narrator and protagonist of the story. Although Lemuel Gulliver’s
vivid and detailed style of narration makes it clear that he is
intelligent and well educated, his perceptions are naïve and gullible.
He has virtually no emotional life, or at least no awareness of
it, and his comments are strictly factual. Indeed, sometimes his obsession
with the facts of navigation, for example, becomes unbearable for
us, as his fictional editor, Richard Sympson, makes clear when he
explains having had to cut out nearly half of Gulliver’s verbiage. Gulliver
never thinks that the absurdities he encounters are funny and never
makes the satiric connections between the lands he visits and his
own home. Gulliver’s naïveté makes the satire possible, as we pick up
on things that Gulliver does not notice.
in-depth analysis of Gulliver.
ruler of Lilliput. Like all Lilliputians, the emperor is fewer than
six inches tall. His power and majesty impress Gulliver deeply,
but to us he appears both laughable and sinister. Because of his
tiny size, his belief that he can control Gulliver seems silly,
but his willingness to execute his subjects for minor reasons of politics
or honor gives him a frightening aspect. He is proud of possessing
the tallest trees and biggest palace in the kingdom, but he is also
quite hospitable, spending a fortune on his captive’s food. The
emperor is both a satire of the autocratic ruler and a strangely serious
portrait of political power.
first master in Brobdingnag. The farmer speaks to Gulliver, showing
that he is willing to believe that the relatively tiny Gulliver
may be as rational as he himself is, and treats him with gentleness.
However, the farmer puts Gulliver on display around Brobdingnag, which
clearly shows that he would rather profit from his discovery than
converse with him as an equal. His exploitation of Gulliver as a
laborer, which nearly starves Gulliver to death, seems less cruel
than simpleminded. Generally, the farmer represents the average
Brobdingnagian of no great gifts or intelligence, wielding an extraordinary
power over Gulliver simply by virtue of his immense size.
farmer’s nine-year-old daughter, who is forty feet tall. Glumdalclitch
becomes Gulliver’s friend and nursemaid, hanging him to sleep safely
in her closet at night and teaching him the Brobdingnagian language by
day. She is skilled at sewing and makes Gulliver several sets of
new clothes, taking delight in dressing him. When the queen discovers
that no one at court is suited to care for Gulliver, she invites
Glumdalclitch to live at court as his sole babysitter, a function
she performs with great seriousness and attentiveness. To Glumdalclitch,
Gulliver is basically a living doll, symbolizing the general status
Gulliver has in Brobdingnag.
queen of Brobdingnag, who is so delighted by Gulliver’s beauty and
charms that she agrees to buy him from the farmer for 1,000 pieces
of gold. Gulliver appreciates her kindness after the hardships he
suffers at the farmer’s and shows his usual fawning love for royalty
by kissing the tip of her little finger when presented before her.
She possesses, in Gulliver’s words, “infinite” wit and humor, though
this description may entail a bit of Gulliver’s characteristic flattery
of superiors. The queen seems genuinely considerate, asking Gulliver
whether he would consent to live at court instead of simply taking
him in as a pet and inquiring into the reasons for his cold good-byes
with the farmer. She is by no means a hero, but simply a pleasant,
king of Brobdingnag, who, in contrast to the emperor of Lilliput,
seems to be a true intellectual, well versed in political science
among other disciplines. While his wife has an intimate, friendly
relationship with the diminutive visitor, the king’s relation to Gulliver
is limited to serious discussions about the history and institutions
of Gulliver’s native land. He is thus a figure of rational thought
who somewhat prefigures the Houyhnhnms in Book IV.
lord of Lagado, capital of the underdeveloped land beneath Laputa,
who hosts Gulliver and gives him a tour of the country on Gulliver’s
third voyage. Munodi is a rare example of practical-minded intelligence
both in Lagado, where the applied sciences are wildly impractical,
and in Laputa, where no one even considers practicality a virtue.
He fell from grace with the ruling elite by counseling a commonsense approach
to agriculture and land management in Lagado, an approach that was
rejected even though it proved successful when applied to his own
flourishing estate. Lord Munodi serves as a reality check for Gulliver
on his third voyage, an objective-minded contrast to the theoretical
delusions of the other inhabitants of Laputa and Lagado.
in-depth analysis of Lord Munodi.
humanlike beasts who live in servitude to the Houyhnhnms. Yahoos
seem to belong to various ethnic groups, since there are blond Yahoos
as well as dark-haired and redheaded ones. The men are characterized by
their hairy bodies, and the women by their low-hanging breasts.
