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Analytical Essay on The Narrator Gulliver in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels

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The narrator Gulliver in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, has long been a subject of interest for literary scholars, as he is not a character who develops or acts effectively and self-reliantly, but because he is strictly a means used by Swift to serve “larger satiric purposes” (Rawson 73). Jonathan Swift puts immense dynamism into characterizing his narrator and making his unreliability apparent to the reader, even before he starts reading the book. Swift picks the telling name “Lemuel Gulliver”, signifying rather overtly that Gulliver might be gullible and should not instantly be trusted by the reader. His narration can be described as overly exact, direct, and thorough, establishing this factual style as Gulliver’s “characteristic narrative mode” (Lawrence 96). His detailed introduction, the meticulous explanations of events, and explicit ‘over -reporting’ aim at disguising Gulliver’s unreliability, resulting in a preliminary feeling of trust in the reader. The reader rarely gets word-for-word accounting of a conversation. Gulliver narrates everything.

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Gulliver generally acts as a good-natured, unprejudiced, and attentive visitor to a strange people in Book I, gullibly compliant with everything he experiences and therefore, urging the reader to independently add the sense which escapes himself. In the second book, Gulliver meets the enormous people of Brobdingnag and is challenged with his insignificance and loss of power due to his size. In chapter six, the King clearly exposes Gulliver after his long commendation of the English government. He almost petulantly disagrees with the King’s ideas and arrogantly characterizes him and his people as rather provincial and narrow-minded, emphasizing his inability of receiving criticism, and therefore ultimately rendering him even more untrustworthy. The fact that Gulliver excludes his answers and only guarantees the reader that he dodged the questions asked by the king shows that he, in reality, was unable to shield his country and therefore avoids the admission of failure by deceiving his readers. In the third book, the Laputans are told to be highly brainy creatures, even though their acumen is concentrated on mathematics and music. During these passages, it becomes evident that Gulliver is unsatisfied with his inferiority in these fields and tries to prove himself by showing off his knowledge in other areas. His far-fetched etymology of the word Laputa, apart from its satirical purposes, shows that Gulliver has developed a swing in attitude in comparison to the first book, in which he was a curious, and good-natured traveler who accepted all facets of Lilliput and its people and did not question or judge. Just as in Book II, Gulliver shows that he struggles to deal with the feeling of inferiority. The fact that he leaves the island signifies that he feels rather sore with the Laputan’s lack of interest towards him.

In the fourth book, Gulliver’s description of the Yahoos at the beginning disguises their true human appearance. In contrast to the Yahoos, Gulliver describes the Houyhnhnms in an admiring way, emphasizing their reasonable actions and orderliness. In contrast to Gulliver’s stance in Brobdingnag, he does not question any criticism the Houyhnhnms have towards human actions; his tone even suggests his agreement and shows the great distance he now has towards humankind (Chase 332). According to Claude Rawson, “the sober, placid, complacent Gulliver, lover of his kind and of his dear country, whom we meet in the largest part of the first three books, no longer exists” (72). He has turned into an annoyed and disappointed misanthrope. This becomes clear, for example, when he exaggeratedly describes the ways humans kill each other in war. Calling the English “my own dear Countrymen” in this context, is extremely ironic, giving the impression as if Gulliver were rather confused by and unaware of what he says. Gulliver’s personal opinions and levels of sympathy toward his hosts influence his storytelling. Therefore, Swift imposes contradicting statements on Gulliver, in order to emphasize his satiric criticism and clarify Gulliver’s unreliability.

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