither too high nor too low in social standing. In short, he can potentially strike the audience as bland. However, this is done to emphasize his reactionary role as a representative of humanity: Gulliver's Travels is more about the strange societies that Gulliver encounters rather than any personal odyssey that he himself undergoes.

Gulliver is meant to be a stand-in for human social values and philosophies as the fantastic characters he meets learn about and react to them (think of the Brobdingnag king reacting with horror to Gulliver's human ideas regarding war and weaponry). Because he represents humanity in general, it makes sense for Gulliver to be rather simple in characterization. Essentially, he is a tool for Swift's satiric purposes rather than a full-fledged character, even though he does undergo a character arc that ends with him loathing human beings altogether. Additionally, Gulliver's name itself suggests that he is gullible, and he represents a member of society who is easy to convince and does not push back against what he is told.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Who is Gulliver in Gulliver's Travels?

In Gulliver's Travels, by Jonathon Swift, we hear about the adventures of Lemuel Gulliver. Lemuel is an average middle-class man who is very curious and very good at languages. He is also very brave and this courage carries him through the great risks and hazards of all his journeys. Lemuel Gulliver is also very resourceful, and this attribute helps him to survive where others would likely give up. He thinks up a way to communicate to the little people that he is hungry and thirsty, getting them to feed him by devising some basic sign language. Lemuel does have some character flaws. For example, he thinks he is always right and does not see any character deficiencies in his own personality. The author of the novel makes fun of this flaw in the story, and Swift has the little people called the Lilliputians make fun of Lemuel's pretensions. It is likely that he would have had a very fancy uniform and would have expected to be treated as a superior. Despite his comparatively enormous size, the tiny creatures are able to bind him, boss him about and tell him what to do. Lemuel Gulliver's main profession is surgery and this expertise would have been greatly in demand in Swift's time and a doctor would have been used to respect rather than insults.

He is also a sea captain by trade, yet he manages to get himself shipwrecked and then has to fend for himself instead of bossing his many shipmates about. As a sea captain he would have been waited upon at table and would have had his own personal assistant. Finding himself stranded alone, however, he does not panic but takes his time to consider his position and how best to extricate himself from it. At first he thinks he should wait from dawn until nightfall to hatch an escape plan, which shows extraordinary patience on a hot day. As it turns out, the little people do not give him the luxury of time and set about conveying him elsewhere straight away. Lemuel is very observant and watches the little people very closely, managing to deduce the likely course of events. At the end of the story we see him as a recluse or loner because he can hardly bear to be with humankind ever again. He even goes to stay in the stables due to his dislike of people. It seems the horselike Yahoos he saw on one of his voyages were enough to put him off his own kind for life.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How is Gulliver's character portrayed in Parts I and II of Gulliver's Travels?

The opening of the novel presents a picture of Gulliver as a somewhat arrogant man with incredibly high expectations.  His outrage at the changes made by the publisher without his approval is only amplified by his disappointment that his description of the Houyhnhms has not fundamentally changed society to something better.

This arrogance is only encouraged when he is among the Lilliputians as he is a giant and has incredible power for good or evil as he is among them.  His confidence in his own power is somewhat mitigated by his frustration and disappointment in the society of the Lilliputians but his arrogance is still rather apparent.

In Book II, suddenly he is suddenly helpless and small amidst the Brobdingnagians, a circumstance that helps to remind him of his frailty.  Though he is still cynical and critical about the society and government of the Brobdingnagians, serving to satirize specific elements of both the Tory and Whig conflict and other English affairs at the time, he becomes more aware of his own condition and this tempers his arrogance severely.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How would Gulliver be characterized in Parts I and II of Gulliver's Travels?

Principal characteristics that stand out in the character of Gulliver are the way that he seems to lack any canny or astute ability to get himself out of trouble. It is this trait above all that separates him from other heroes in texts such as Homer's The Odyssey, where Odysseus shows himself to be intelligent and quick-thinking. Gulliver, by contrast, is often a passive character who lets other characters do what they want with him without trying to resist or think his way out of the various situations he finds himself in. This is why he is a captive at various stages in his ventures. Remember that he is never released through his own plans or ability to think his way out of his troubles, and is dependent on circumstantial factors for his release. Although he is hardworking in pursuing his liberty when he sees an opportunity to escape, such as when he repairs the boat that allows him to leave Blefuscu, he is never actively engaged in coming up with strategems for escape himself.

Gulliver, as his name suggests, is also shown to be rather naive and gullible. A great example of this is the way that he is completely clueless about the way in which he is exploited by the Lilliputians. He may be very skilled in such areas as navigation and seafaring, but the text makes it clear that he lacks the ability to reflect on his own character and culture. He shows to lack any ability to philosophically reflect on the differences between humans and the people that he encounters.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on