They are naked, filthy, and extremely primitive in their eating
habits. Yahoos are not capable of government, and thus they are
kept as servants to the Houyhnhnms, pulling their carriages and
performing manual tasks. They repel Gulliver with their lascivious sexual
appetites, especially when an eleven-year-old Yahoo girl attempts
to rape Gulliver as he is bathing naked. Yet despite Gulliver’s
revulsion for these disgusting creatures, he ends his writings referring
to himself as a Yahoo, just as the Houyhnhnms do as they regretfully
evict him from their realm. Thus, “Yahoo” becomes another term for
human, at least in the semideranged and self-loathing mind of Gulliver
at the end of his fourth journey.
horses who maintain a simple, peaceful society governed by reason
and truthfulness—they do not even have a word for “lie” in their
language. Houyhnhnms are like ordinary horses, except that they are
highly intelligent and deeply wise. They live in a sort of socialist
republic, with the needs of the community put before individual
desires. They are the masters of the Yahoos, the savage humanlike
creatures in Houyhnhnmland. In all, the Houyhnhnms have the greatest
impact on Gulliver throughout all his four voyages. He is grieved
to leave them, not relieved as he is in leaving the other three
lands, and back in England he relates better with his horses than
with his human family. The Houyhnhnms thus are a measure of the extent
to which Gulliver has become a misanthrope,
or “human-hater”; he is certainly, at the end, a
Gulliver’s Houyhnhnm master
Houyhnhnm who first discovers Gulliver and takes
him into his own home. Wary of Gulliver’s Yahoolike appearance at
first, the master is hesitant to make contact with him, but Gulliver’s
ability to mimic the Houyhnhnm’s own words persuades the master
to protect Gulliver. The master’s domestic cleanliness, propriety,
and tranquil reasonableness of speech have an extraordinary impact on
Gulliver. It is through this horse that Gulliver is led to reevaluate
the differences between humans and beasts and to question humanity’s
claims to rationality.
Don Pedro de Mendez
- The Portuguese captain who takes Gulliver back to
Europe after he is forced to leave the land of the Houyhnhnms. Don
Pedro is naturally benevolent and generous, offering the half-crazed
Gulliver his own best suit of clothes to replace the tatters he
is wearing. But Gulliver meets his generosity with repulsion, as
he cannot bear the company of Yahoos. By the end of the voyage,
Don Pedro has won over Gulliver to the extent that he is able to
have a conversation with him, but the captain’s overall Yahoolike
nature in Gulliver’s eyes alienates him from Gulliver to the very
in-depth analysis of Don Pedro de Mendez.
whom Gulliver meets on his second voyage.
Brobdingnagians are basically a reasonable and kindly people governed
by a sense of justice. Even the farmer who abuses Gulliver at the
beginning is gentle with him, and politely takes the trouble to
say good-bye to him upon leaving him. The farmer’s daughter, Glumdalclitch,
gives Gulliver perhaps the most kindhearted treatment he receives
on any of his voyages. The Brobdingnagians do not exploit him for personal
or political reasons, as the Lilliputians do, and his life there
is one of satisfaction and quietude. But the Brobdingnagians do
treat Gulliver as a plaything. When he tries to speak seriously
with the king of Brobdingnag about England, the king dismisses the English
as odious vermin, showing that deep discussion is not possible for
Lilliputians and Blefuscudians
races of miniature people whom Gulliver meets
on his first voyage. Lilliputians and Blefuscudians are prone to
conspiracies and jealousies, and while they treat Gulliver well
enough materially, they are quick to take advantage of him in political
intrigues of various sorts. The two races have been in a longstanding
war with each over the interpretation of a reference in their common
holy scripture to the proper way to eat eggs. Gulliver helps the
Lilliputians defeat the Blefuscudian navy, but he eventually leaves
Lilliput and receives a warm welcome in the court of Blefuscu, by
which Swift satirizes the arbitrariness of international relations.
intellectuals who live on the floating island of Laputa, encountered
by Gulliver on his third voyage. The Laputans are parodies of theoreticians, who
have scant regard for any practical results of their own research.
They are so inwardly absorbed in their own thoughts that they must
be shaken out of their meditations by special servants called flappers,
who shake rattles in their ears. During Gulliver’s stay among them,
they do not mistreat him, but are generally unpleasant and dismiss
him as intellectually deficient. They do not care about down-to-earth
things like the dilapidation of their own houses, but worry intensely about
abstract matters like the trajectories of comets and the course
of the sun. They are dependent in their own material needs on the
land below them, called Lagado, above which they hover by virtue
of a magnetic field, and from which they periodically raise up food
supplies. In the larger context of Gulliver’s journeys, the Laputans
are a parody of the excesses of theoretical pursuits and the uselessness
of purely abstract knowledge.
