My Father had a small Estate in Nottinghamshire; I was the Third of five Sons. . . . I was bound Apprentice to Mr. James Bates, an eminent Surgeon in London . . . my Father now and then sending me small Sums of Money. . . . When I left Mr. Bates, I went down to my Father; where, by the Assistance of him and my Uncle John . . . I got Forty Pounds, and a Promise of Thirty Pounds a Year.
This introductory paragraph from Part I, Chapter I, is often passed over as simply providing the preliminary facts of Gulliver’s life, the bare essentials needed in order to proceed to the more interesting travel narrative. But this introduction is deeply significant in its own right, and it reveals much about Gulliver’s character that is necessary to understand not just his journeys but also his way of narrating them. Gulliver is bourgeois: he is primarily interested in money, acquisitions, and achievement, and his life story is filtered through these desires. The first sentence means more than just a statement of his financial situation, since the third son of a possessor of only a “small Estate” would have no hopes of inheriting enough on which to support himself and would be expected to leave the estate and seek his own fortune. If Gulliver had been the first-born son, he might very well not have embarked on his travels. But the passage is even more revealing in its tone, which is starkly impersonal. Gulliver provides no sentimental characterization of his father, Bates, or Uncle John; they appear in his story only insofar as they further him in life. There is no mention of any youthful dreams or ambitions or of any romantic attachments. This lack of an emotional inner life is traceable throughout his narrative until his virtual nervous breakdown at the very end.