Mary Burton Gulliver
- Gulliver’s wife, whose perfunctory mention in the
first paragraphs of Gulliver’s Travels
how unsentimental and unemotional Gulliver is. He makes no reference
to any affection for his wife, either here or later in his travels
when he is far away from her, and his detachment is so cool as to
raise questions about his ability to form human attachments. When
he returns to England, she is merely one part of his former existence,
and he records no emotion even as she hugs him wildly. The most
important facts about her in Gulliver’s mind are her social origin
and the income she generates.
in-depth analysis of Mary Burton Gulliver.
cousin, self-proclaimed intimate friend,
and the editor and publisher of Gulliver’s Travels.
was in Richard Sympson’s name that Jonathan Swift arranged for the
publication of his narrative, thus somewhat mixing the fictional
and actual worlds. Sympson is the fictional author of the prefatory
note to Gulliver’s Travels,
entitled “The Publisher
to the Readers.” This note justifies Sympson’s elimination of nearly
half of the original manuscript material on the grounds that it
was irrelevant, a statement that Swift includes so as to allow us
to doubt Gulliver’s overall wisdom and ability to distinguish between
important facts and trivial details.
eminent London surgeon under whom Gulliver serves as an apprentice
after graduating from Cambridge. Bates helps get Gulliver his first
job as a ship’s surgeon and then offers to set up a practice with him.
After Bates’s death, Gulliver has trouble maintaining the business,
a failure that casts doubt on his competence, though he himself
has other explanations for the business’s failure. Bates is hardly mentioned
in the travels, though he is surely at least as responsible for
Gulliver’s welfare as some of the more exotic figures Gulliver meets.
Nevertheless, Gulliver fleshes out figures such as the queen of
Brobdingnag much more thoroughly in his narrative, underscoring the
sharp contrast between his reticence regarding England and his long-windedness
commander of the ship on which Gulliver first
sails, the Swallow.
Traveling to the Levant, or
the eastern Mediterranean, and beyond, Gulliver spends three and
a half years on Pannell’s ship. Virtually nothing is mentioned about
Pannell, which heightens our sense that Gulliver’s fascination with
exotic types is not matched by any interest in his fellow countrymen.
master of the Antelope,
ship on which Gulliver embarks for the South Seas at the outset
of his first journey, in 1699. When the Antelope
is washed ashore on Lilliput. No details are given about the personality
of Prichard, and he is not important in Gulliver’s life or in the
unfolding of the novel’s plot. That Gulliver takes pains to name
him accurately reinforces our impression that he is obsessive about
facts but not always reliable in assessing overall significance.
Lord High Treasurer of Lilliput, who conceives a jealous hatred
for Gulliver when he starts believing that his wife is having an
affair with him. Flimnap is clearly paranoid, since the possibility
of a love affair between Gulliver and a Lilliputian is wildly unlikely.
Flimnap is a portrait of the weaknesses of character to which any human
is prone but that become especially dangerous in those who wield
Principal Secretary of Private Affairs in Lilliput, who explains
to Gulliver the history of the political tensions between the two
principal parties in the realm, the High-Heels and the Low-Heels.
Reldresal is more a source of much-needed information for Gulliver
than a well-developed personality, but he does display personal
courage and trust in allowing Gulliver to hold him in his palm while
he talks politics. Within the convoluted context of Lilliput’s factions
and conspiracies, such friendliness reminds us that fond personal
relations may still exist even in this overheated political climate.
- The High Admiral of Lilliput, who is the only member
of the administration to oppose Gulliver’s liberation. Gulliver
imagines that Skyresh’s enmity is simply personal, though there
is no apparent reason for such hostility. Arguably, Skyresh’s hostility
may be merely a tool to divert Gulliver from the larger system of
Lilliputian exploitation to which he is subjected.
known as the High-Heels, a Lilliputian political group reminiscent
of the British Tories. Tramecksan policies are said to be more agreeable
to the ancient constitution of Lilliput, and while the High-Heels appear
greater in number than the Low-Heels, their power is lesser. Unlike
the king, the crown prince is believed to sympathize with the Tramecksan,
wearing one low heel and one high heel, causing him
to limp slightly.
Low-Heels, a Lilliputian political group reminiscent of the British
Whigs. The king has ordained that all governmental administrators
must be selected from this party, much to the resentment of the
High-Heels of the realm. Thus, while there are fewer Slamecksan
than Tramecksan in Lilliput, their political power is greater. The
king’s own sympathies with the Slamecksan are evident in the slightly
lower heels he wears at court.